There’s a plant graveyard outside my greenhouse and it is growing.

Plant Graveyard

Some of the deaths are due to the cold. I sowed a few Broad Beans in pots last Autumn, hoping to over winter them and start them in a pot in the garden for an early crop. When I got the allotment I felt faintly smug at the thought that I would be able to plant out little Broad Beans fairly early on. It was not to be. The cold got to them.

Dead Broad Bean

The other problem is the dreaded Botrytis. This fuzzy grey mould thrives in still humid air, the kind you find in a greenhouse. I took the decision to insulate my greenhouse with bubble wrap this year but not to keep it frost free, mainly on environmental grounds but also because of the extra cost. Although I have kept airing the greenhouse on warmer days, I water my greenhouse plants from the bottom using capillary matting, and had kept a watering can in there too in the hope that it would be slightly warmer than from the water butts. Add to that the fact that we’ve had a long damp spell, so that opening the greenhouse wasn’t really helping on the humidity front, and you have a recipe for disaster, particularly where Pelargoniums are concerned.

Dead Pelargoniums

There is an eerie beauty to these skeletons, but skeletons they are. Poor plants, they went from a few leaves being affected – which I pulled off and removed from the greenhouse – to this, almost over night. It probably didn’t help that I hadn’t cut them back before storing them for the winter. I’ve done that now, probably too late, and moved them to the planthouse in case they continue to spread the infection. I think they’ve had it though.

The devastation isn’t, fortunately, universal. Most of my perennial seedlings have survived, although Aquilegias seem to be very susceptible.

Winners And LosersAquilegia With Botrytis

A small hydrangea collected a dose, but once I removed the infected leaves it was clear the plant was still putting on new growth, so I remain hopeful.

Hydrangea Growth #1
Hydrangea Growth #2

So what now? I am continuing to remove all the affected material, and air the greenhouse. I’ve taken all the Aquilegia seedlings out of the greenhouse and put them in the planthouse instead, and many of them are still throwing up new leaves, so who knows, some may survive. I won’t sow any more until the weather has warmed up enough for me to reinstate the automatic vent and remove some of the bubble wrap. I did think about using the dehumidifier in there to dry the air out a little but quickly realised that because of the way I water my plants this was probably going to be a waste of time. And money. I do have a small fan heater that I could put in there on a timer, which would move the air about and raise the temperature a little. I like this because it means I could start tomatoes and chillies off earlier, but am still reluctant on environmental grounds. If, in the future, we wind up living somewhere with photovoltaic cells I will happily use our self generated electricity to keep an insulated greenhouse frost free, but until then it makes no sense to me to heat a draughty glass structure just for plants. I’d rather just not try to grow tender plants that require coddling until that time.

I will miss these little beauties though. Another RIP, I hope this is the last for a while!

Pelargonium ‘Madame Layall’
Pelargonium ‘Madame Layall’
Pelargonium ‘Jackie’
Pelargonium ‘Jackie’
Pelargonium ‘Lara Jester’
Pelargonium ‘Lara Jester’
Pelargonium ‘Parisienne’
Pelargonium ‘Parisienne’

46 thoughts on “Death in the Greenhouse

  1. Crikey! I was worried when I saw the headline of your post – sounded like an episode of Inspector Morse, or Cluedo, or something…
    I must say I admire your views on the difficult decisions that sometimes have to be made concerning the conflict of interest between our love of beautiful things (which we strive to preserve) and our need/desire to avoid environmental damage. One of these is a short-term thing, and one is a long-term thing, and I believe that the long-term one has to take precedence.

    1. Happily the only casualties are plants! I think the greenhouse heating/not heating debate is a tricky one, I’d never want to criticise anyone else for making a different decision, and may well falter in my own resolve, but I personally couldn’t quite justify it this year. Now if I could generate my own electricity…

  2. Hi,

    Sorry to hear you’ve lost some plants, sometimes we just can’t win! he heee

    Last year I Autumn sowed some tomatoes and sweet peas, ended up too leggy. There just doesn’t seem to be a perfect time to sow them :)

    1. I’m fighting the urge to start of tomato and chilli seeds because I know they will probably end up too leggy, and that if I only wait until at least February they will thrive. But it is so hard, the temptation to try to get a head start…

      “he hee”?! You mock my grief ;-)

  3. Poor you, I’m just finding out which of my chillis have shuffled off this mortal coil, so far 3 out of 10 are dead – no explaination – whilst the others I cut back hard in autumn are now leafing up.

