By Nick Primich

It is usual for six years to pass from the time you pollinate a clivia flower until the first flower of your F1 seedling opens. Now you must also remember that the first flower of a clivia is usually of poor quality. It will improve as the plant matures, and usually reaches a peak between eight and ten years. The quality  will also fall off through disease or adverse conditions. There are a few tricks and aids, usually quite expensive, to reduce this time. Thus a teenager starting out could perhaps produce six or seven generations in his lifetime.

It is unfortunate that so few scientific publications or even simple horticultural directions are available to help the beginner out with some of the problems that can beset one. How is a relative newcomer going to break the barriers and get a collection of good plants? Firstly, get a lot of money. That helps overcome most if not all problems. Secondly, get a good idea of what constitutes a good plant and what is to be avoided. This can take a while, and means you must visit as many top breeders and collectors as possible. You must spend a great deal of time at the shows and question people incessantly. Examine all the photographs you can and ask the owners what they think of this, that and every other thing. When you buy a plant make certain that it is an above average plant. Question the seller as to its parentage and if possible view the parents.

I would say that I usually get a good flower from a good-looking plant. I have never got a good flower from a miserable plant, so I no longer keep miserable plants. Make copious notes, and you will soon find a picture emerging. Yellows are no longer rarities, insist that you get a good flower on your yellow purchases. Watch the leaves; see that they are presentable. Keep a record of all your breeding attempts. I use spreadsheets to record this. I have stockists of all my plants. Each plant has a number, when I pollinate I record each cross. Each year I begin a new hybrid list. Thus I am about to begin 2000. My first cross would be 0001; the 100th one would be 00100. I keep columns to record the amount of berries successfully pollinated, the total number of seeds, the amount of seeds sown, and the amount of seed germinated. This will soon indicate to you, not only the relative strength and weaknesses of the parents, but what you should and should not try to breed.

I have done this for the last five years, and the best plants have the best records. When the seedlings are about one year old, I decimate them. But I do it a little differently to what the Romans did. I only keep about one of every ten, and often scrap an entire tray if it looks miserable. I do not have the space to raise more than a thousand plants to flower, and that would give me about 200 per year to keep.

At this time assess your plants. You do not have to show this to anyone else, but write a good honest criticism of each batch. When your plants flower try to write down a good description of it. It will help to train you to rapidly see the good and bad points of a flower. There is no point in you lying to yourself so tell the truth, and get rid of all below par and second-rate material.

Watch what people are using to grow their plants in. I keep my mother plants in large tubs growing in coarse pine bark. They get a little compost washed in now and again, and also Kompel fertiliser. This is given both as a foliar spray and watered to the roots. My seedlings are grown in good quality coarse compost and only get a foliar spray. This is a cocktail, which contains fertilizer, fungicides, insecticides as well as 5ml of Sunlight liquid to 5l of spray. The Sunlight liquid is an excellent spreader-sticker, as well as having sterilizing properties. The average person will find pine bark an expensive commodity to use generally, besides, it dries out far too quickly in small pots, and I avoid using it in pots below 30cm. One can always open compost up with some fine bark or sharp sand.

I keep a diary and this helps me to formulate my weekly cocktail as to when various predators are active. I can also refer back, which helps me to rotate my chemicals to avoid possible build-up of resistance by the plant’s foes. Above all, enjoy your plants!