This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
We must always remember that the Auricula, is originally an Alpine plant; that cold and frost to almost any extent, it will bear when under glass; and that fire-heat in winter will do it much more harm than any frost that gets into a frame, if properly managed. But summer-heat is ruinous to it, (unless guarded against, as I shall presently direct,) and a few hours' full exposure of a pot to such a burning sun as we have here often is enough, if it doesn't kill the plant outright, to destroy all expectation of recovering it under a twelvemonth's care. To grow Auriculas well, then, mix up an equal quantity of good loam, stable-manure a year old at least, and black peat earth. Turn this over two or three times during as many months, and mix plenty of it when you begin, for the longer you keep it the better it gets; but don't expose it to heavy rains, so as to let the goodness of the manure be washed out of it; but, except in wet weather, the more it is turned and exposed the better.
Having got your plants, say, in spring, just before they bloom, have the benefit of it, such as it is; and after they are out of bloom place the pots under a north fence, where they will be entirely in the shade, without any sun upon them at all. This you must effect in the best way you can, but you must not put any thing over the plants; if you do they will draw up weakly, and the heart will be so exhausted that no healthy growth will be made. Look over the plants daily, and take care they don't flag in the leaf for want of water. So let them be until the last week in August; then the time has been arrived at to pot your plants for next year's bloom, and upon the way in which you do this much of your success will depend. First, take some of your compost, and pass it through a coarse sieve, and throw the siftings on one side (you will want them presently), break up into pieces an inch square or so, some broken pots, and then you are ready to begin potting. For a plant the neck of which (at the place where the leaves spring from) is the size of your little finger, you take a pot measuring about four inches across inside.
Place three or four pieces of the broken pots over the whole, and upon these put enough of the rough siftings of the compost to fill up the pot to the depth of an inch from the bottom. Then put in a small handful of the sifted compost. Now take one of your plants, turn the pot over upon your left hand, in which you will support the plant by passing the neck of it between the first and second fingers; give the edge of the pot a slight tap against the edge of your potting-bench, and the plant will come out upon your hand; press gently the matted ball of roots with your right hand, but so as not to tear or hurt them, and then shake the mould from it, so as to leave the network of roots nearly bare. (This takes many words to tell, but the whole thing is done in half a minute.) Now you will find the thick stem of the plant, which is called the tap-root, exposed to view, surrounded by the numberless mass of small roots that, if the plant is healthy, proceed from all its length. Examine this tap-root; if it is solid, nearly white, and free from black specs or rot, all is well; if any black marks appear, cut them out with a sharp knife. This done, the plant is ready for its new pot.
Mind and preserve all the fine fibrous roots, which are the mouths of the plant, and only remove such of them as are dark colored, or have a withered appearance. To place the plant in its new pot, take it by the neck between the fingers and thumb of your left hand, and hold it in the pot so that the neck is just on a level with the top, and with your other hand fill round it with the sifted compost, which, with a small stick the size of a quill, you must gently stir down between the small roots, giving the pot now and then a tap or two on the bench, to shake down and fix the mould. When potted, the earth should come up just to the bottom leaves, but not higher. If you bury the lower half of the leaves in the mould, depend upon it you will, before the winter is through, get half your plants rotted off at the neck. This is, of all things, one of the great points in Auricula growing.
When the plants are ail potted, set them in a north aspect, out of the sun, as before; put boards or a good bed of cinders under them, so as to keep out worms, (this is a first point, too,) and then give them a thorough good watering through the fine rose of the watering-pot, so as to wet them well through. Here they are to stand until the fine weather sets in; slight frosts will not hurt them. Water them regularly; they will grow considerably; the old outer leaves will turn yellow and come off during the next two months, and by that time you will have nice short-leaved plants, with stiff necks and close hearts, which are sure signs of good trusses of bloom next spring.
As soon as signs of winter weather are manifest, whether by cold rains, snow, or hard frost, put your plants in their winter quarters. The best place for them is a common garden-frame, with a glass light upon it; but many and many a good show of Auriculas has been grown without glass at all, by having only a board top to the frame, upon hinges, like the lid of a box, to shut down at night and in hard frost, but to be open all day in fine, or raised up in front in wet weather. Take care here, too, to have something to keep the worms out.
