Cultivation Tips for Beginners

AURICULAS

One big advantage of growing Auriculas and Gold Laced Polyanthus (and many other Primulas) is that generally they need no heat. In fact most of them enjoy a cool, breezy existence in well-drained soil or compost. They dislike water-logging - particularly in the winter months – and hot sun.

Here we give you a few pointers to growing the plants we enjoy. There are several books on the subject, and stacks more information in the Society’s Year Books. We welcome newcomers, and there are always members available for help and advice via email or telephone. Another perk of joining us!

There is of course a great difference between growing AURICULAS in the open garden, and growing blooms of a suitable standard for exhibition. We tend not to grow the Show auriculas, or the plants we want to exhibit, without protection out of doors – rain can spot the delicate flowers and spoil the attractive coating of farina on leaves.

However, many of the other auriculas will give you a nice show out of doors so long as they aren’t sitting in mud all winter. They appreciate very good drainage - like their ancestors which lived on the side of a mountain.

In an effort to grow our plants to a high standard, we use pots. The traditional terracotta ‘long tom’ type or plastic.
A 3.5” diameter pot is suitable for a mature plant, which we confine to one rosette of leaves to encourage the best quality bloom. Smaller pots are used for smaller and juvenile plants. Auriculas do not appreciate too large a pot.

Collage of images
Images Left to right: Potting Tray, Offsets in seed tray, Pots - Long Tom, 3.5 inch, offset pot

We grow in a cold greenhouse or frame where the plants can obtain plenty of air when the weather is fine. (polythene structures with a zip are ideal. The front may be left open to get plenty of air, or zipped up firmly when the rain is beating down. The polythene can be replaced by shading material when the weather is hot.)

Images of potting trays
Images Left to right: Shaded tunnel, Small Greenhouse / Cold Frame, Cool Greenhouse

If growing in pots in a frame or greenhouse it is quite likely to be too hot for the plants in the warmest months. So, once they have flowered in the spring, move the plants to a cool, slightly shaded spot outside. If you use a heavily shaded auricula ‘theatre’ or blooming stage to display your flowers, make sure they don’t continue to sit in the dark for weeks afterwards.

Image of greenhouse pots
Images Left to right: Auricula Theatre, Auricula Tunnel, Border Auriculas in pots

There has always been much debate about appropriate POTTING mixes. All growers have their own recipes, which happily no longer seem to feature pigs’ blood and night soil. It is a matter of what suits your plants in your situation. A good basic mix would be

  • one part horticultural grit (for drainage)
  • one part peat-based multi-purpose compost
  • one part John Innes No.2.
Always use fresh ingredients.

Most of us re-pot our auriculas annually. It means we can check the roots for any pests and disease, remove dead or damaged roots, and provide fresh new compost. Any small plantlets or ‘offsets’ can be teased away from the mother plant and re-potted in small pots to increase stock. Dust any wounds with fungicide or powdered charcoal. A plant without offsets attached will usually provide a superior flower truss. Some growers re-pot after flowering (ideally when the weather is not too hot) or in late summer to early October.

Images of offsets forming
Images Left to right: offsets forming on parent plants, offset detached from parent plant

During the winter months we reduce WATERING to a minimum, taking care not to splash the leaves or leave any drops in the centre of the plant. Auriculas usually begin growing in earnest in February when they will benefit from a bit of a clean up. Gently remove any dried up dead leaves, and as the plant wakes up water as required. Do not allow the compost to become dust dry.

THE GOLD LACED POLYANTHUS

Always the companion plant to the Florists’ auricula – may be grown in the ground, or for exhibition in pots in a cold frame. Many growers consider a greenhouse to be a little too hot and dry for them. Whether in the ground or in a pot, never allow your plants to dry out completely.

Images of offsets forming
Images Left to right: Gold Lace seedlings, Red Ground GLP show condition* , Dark Ground GLP show condition*, Red Ground GLP*

In the ground they appreciate a prepared bed enriched with organic material which will help conserve moisture. Ideally the bed should face north or north-west and be protected from strong sunlight in the summer. Here is one suggested potting mix for GLPs:

  • 2 parts good quality John Innes No. 2 compost
  • 1 part peat-based compost
  • 1 part horticultural grit
  • Approximately 16 part horticultural charcoal

Plants in pots should be re-potted into fresh compost every year, usually in July and August.

Gold Laced Polyanthus start into growth in February, and in March or April they may be given a dilute feed of Maxi-crop to promote dark leaves. Keep the plants moist without saturating them, and remove dying leaves to prevent fungus problems.

Elsewhere on the website we will soon give more information about seed sowing and breeding new plants. Raising new and improved varieties is part of the Florists’ fundamental mission, and not difficult or expensive.

At the Southern Section Shows each spring there are usually plants of the 'Beeches Strain' of Gold Laced Polyanthus, which in 1997 achieved an R.H.S. Award of Garden Merit at a Wisley trial. Over the years the strain has been associated with numerous Premier Awards and has been successfully distributed among growers in North America, Canada, Europe and Tasmania. This excellent strain was originally introduced by our current President Mr. Lawrence Wigley.

PUBLICATIONS

There are a few good books around which will help you to grow good plants. Some are out of print but still available, others can be found via the Library. They include:

Image of Horner publication There are still a few copies remaining of 'The Auricula' by F.D.Horner, which Ray Weeks produced as a Southern Section publication. It is of interest to all auricula growers. Originally published in 1877, it was transcribed in the 1955 Year Book of the Northern Section of the Society.

If you would like a copy - It costs £5.20 including p&p. Please contact the Society's Secretary. Cheques should be made payable to "The National Auricula and Primula (Southern) Society.

The Midlands and West Section of the Society also produces a range of excellent small handbooks.

Images© on this page reproduced with kind permission of *Chris Wood, Lesley Roberts, Steve Lobley