Friday, September 6, 2013

How do I grow Schizanthus?

Schizanthus Atlantis, Poor Man's Orchid
Click on this image to see a slide show of this week's Spec. Load.

My first memory of Schizanthus is of stunning hanging baskets in the conservatory in the Fitzroy Gardens. Imagine a bored child being dragged through the conservatory... and the Schizanthus still sticks in my mind.  Poor Man's Orchid indeed. Sadly as a punnet seedling variety we dropped it many years ago as it was a plant that just didn't sell, possibly because of the sprawly growth habit.

A couple of years back I noticed a small quantity of Hybrid Schizanthus on a surplus plug list and thought let's try it in pots. You know my preference for larger pots, so we tried it in a 200mm pot. The plants grew and flowered beautifully, but they never filled the pot. Unlike many plants we grow, once it started flowering it just stopped growing. Anyway the trial sparked enough interest in Schizanthus for us to try again in a smaller pot, let's face it there are so few alternatives to Pansies for pure colour at this time of year. They sold quite well last year in a 140mm pot but I note that once we used seedlings we raised ourselves the issue of size was much less of a concern... they filled the pot comfortably.  We ordered another thousand seeds for this year's crop and strangely enough 1000 young plants turned up. Luck's a fortune, those plugs were potted 8 weeks earlier than the second batch we chose to sow ourselves according to the original plan. The first batch has nearly sold and the second is just about to flower!

Schizanthus, Schizanthus × wisetonensis is a cross of two species native to coastal regions of Chile. It is a member of the Solanaceae (Tomato) family. In Spanish the common name is Butterfly Flower, far more appropriate than the English Poor Man's Orchid. It's one of those dramatic Spring Flowering annuals, the show won't last all that long but It's going to be stunning while it lasts. They grow well through the cold weather and will blow out once we get warm conditions by about November. We have grown them under very light shade and they took some frost early on but I'd be cautious in areas where frosts are stronger that we get in Keysborough. Best used as a gift item, ideal for short bursts indoors or sitting on a patio table.

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