And now for their winter treatment In hard frost or snow, and always at night, shut down the lights close. At all other times, except in wet weather, draw the lights off all day; and in wet, and also in frosty weather, unless very severe, give air for five or six hours by raising the lights a few inches. They will want but little water until the beginning of February; only just prevent them from getting dry.
In frost throw over the frame a mat, or some straw or litter, at night; and if severe, this may remain on in the day also; and with even slight covering of this sort the plants will stand any weather. You will find their leaves get quite black with frost sometimes; never mind that; but do mind this: that when the frost breaks, and you begin to give air, don't let a hot sun come right down upon them at first, but raise the lights a few inches, and throw a coarse cloth on the frame, or just a handful of straw, thinly, so as only to let a little light through. If you have no glass, but only a wooden top, you have only to lift it half open, fasten it so, and shade the open side next the sun with a cloth. In this way your plants will take no harm with any frost, for they are hardy enough to stand almost any thing; but it is sudden exposure to the direct sunshine, upon the breaking up of frost, that kills them. During winter they should have sun; but in the middle of some days in this country the winter's sun is pretty hot; and then I generally shade the frame for an hour or two.
As soon as you see, in the spring, that the plants are beginning to grow, you should give them a good top-dressing. For this, use the same sifted compost that you did for potting. Take a plant, and with the point of a small stick remove the top earth about half an inch deep, or rather more, and fill up its place with the new compost: at the same time take off any yellow and decayed leaves, and also any offsets that are rooted. Cut these off with a small penknife; don't pull them off. Then give the plants a good watering, so as to soak the whole ball through, because now you are going to begin growing for bloom.
Remember always, from the time the plants are put in the frames until they have done flowering, you must never water them over their leaves, because the water often would settle down in the heart of the plant, and rot it; and also that you always give water through a fine rose, holding it close to the pot, so that the water does not disturb the mould, which would expose the roots.
From the time you begin to grow for bloom, you must give extra covering at night, because, although frost would not hurt the plant, it will injure the young truss of flower which is now formed in its centre, and if this gets frozen at anytime, in the first place your bloom will not be so large, and in the next it will not open flat. This is important.
Having top-dressed your plants, you will soon see their centre open,'and your trusses of bloom begin to rise up on a straight, stiff stalk, and you must give water regularly, and not let them flag for want of it. But be cautious about one thing: sometimes, when the sun is pretty hot, and the trusses are growing, you will find the new leaves (which have got to be a good size) will flag in the afternoon; don't fancy this is from want of water, or you will overdo it. All that is wanted is to keep the earth in the pots just moist.
I will suppose the flower-stem is grown up nearly its full height, and that the pips are beginning to swell out. Now is the time for you to show your skill. If the weather is hot, you must at once move your frame out of the full exposure to the sun, and put it where it only gets it for an hour or two at sunrise; because, unless you contrive to keep your plants cool, the heat will expand the pips before they are half grown, and instead of having them the size of a quarter dollar, as you ought, and many sorts larger still, you will have them the size of sixpences. To grow the pips large before they expand, I have often in hot seasons taken one of the largest-sized empty flower-pots, and placed it in the shade on three stones, so as to have a draft of air through the bottom-hole, and then placed the Auricula pot in it, and put a hand-glass over it. Then, by leaving it thus for a week, and watering the outside of the large pot, so as to keep it wet, the evaporation from it has preserved for the plant such a cool temperature that I have had the pips a third bigger than they otherwise would have been.
This, of course, can only be done with a few plants, but an enthusiastic amateur does not mind a little trouble.
The offsets of Auriculas, when first taken off, should be grown round the edges of a good-sized pot for a twelvemonth, and then treated like the old plants.
[We are pleased to hear from you again. Like Santa Claus among the children, you always have some good thing in your "bag." It was a happy thought when you took out of it the Auricula. It is always admired, but very little grown. The amateur will only prize it the more because of the additional care of developing its full beauty. We would advise, in addition to the valuable suggestions of our correspondent, that as soon as the weather in spring gets to be pretty warm, the position of the frame be reversed, so as to face the north instead of the south. Sufficient sunlight will thus be secured, while the temperature of the frame will be several degrees cooler than if it faced the south: and this is just what is wanted to grow the Auricula successfully. - Ed].