Indoor Cultivation Of Freesias

For indoor cultivation all Freesias require is a greenhouse having just sufficient heat to keep out frost or they may be grown entirely cold during autumn and spring, in a cold greenhouse or a frame. To-day we go a step further in trying to popularize the freesia, for a range of hardy hybrids comes from Holland, which can be grown in the open ground and especially do they grow well in the south. At long last, the lovely plant is making its presence felt in the World of Horticulture.

For the person coming into the nursery business for the first time and even for the established grower on the lookout for more profitable crops, freesia cultivation should be given detailed consideration. This is a new crop, one that will not be over-done for a good many years and there is a most profitable market for the cut blooms almost all the year round.

I have heard it said that to purchase the corms for commercial production would be expensive. This is true, but when it is realized that seed will germinate like mustard and cress and will produce upwards of 10,000 seedlings, the cost of obtaining a commercial stock will appear much more reasonable. Here I feel is an excellent crop for the country estate, for in those large airy greenhouses once used for exotic house plants, the freesia blooms to perfection. Again, I have heard it said that anyway freesias are difficult to grow well. Indoor Cultivation Of Freesias

No crop could be easier if attention to detail is given for they are so easily grown badly and unlike the daffodil and tulip, they are of more delicate construction and do not seem to possess those powers of being able to overcome adverse conditions. Either they flower to perfection or do badly, there is no in-between with freesias, but as they are just as easy to grow well they cannot in any way be termed difficult. They are rather like mushrooms, one or two tips from an experienced grower may mean all the difference between success and failure.

GROWING FREESIAS FROM SEED

The seed is small but not difficult to handle and almost every grower I know sows in a different way, as it is so easily germinated, but it must be remembered that unlike any other plant of my acquaintance the seedlings will not readily transplant – they must be sown where they are to bloom, hence deep boxes must always be used for sowing, or the seed may be sown directly on to the greenhouse bed. When once the mature corms have been built up, they can of course, be removed and replanted but this will not take place until after flowering and the foliage has been allowed to die back gradually as later explained in detail. Possibly the best seed comes from South Africa, though that from Holland and Italy generally possesses excellent germinating powers and produces its blooms to the necessary florists’ standards.

Where definite colours are required then named corms must be purchased, costing around fa for a hundred. At one large nursery, the seed is sown into deep boxes about May 1st, spacing about two dozen seeds to each square foot. The compost consists of a good quality loam to which is mixed one part of coarse sand to two parts of peat. Freesias are great peat lovers, but they must not be given a soil rich in manurial value otherwise they will grow lanky and produce only limited quantities of bloom. To continue. The seed is only just covered with a sprinkling of peat and sand, again like mustard and cress it will not germinate readily if covered too deeply. Equally the same remarks follow for those sowing a small packet as for those sowing a pound of seed.

The boxes should be placed into cold frames which are kept covered and shaded during periods of strong sunshine. In the south, it is possible to stand the boxes entirely in the open covering them with lights only during rainy periods. They must be watered only when the soil tends to dry out, the peat being useful in preventing moisture from drying out too rapidly. Some large growers sow directly on to the floor of a greenhouse during late May when the house has been cleared of bedding plants, but the freesia will never be happy when grown in anything but the coolest of conditions, indeed during winter a greenhouse temperature of about 48° F. will be all that is necessary for a display of top-quality bloom.

BRINGING ON THE CROP

Early in October the first boxes of plants should be moved to a warm greenhouse and weekly applications with very dilute manure water will do much to give depth of colour to the blooms. They will now make rapid growth and to prevent the bloom being spoilt by falling over, wires should be stretched down the greenhouse I z in. above the level of the boxes. I much prefer growing in boxes rather than on floor beds on account of the need for growing the plants as neat as possible to the light, for no amount of staking will help a freesia that is ‘drawn’. Large-mesh wire netting is also idea for supporting the blooms.

The greatest care must be taken in watering for freesias prefer dry soil conditions rather than a moist soil. Only just sufficient water should be given to keep the blooms from flagging. This is one of those trade secrets which the experienced grower knows all about and which is not generally made common knowledge. By late November, only six months from sowing the seed, the first buds will be observed and the temperature of the house should be brought up to 5o° F. to hasten the opening of the buds. The blooms will continue to be produced through the winter and if a later batch is taken inside in early November these will prolong the supply throughout the spring. The blooms are cut with as long a stem as possible and allowed to stand in water for an hour or so before being packed into flower boxes and sent to market.

GROWING IN POTS

This is yet another method employed by amateurs for greenhouse and home display, and also for those who grow and market the blooms in pots. Here, mature corms are planted in August and placed in cold frames until growth can be seen. Here again, it is equally important to keep the soil dry. The same potting compost as for seed-sowing will prove suitable, the essential is to provide humus rather than food, but they do appreciate oz. of bone meal to each pot-. Six to eight corms are planted I in. deep in each pot and made quite firm. At the beginning the important point is to shield them from rain, but they must not be covered with ashes as are other bulbs. Early in October before the risk of frost the pots are transferred to a greenhouse and an airy condition maintained. Temperatures of above 52° F. should never be allowed. Liquid manure watering will be beneficial but they must be given only sufficient moisture to keep the plants growing. To prevent any likelihood of water remaining around the corms, I prefer to plant them on coarse sand which is spread over the compost soil before the corms are set and finally covered over.

If the freesia has a fault it is in the inability of both foliage and flower stems to support themselves. In whatever manner they are grown they must be given some support. When 6 in. high the foliage should be supported by twigs or wire supports. Twigs may be used when growing solely for cutting, but where plants in pots are being grown, then thin wire supports will prove much neater. Or, foliage and stems may be held in position by three thin strips of wood painted green and around which is placed green string or wire. The cooler the plants are grown the less staking will need to be done. The blooms of pot-grown plants will remain fresh for several weeks and their delicate fragrance will permeate any room in which they are placed, though always remember that they will not tolerate hot, stuffy conditions.

AFTER FLOWERING

This is most important as far as freesias are concerned. If the corms are to be saved and grown on another year, they must not be thrown outside or placed under the greenhouse bench, nor must they be knocked out of the pots or boxes until the foliage has definitely commenced to turn brown in colour, for whilst even the foliage remains in a green condition it is continuing to supply the corm with essential food for next season’s crop. When the blooms have died down, remove the flower heads and the staking material and continue to give water just as before and until the foliage turns brown. My own method then is to place the pots or boxes in a shed as soon as the. Foliage dies back and there they remain until August when once again they are required for starting into growth. The corms are not repotted, but the surface of the soil is carefully stirred and a little moist peat worked in. The pots are then placed into cold frames in the manner described and the cycle begins again.

If it is required to propagate where expensive new varieties are being grown, the corms should be shaken from the compost when the foliage has died down and repotted after the offsets have been removed. The tiny offsets should then be placed in pans or shallow boxes containing a peaty compost, just covered and grown on during the summer in a cold frame, the same care being taken with the watering. Rather than grow on the corms for flowering in the following spring, it is often better to remove all bud stems and to allow the foliage to die back gradually, then to repot in August after a period of rest. Where it can be obtained, the addition of a little cow manure mixed into the potting compost will benefit freesias, but it must not be overdone.

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