    (()) I know losing plants is a bit of a night mare

    1. Such a shame about the chillies, I failed to keep mine going too, but that was wilful neglect, they were never that great taste-wise and I’m sure I can do better.

  4. it is always sad to lose plants….but your lessons in the greenhouse are certainly lessons to help others as you learn about your greenhouse and growing conditions…I had no idea!!

  5. Oh Janet, given your organised and thoughtful propagation methods,the deaths of the plants deal a double blow. Don’t give up on the Pelargoniums though, had a few survivors last year that looked way beyond resucitation though ivy leaf and scented were not. Some of your perennials are forging ahead which reminds me to start some sowing. Lovely image of hydrangea leaf bud.

    1. Thank you Laura – of course one of mine is an ivey leaf and the rest are scented, so I imagine I am doomed!! Happy sowing.

    1. Oh, thank you Donna, I will check it out. I do hate the way the spores just float away when you touch infected material. Mind you, a lot of the aquilegia seedlings look as if they might shake it off…

  6. Always a nuisance when plants which we treasure don’t make it through the Winter. Our greenhouse is also chock-a-block with semi hardy perennials. Just getting to that time of year when I will be checking constantly for signs of life.

  7. So sorry to hear about the loss of some of your plants but am grateful it wasn’t catastrophic. Your allotment plans and greenhouse lessons are teaching me so much! Thanks for your thoughtful posts.

  8. Hello and thank you for the comment on my blog ( I did leave an answer there) I thought I would pay you a visit in return. I look forward to seeing what you grow on your allotment.
    It’s such a shame about your lost plants especially the dahlias, they are a big favourite of mine, funnily I used to avoid them as they seemed so blousy and bold, but now I can’t get enough of them, how tastes change eh !! I did leave a few of mine in the ground, but only ones that weren’t too precious. The ones I stored in my garage have survived (so far, Ssshhhhh !!) I put them in a stout cardboard box and covered them with newspaper laid loosely on top, and checked them regularly. You have a good excuse to buy some more now, or better still grow from seed. I grew over 70 and they were a great success. I had to give loads away as I didn’t expect that many to survive.

    Have a good week-end

    1. Hi Maureen, thanks for the return visit! I do grow some dahlias from seed, and may do more in the future, but this year I will be concentrating on my half plot, learning about growing veges. I know what you mean about changing tastes – I used to think dahlias were blowzy and uncouth, now they make me smile, and I find myself going for more bright colour combinations too. Growing old disgracefully!

  9. aloha,

    how difficult it must be to have to do so much pampering with overwintering plants – i feel for you since you’ve put so much effort into your beautiful plants…it really shows true dedication when a plantperson like yourself goes through so much effort to keep your stock alive….kudos to you and your determination.

    1. Thank you Noel, though I don’t think of myself as a plantsperson, that sounds too expert, and I feel myself to be a novice, particularly with tender plants. It remains to be seen whether I love the tender things enough to work hard to keep them alive, or whether I adopt the “tough love” approach I use elsewhere in my gardening.

  10. Oh poor you… so disappointing.

    That ain’t cold that did for your broad beans though – they’re usually hardy as nails. If you know what I mean. That’s stem rot – caused by too much water. It’s quite common when you overwinter broad beans outside – I always lose a few of mine to stem rots in open ground especially the way winters have been lately – but it shouldn’t be happening inside a greenhouse!

    I’m thinking you might be watering too much?

    I maybe water things once or twice in the winter, at the most… nothing’s growing so it all needs to be kept on the dry side or rot sets in.

    I may of course be telling my grandma to suck eggs here, and if so apologies :D

    At least you’ve still got time to re-sow…. spring’s on the way!! yay!

    1. Ah! That makes sense, thank you. The condensation from the greenhouse was keeping the capillary matting damp constantly, I didn’t add any from when I set them up, but clearly I need to keep them dryer. I hadn’t realised how little water everything needed over winter. Newbie greenhouse keeper! That will also help with the botrytis issue…

  11. What rotten luck! I am very familiar with killing plants (It’s the topic of my post this week) but it’s still frustrating when it happens. Hopefully, you’ve endured the worst of it. Happy replanting to you!

