Tropaeolum tricolor and vertical gardening

Jane McGary
Thu, 14 Jul 2011 08:50:20 PDT
Max asked
>My T. tricolor tubers have arrived well in advance of my plant to
>construct a window box for them, and I am considering trying them in
>"woolly pockets" instead:
>These are breathable felted polyethylene bags used in vertical
>gardening: Height = 15 inches, Length = 24 inches Volume = .40 cubic
>Does anyone have experience with this type of product or thoughts
>about it's suitability to T. tricolor?
>In case you're wondering why I want to windowbox this plant, the
>location will provide the best winter sun I can muster.

I expect this Tropaeolum would grow at least for a season in almost 
anything, as long as it is kept moist during its early growing 
season. One thing to know about it is that different wild populations 
grow in different conditions; some are much moister during its 
flowering period than others. It's impossible to know which type one 
gets from a commercial source. All of them, however, go dormant by 
early to midsummer, so they might not be the best choice for a 
prominent position such as Max is suggesting. There's also the 
question of how warm the soil would get -- the tubers might not do 
well if heated too much. If Max uses the pocket planter, it would 
probably be best to store it in a shaded place during dormancy, even 
though he doesn't live in a terribly hot climate.

Another thing I've noticed about this and other small tuberous 
Tropaeolums is that they flower best when given a vertical support 
rather than trailing down or along the ground. In my bulb collection 
they have been given twiggy branches to keep them from strangling 
nearly flowering stems. T. tricolor is particularly strong in its 
upward tendency and it would probably try to cling to the outside of 
the pocket material to go up. In nature they climb up through shrubs. 
(Some of the bigger ones, such as T. incisum and T. polyphyllum, are 
trailers that spread out on the soil surface and might be a better 
choice where a trailing plant is wanted.) This year I bought some 
small decorative "tuteurs" (pyramidal wire supports) to put over them 
for next winter's growth. Another possibility was suggested by a 
photo in the AGS bulletin of a show plant grown by Joy Bishop: she 
had made a dome of chicken wire and placed it over a pot containing 
T. brachyceras, training it back and forth over the dome to create a 
very pretty (if hardly "in character") flower-covered cushion, 
probably the most sensible way to get one of these fragile climbers to a show.

Jane McGary
Portland, Oregon, USA

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