Chilean Tropaeolum in Maryland

Jane McGary
Fri, 29 Aug 2014 17:22:35 PDT
Jim McKenney asked,
So, I'm still in the Chilean Tropaeolum game, but obviously I need 
help and advice.
>Should these plants get a lot of water when in active growth?
>How necessary is cold to their culture?  I've noticed that the cold 
>frame plants, which are in leaf throughout the winter in the years 
>when they sprout, quit as soon as the temperatures begin to rise.
>A friend gave me a set of light tables: would I be likely to have 
>better results growing these plants inside in a cool basement under 
>lights? I keep the house thermostat set for 54 degrees F during the 
>winter, so that basement is very cool.
>Or might a richer medium and regular watering give good results in 
>the cold frame?

Tropaeolum brachyceras is the most adaptable of the species Jim 
mentioned (T. azureum and T. hookerianum austropurpureum being the 
others. I grow all of these in raised beds in an unheated, covered 
but otherwise open Mediterranean house. In nature these plants live 
in a region that is very dry in summer, when they are dormant. I have 
mostly seen T. azureum in shady locations near the base of cliffs 
where there is probably more moisture; T. hookerianum among shrubs on 
dry hillsides; and T. brachyceras in the latter kind of site also. I 
do NOT recommend growing them under lights or in pots. The tubers 
pull down as far as they can in their planting site. They will 
benefit from moderate moisture from late fall through mid spring but 
should be left dry otherwise. The soils I have seen them in are poor 
and rocky, but often richer soils do not harm such plants.

The main trick to getting good bloom on them is providing a scaffold 
of some kind for them to climb on. They can flower running flat on 
the ground but they really perform when they get up on a shrub or 
twiggy branch. Don't use a metal support because cold temperatures 
will then damage the stems. T. azureum can become quite tall; T. 
brachyceras a little shorter; and T. hookerianum is happy here with a 
branch about 40 cm high.

Jane McGary
Portland, Oregon, USA

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