    1. Just read your post, and loved it! I recognised the experiences all too well. I am choosing to concentrate on the new things I plan to grow from seed this Spring instead!

  12. Janet: How sad to lose such lovely plants. But you are going above and beyond to help them survive. I really enjoy the realistic nature of your blog and how you deal with the successes and failures. I’m learning so much from you about greenhouses and plots and propagation. I hope you have the Botrytis under control now.

    1. Thank you, it seems to be on the run, fortunately. I also think I need to remember the promise I made to myself a few years ago, not to try to fight nature too much. It works outside and should work inside too. So I don’t want to heat my greenhouse making keeping fragrant and ivy leaf pelargoniums alive problematic. So be it, there are so many lovely hardy perennials that don’t love my soil, I’ll grow them in pots instead, and perhaps my next garden will welcome them with open arms – or should that be soil! Then I will have more room in my greenhouse for seedlings and early Strawberries…

  13. What a shame you had the problems with the mold and such. I understand the reluctance to heating a greenhouse….oh to have some photovoltaic cells! Your pelargoniums are stunning. Perhaps I will look into growing some of them this season. Garden centers usually have very standard colors– red and ….red. Maybe a pink one. So seldom I do annuals, could be time for a change.

    1. Hi Janet, I think I will hold off growing pelargoniums again until such time as I have a conservatory – or photovoltaic cells! I agree, the red ones you typically get in a garden centre are rather boring, but you can get some amazing ones from nurseries and online. Several of mine were beautifully scented, and I miss them.

  14. How sad to loose some lovely plants. I agree with you about heating not heating the greenhouse – a difficult choice but when I did keep my greenhouse frost free when I lived in the UK, I sometimes felt I spend more on heating (not counting the environmental cost as well) than it would have cost to buy phug plants for veg and buy new plants of pelegoniums etc.) I do wonder, though why you have the need to use a watering system in the winter. All these plants apart from maybe the broad beans would survive with water when the plants are almost dorment in the winter. You could just water what is absolutley necessary by hand, so to speak. As regards tomatoes, they always germinate really quickly (often within 5 days) and grow relatively quickly. I think its better to start a bit later – they’ll catch up anyway! Christina

    1. Hi Christina, I had the same thoughts about buying plug plants instead. And yes, you are right about the watering – I’ll know better next time around! I checked my records, and I started my tomatoes and chillies at the beginning of March last year and that worked fine, so I’ll stick to that and avoid the extra expense. I’d rather buy some raspberry canes and perhaps some currants!

  15. Oh dear I have heard that bubblewrap is not very good as it encourages humidity and grey mould. I have a £20 electric heater which has a thermostat and so I can set it for what sort of temperature I want. I keep the greenhouse just frost free and open it up on sunnyish days and it seems to have worked.

    It is sad you have lost your pelagoniums but you can have fun buying some new ones

    1. Well, live and learn! I hope… I’ll know not to water as much next winter, but I am going to persist with my “no heating” policy, at least for now, and alter my gardening to suit. Which means I will sow various hardy perennials that wouldn’t like my current garden conditions but which be happy in a pot instead of the pelargoniums, and leave those for a future time when I am not so busy trying to tame an allotment.

  16. Total bummer! I hope you stop the spread and no more plants die!

    I was just thinking about your post a few posting ago talking about gardening in your greenhouse and was thinking about this today as I worked in my tiny greenhouse. It was warm and nice. I was taking cuttings of impatiens-so easy to do! So far all is good with all of my plants but I do heat it at night and that may be the difference between our greenhouses because as you know I too have the bubble wrap. I did at first put a fan on but it really didn’t do much. I think the magic temp for my guys is about 50 and even though it gets hot during the day to about 80 on sunny days it works out okay. Have you tried seed heat mats? I turned one on today for a flat of sees I sowed. These mats have been wonderful helps to me in the past even in the garage and it might help with keeping disease from starting. Again, so sorry for the losses!

    1. Hi Tina, so far everything else looks OK, and I am going to have a go at drying the greenhouse out a little today with the dehumidifier to help protect the new seedlings.

