One of the first tasks of my greenhouse year is to start waking up those plants that have been tucked away in them all winter. Mine being an unheated greenhouse, my overwintering is only of plants that have some level of hardiness already, plants such as pelargoniums, aeoniums and other succulents that would even survive a mild winter out of doors, particularly in the city. And so it has been a bit hit and miss in the past, with a particularly hard winter a few years ago wiping lots of them out. I had got used to mild winters, and had relaxed, and so I kind of deserved them turning to mush. Since then I am a bit more careful, with a small heater to hand and lots of horticultural fleece to throw over things should it start to turn extra chilly. But this year we haven’t needed any of that, and I am in danger of being lulled into relaxing again, only to be hit by the inevitable chilly winter when it comes. It has been a remarkably mild winter with really only one spell of hard frosts here in Bristol, and the aeoniums and pelargoniums have come through unscathed with barely any attention.
It is a little early to be relaxing, and the weather is certainly capable of turning nasty this late, just as we breathe a sign of relief. And while I certainly wont be flinging open the doors and arranging my lovely plants prettily around the veranda just yet, I am tempted to just give them a little pre-spring tender loving care, so that they are in the best shape to get started into growth. It shouldn’t make too much difference if a late cold snap comes along.
This pre-spring clean-up is mostly a job for the pelargoniums, to be honest, as they make such a dramatic mess of themselves over winter. The aeoniums and succulents have dead leaves to remove, but I do as little pruning as possible, simply because they take so very long to recover after it. The pelargoniums are different, and spring back quickly. While there are happily no mushy stems to be disposed of I am still going to do some pruning. There is a choice to be made. If I left them as they are and just picked off the dead bits they would flower much earlier (in fact they have flowered sporadically all winter, so they would just keep going). They would also keep that lovely loose, gangly habit that I’ve come to love in pelargoniums, spilling down steps and off of tables lopsidedly. But every now and then they do need to be neatened up and pulled back into shape, otherwise they will gradually run out of steam, the old stems splitting and the flowers becoming fewer and fewer. It is time for a hard haircut, and this has the added benefit of yielding material for cuttings. On a mild day I will cut the pelargoniums back to just a few inches above their soil, and then give all of the plants a boost by scraping off the top layer of compost and refreshing it with new. With a bit of luck, by the time the real growing weather comes along my pelargoniums will already have some new little shoots ready to go.
The offcuts will come in handy for cuttings, each just a few inches long, cut just above a leaf joint t the top and just below one at the bottom, with all but the very top leaf trimmed away. Pushed into a small pot of compost they will sit happily indoors on my windowsill, and I can pop them outside to join their parents come spring proper.