This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
There should now be a good preparation of soil in dry quarters to be ready for use. During this month much potting may be done, and a store of peat, loam, charcoal, sand, and healthy well-rotted leaf-mould will be of much value. Potting, especially peat, soil should never be dust-dry when used, and if very wet it is also objectionable. When potting early, and especially plants which have few roots, we never like to use extra-rich soil, even when the plants may be gross feeders. The absence of air causes soil to become sour and unhealthy. Good drainage and clean pots are of great moment for plants at any period of their growth. The numerous specimens of New Holland plants which flower at this season are invaluable for decorative purposes. Pure water (rain-water is always best), fresh air, absence of crowding, no coddling with heat - artificial heat only given to expel damp and keep out frost, - good drainage, and cleanliness on every part, are indispensable to the healthy growth of these plants. Correas (cardinalis is very showy), Chorozemas, Lapagerias, Genetyllis, Grevilleas, Aotus, are now most serviceable; and when not pressed with heat will flower freely far into the spring.
Epacris, Erica, Hyemalis, Wilmoreii (autumn Gracilis in middle of February are at their last), Caffra, and others which have done service early and going out of flower, may be moderately cut back and placed in a gentle moist heat till they show signs of breaking. They then may be reduced at their balls and placed in smaller or same sized pots; and when growth is active they will do well with ordinary greenhouse treatment. It is of importance to have these early into flower during autumn and winter.
A few small plants of these bought each season are most serviceable. It is a profitless operation to propagate small quantities of them. Tear and wear by cutting, and confinement in rooms, are very destructive to them. Cytisus atleeansis and racemosus, Coronillas, Camellias, Acacias, Habrothamnus, Imantophyllums, Neriums, Sparmannias, Plumbago capensis, Vallotas, Lachenalias, and some others, may be everybody's plants, they are so easily grown, and all may be had easily in flower at this season. If the roots of any of them are confined, they may be cleared of their inert surfaces, and a thin coating of rotten manure, loam, and peat substituted. Weak, clear manure-water - like pale sherry - may be given to those flowering. The short flowering period is often due to starvation of the confined roots. Thick, muddy manure - water for such plants is ruinous. Roses, bulbs of sorts, Hepaticas, Violets, Mignonette, Cinerarias (these may require larger pots), Harrison's Musk, Primulas (double and single), Cyclamens, and Pinks, are all favourites at this season. They may be assisted with manure-water and rich surfaces; their pots placed into larger ones, with soil to root through into, may help to lengthen their period of flowering.
Force on Azaleas and all the hardy shrubs and other plants suitable for winter and spring flowering - Deutzias, Dielytras, Lily of the Valley, Lilacs, Spiraea japonica, Kalmias, Cherries, Pyrus japonica, Thorns, Guelder Rose. Mock Oranges can now be brought forward with gentle warmth. When the flowers begin to open they may be removed to more airy and cool quarters.
Bouvardias, Epiphyllums, Burchellias, Libonias, Plumbago rosea, and similar plants requiring heat, should (when in conservatory) be placed away from draughts. Young stock of plants should be kept free from green-fly; none should be huddled together; give air and light to all.
With useful selections of flowering-plants, at this season of the year, show-houses, we think, are more interesting than at any other period. What are known as spring flowers always create a charm: and for cutting purposes good things are always abundant. The kinds need hardly be mentioned, as those of well-known popularity have been noted in past months. Abundance can be had with very little forcing, so that proprietors with a few pits, or a glass shed or two, may have plenty of floral beauty around them. The numerous kinds of hardy flowers which can be lifted to make a display are very attainable, and look well anywhere. While one has plenty of flowers for the present, it is well to give a reminder that the display at the end of the season, and early part of next, depends on steps being taken now to secure a harvest of floral beauty. Azaleas and Camellias are always telling, and much valued. To get their flower-buds set early, and the plants to flower at the desired time, they should be in a mild moist temperature (shutting up early with sun-heat), kept clean, carefully watered, kept free from worms at the roots, in healthy soil, with free drainage, and shaded from bright sunshine : a vinery, moderately forced, or Peach-house at work, suits well till shade is too much.
Then a pit shaded judiciously is a mode of treatment congenial to these plants, and when the buds are prominent they may be aired more freely, and placed outside (choosing a dull day) in June, behind a thick hedge or wall. But in structures where they are planted out, the preparation for early display is much more simple, and the plants do better.
A similar treatment suits early-flowering Heaths till their wood has a good start, and after this they must not be coddled. Epacris and Cytisus may now be pressed into growth for winter flowering. No greenhouse plant should suffer for want of pot-room. Over-potting is a great mistake with any plants in pots, and makes them more difficult to water. Pot firm, encasing the ball of roots all over with the new soil. Most hard-wood plants require abundance of air when growth is active, plenty of water, and no surface - dribbling. Soil suitable for most of them is peat, sand, and charcoal. If the peat is fairly mixed with sand it is generally enough : a little pure maiden loam with some of the kinds is advantageous. To judge of soils, it is well to examine what the plants are growing in. If they have done well, get soil of the same kind for them. Plants of Liliums, Fuchsias, Pelargoniums, Heliotropes, Double Petunias, may now be on the way for summer flowers; and seed may be sown of Balsam, Cockscombs, (especially of the feathered Cockscombs), and Globe Amaranthus, for decorating structures. The latter does well with gentle bottom-heat, kept well to the light, and air increased as the plants advance in growth. Stage Pelargoniums require watching to keep them free from aphis.
Stake them out, keeping the "crutches" out of sight as much as possible : use no more than are absolutely necessary. Give clear manure-water to those which have plenty of feeders to consume it. Surfacing of turfy loam, mixed with a little rotten cow-manure, may be of much service to all the Pelargonium class with pots full of roots. Calceolarias, of the shrubby kinds, which have been wintered in small pots, may have a liberal shift into rich soil before they begin flowering. Liliums, of kinds, may be staked, surfaced, and got ready for flowering. In the show-house, climbers ought to be regulated - not trimmed or tied out of natural outline, but to prevent matting or undue monopolising of space. Good soakings of water may be required by plants growing in the conservatory borders. Specimens should stand clear of each other; and clean surfaces of every description should be the rule. Plants going freely into growth should be kept clear of their old decaying foliage. Insects may be kept off by syringing quassia-water over the stock of plants.
The syringe may be used lightly with clean rain-water, morning and evening, before and after the sun is powerful on them.
Fire-heat may be used to keep out frost, if it should unfortunately visit us; and if a damp period should occur, the heating apparatus may be used to keep the house healthy, but we never would use fire-heat if we could avoid it.
Plants which are going out of flower should be carefully placed out of the reach of frost, and hardened gradually for turning out in their summer quarters. This applies to Roses, Cytisus, Rhododendrons, Kalmias, Lilacs, Deutzias, Spiraeas, and suchlike. Primulas and Cinerarias may be saved if they are worth it. A few named kinds of the latter, of distinctive merit, may be useful to get good seed from, and also cut into pieces to form plants. Sow seed of these and Primulas, also of Begonias, and grow Fuchsias and Coleus from cuttings.