      Really glad your greenhouse is working well for you, I think a lot of my problems are because I don’t heat it at all. At some point I would love to get some heat mats or soil warming cables, but for now I am going to make do with my little windowsill propagator and force myself to be a little patient.

  17. Ah, I am jealous of your lovely greenhouse… one of these days I hope to have one of my own. But for now, I will admire yours. Beautiful Pelargoniums – how sad to lose them. You have a lovely blog, and I look forward to visiting again. :)

    1. Hi Liisa, thank you for visiting. I too was jealous of other people’s greenhouses for many years, I’m so glad I finally got around to getting one. Hope your own dreams of having one come true soon, you won’t regret it.

  18. Hi Plantalicious (what a wonderful name!), I found this post really interesting and refreshing. It is tempting just to show and photograph our successes but plants die and it may be regarded as a shame but is a reminder that death is part of life. And I agree, there is a kind of beauty in the dried up skeletons. I have never had a greenhouse but I imagine it can be very cosy on a cold day. cheers, catmint

    1. Hi Catmint, the greenhouse is a wonderful refuge on a cold and horrid day. Glad to share my plant deaths – I always appreciate it when other people share their failures as well as their successes, it is both encouraging and educational! Thanks for visiting.

  19. Hi Janet,
    Commiserations to you and your lost plants.
    I have been neglecting the autumn sown seedlings in our greenhouse through most of the winter, and am amazed that a lot seem to be hanging on. Saved from over-watering by neglect, perhaps?! All our veg seeds arrived this weekend, fast forward spring! I’m looking forward to some marathon sowing sessions, if only we can snatch some time to finish preparing the greenhouse in the next week or two! I’ve been itching to sow my chillis to get a headstart this year, but perhaps I shall also hold off a few more weeks, if they’re likely to be leggy. Sara x

    1. Benign neglect – love it! I’ll try it next winter, I’m good at neglect… Jealous of your seed arrival – have just placed my order, just fruit to sort now. Oh, and flowers… Good luck with your chillies, I’m going to be fascinated to see when other people sow and how their results compare to mine so that next time I get it right!

  20. It has been a difficult winter for overwintering seedlings,cuttings etc. – I think some of the problems are down to the fact that it went so cold so quickly that the plants did not have time to adjust. I have lost autumn sown sweet peas for the first time ever :( I do not heat the greenhouse but wrap the occupants up well with horticultural fleece if frost threatens. Sorry that you have lost some beautiful special pelargoniums Janet – an excuse for some horticultural retail therapy when it warms up.

    1. Oh Anna, so sorry about your sweet peas, they are usually so reliable when Autumn-sown. I think you could be right about the sudden drop in temperature shocking some things. I’ve wrapped some plants in fleece in the greenhouse too, and not yet dared to check them! Horticultural retail therapy sounds rather appealing.

  21. So sorry about your Pelargoniums you had some lovely varieties.

    I am totally with you about heating a greenhouse – we dont have central heating in our own house – so there is no way I will heat the greenhouse – sadly this winter it has meant that I have lost some of my cannas and other tender plants to the sub zero temperatures. Fortunately the Salvias were in our house. :)

    I never water anything in the greenhouse from November – end of February – this helps with the grey mold.

    Good ventilation during the day in the greenhouse even in the winter is the most important thing.

    1. Hi Karen, I have definitely learnt my lesson when it comes to watering in the greenhouse over winter! Sorry to hear about your cannas etc. We gardeners do like to chance our arm – or should that be green thumb?!

  22. Sorry about the losses! I think my garden has all sorts of plant mortality taking place all the year long, but I somehow don’t notice it with the same intensity than when it’s a plant that I’m guarding in the greenhouse. I guess a lot of us start out thinking greenhouses are some sort of fantasyland of immortality, cheating winter and the like. Fortunately the successes I occasionally manage in the greenhouse serve to erase my memory of the losses and keep the fantasy alive.

    1. I think you are right James, I did imbue the greenhouse with semi-magical properties! I think you are also probably right about noticing plant deaths more when you have attempted to coddle something at least a little. I’m really not sure I am a coddling sort of gardener! Can’t wait until it is full of tomatoes though…

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