Conservatory Plant Care
How much light do they need?
Conservatory plants need higher light levels than are normal in houses or offices, but they also need shading from direct summer sunlight, so in South or West facing conservatories some form of shading is desirable: blinds or painted-on shading, to filter the strong sunlight. North or East facing conservatories may not need shading.
Will my conservatory be too hot?
Excessive heat can put great stress on plants and make life very tiresome with all the increased need for watering by their owners! Blinds will keep out the worst of the sun's rays, and are useful even in early Spring and late Winter when temperatures can build up to stressful levels on sunny days, even when it is cold outside.
Will the plants get too cold?
Each plant will have its own 'best minimum' temperature, but subtropical conservatory plants are generally quite happy to go down to 4-8°C; and many can be found which thrive in unheated glass. Keeping plants above 6°C will give opportunities for many exciting plants, without breaking the bank to keep them warm in Winter.
Before putting plants into your new conservatory, ensure there is enough provision for airflow to keep the room cool in hot weather, and particularly to allow ventilation while you are out, without compromising the security of your house. Even in Winter, plants appreciate a bit of fresh air to avoid fungal diseases building up; and Citrus trees require adequate ventilation or they tend to drop leaves and fruit.
The amount of water a plant needs is dictated by the weather conditions and number of leaves. A plant with lots of leaves in a small pot may need watering every day in sunny Summer weather; a plant with few leaves and a large pot may not need watering for a week or 10 days in the same weather. Check your plants each day and judge each one individually: As a general rule, when the top of the compost is beginning to dry out, give enough water to reach the bottom of the pot, preferably washing a little out through the bottom each time. Big pots take gallons of water, and will not need more until the top start to turn a light colour again. Bog plants and cacti will need more and less water than this, respectively.
Feed plants regularly - each week in Spring and Summer when plants are growing strongly, reducing down perhaps every 4 weeks in Winter if plants are kept cool enough to be dormant. Use a tomato-type fertiliser (high in potash) for flowering plants; a high nitrogen fertiliser for green plants; and a seaweed or special Citrus fertiliser, high in trace elements, for Citrus trees to keep them green and fruiting. Wash pots through with clean water twice a year to avoid a build up of unused fertiliser salts. Plant Pins or slow release granules can also be used to good effect on house and conservatory plants (remember to keep a note of when they were put in, so that you know when they have finished being effective!).
When plants become too big for their pots they dry out too quickly and become unhappy. To check the roots, knock the pot off with a sharp tap and see if the rootball is too full and tight. If so, repot in Spring or Summer, when growth is strong, and generally put into a pot about 2-3cm bigger all around. Use a compost that roughly matches the previous one (peat with peat; soil based with soil based), and read the plant label or a reference book to see if ericaceous compost is needed. Water well after potting to settle the compost in around the roots.
Do not be afraid to prune most plants. If it is getting too big, leggy, or unruly - cut it down to size! Generally prune after flowering to give a full year for flowering growth to develop; or in late Winter/early Spring just as growth is starting. Pinching out tips of bushy plants regularly can reduce the need for drastic pruning, and produces a nice well-shaped plant with lots of flowering shoots. (Be careful with poisonous plants like Datura and Oleander - best to use secateurs with these).
Oranges, Lemons, Calamondins, Kumquats, Clementines, Grapefruits.... All these will grow beautifully in a conservatory with a minimum temperature of 4°C. Keep them in a very light position; feed regularly with Citrus or seaweed fertiliser; pinch tips occasionally to keep bushy; and enjoy the fragrant flowers and delicious, colourful fruit.
And finally, the dreaded bugs...
Keep checking your plants. Get into the habit of turning over leaves, and watching for sticky deposits or black sooty mould. At the first sign of pests, spray with an insecticidal soap or a chemical spray, or think about ordering the appropriate Biological Pest Controls. If planning to use these, do not spray chemicals other than insecticidal soap or Rapid (for Aphid) after about February, as many have a lingering effect and will kill any beneficial insects your might introduce.
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