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Worsleya - the Blue Amaryllis Culture

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Confession of a Worsleya Killer/Grower in NJ, USA

I've been growing orchids, Clivias and other unusuals with better than average batting average and when my orchid grower friend from Australia decided to get rid of his 3 to 4-year old Worsleya seedlings, I jumped on that opportunity to import them. The importation process did a job on the plants.. By the time the USDA released them (they found one mealy bug in one plant and put all of them in the gas chamber) the plants were already borderline. It took another year to get the plants back into good shape. Being a newbie at that time in growing Worsleya, I've experimented using different growing materials and learned some lessons. It seems plenty of Worsleya growers are using pumice but pumice is something not in abundance in NJ or surrounding states. However, I had plenty of 3/8" sponge rock(excellent aeration and water absorption plus its inert which means it last forever so no more annual repotting and fast draining too) that I use for my orchids so that's what I used in pure form from 4" pot to 8" pot. Finally found that Dry Stall is also made of pumice and readily available so my husband tried it as a topping as its smaller than the 3/8" sponge rock. The logic behind it is the Dry Stall would retard the evaporation of water and keep the Worsleya moist longer. I think my husband's mistake was the use of about 20% Dry Stall Top and 80% 3/8" Sponge Rock bottom and it ended with a few rotted roots. The Dry Stall was just too wet and its preventing the bottom from drying out in time for the next watering cycle. Next he removed most of the Dry Stall but left a few sprinkle and got a reduction in root rot but still I'm getting root rot on the 6"-8" pot. So the solution is to reduce the frequency of watering to allow the 6"-8" pot to dry out between watering. But old habit dies hard and hard to keep track of the watering so in order to be consistent with the overall watering schedule in the greenhouse, I was forced to order the 1/2" pumice and repot the 6"-8" pot so the proportion is 3/8" sponge rock 1/3 top and 1/2" pumice 2/3" bottom and from then on , no more root rot. I could have ordered the 1/2" sponge rock but it would be too light to support the plant when its dry. Since my Dosatron (fertilizer injector) is online, all plants get the same amount of fertilizer (low settings) everytime I water except in winter.

I pride myself for being a good grower as I also grow mostly orchids, clivias and other unusual plants. However, I (the waterer) still have'nt found the optimum method of growing the big Worsleya in Sponge Rock/Pumice as its difficult to assess when it needs watering via time and weight. Easy doing it if you are growing 1 plant but multiply it by 30 and becomes a challenge. I don't know if the difference in sizes with the big ones are attributable to seed grown variability and/or its history of being my guinea pig from the importation, to getting gassed, to being experimented to some rotted roots or maybe its just me with my inconsistensies in watering. I still enjoy hand watering but now I rely more on automating the watering by growing some in a self-watering planter.See Picture below: Worsleya seedlings that were imported from Australia : Note the 2 Plants in the center growing in Self-Watering Planters. The one up front lost its roots when it was in a regular pot and was able to recover in the self-watering planter and also manage to catch up with the rest of the group. . The other Worsleyas in regular pots in the 2 crates are root bound and watered manually. All the Worsleya in this picture are the same age.
Worsleya seedlings

A year later after the importation of the bigger Worsleya, to gain experience with growing from seeds, I purchased a batch of Worsleya seeds and managed to have the following: 90% rooting, 60% germination and 90% mortality rate in growing. Other growers may have better success depending on the seeds source and growing technique. Once the Worsleya seedlings passed the 5-8 months growing phase then its easy sailing. At the end of the year, I sold whatever survived and just broke even. In any seed grown plants, there are lots of variability in growing as well as in flowering . Its best to just chuck the laggards as these are weak plants. So when buying seeds, buy at least as many seeds you can afford as you have to contend with variability and mortality.

Another source of Worsleya are the ones that are recently tissue cultured clonal named Worsleya procera 'DAP. I like them since they're more or less uniform in size complete with roots and easy to grow and best of all I've only killed 1 out of 100. I use NZ sphagnum moss or peat and after 6-12 months transfer them to a 3-1/2" pot. Quite a few of the imported Worsleya from Australia were brought to the laboratory for cloning and only one made it. It would interesting to see how the flowers would look like once these tissue culture Worsleya flowers in 5 to 6 years..

Growing the small Worsleya in a 72-cell tray in Winter, I grow them over a heat pad (keeps the roots warm) with ambient temperature of 60F and up and expose them to full sunlight. Watering could be every 2-3 days depending on how fast they dry out. So even in winter, they're growing. As it warms up in Early Spring, the heat pad is turned off and everything else remains the same. The 8- month old Worsleyas, half of the 8-month old batch already bare-rooted and the other haff still encased in peat are now transplanted over to a 3-1/2" pot using either Sunshine #4 or equivalent commercial peat moss based potting mix or Straight Canadian Sphagnum peat moss or straight 3/8" sponge rock. For the commercial peat moss based potting mix or the Straight Canadian Sphagnum peat moss, I let it dry out (barely) before watering again. On the 3/8" Sponge Rock, since there's no visual indication as to whether its dry or moist, I have to lift up the pot to check its weight. (Heavy its wet and light if its dry) prior to watering once to twice a week in the Spring and I'd suspect every day or two in Summer depending on how fast they dry out.. Be aware that by using organic potting mix such as the commercial peat moss based or Straight Canadian Sphagnum moss, its efficacy diminish over a period of time as it breakdown. As it breaksdown, its water holding capacity also increases so if you're watering schedule is fix, you'll end up overwatering the plant, hence the need for repotting every year or two depending on the severity of the breakdown. Using non-organic potting mix such as the 3/8" sponge rock although great as a potting mix due to its being inert, pH neutral, absorbs water readily and provides aeration and drainage but also pose some problems like the need for an indicator for the watering (sponge rock looks the same-white whether its wet or dry) and you'll know when its too wet as the top starts to turn green (algae growing) over a period of time. Great thing about inert potting mix is they don't break down thereby can be reused if repotting is required once the plant has outgrown the pot.

Update : on the 14- month Old October 2015, I checked the root system between the ones potted in Sunshine #4 vs ones on Pure Canadian Sphagnum Moss and compare the pictures below:



roots are much more numerous and longer on the Worsleyas grown in Canadian Sphagnum.

Update on 14-month old Worsleya Oct 2015 Worsleya grown in Sponge Rock


Bulbs are plump and roots are clean and numerous when grown in Sponge Rock and much more forgiving when it comes to root rot. The Worsleya procera 'DAP' clone even when young are already exhibiting the rooster tail characteristic of a much older seedlings and also prone to producing multi-growth in a single plant. Since the Sponge Rock is non-organic and inert, plant food or fertilizer has to be provided every watering.

Update: March 2017- All things being equal, I noticed that the small ones 6 months to 24 months grow better when the humidity is much higher 90-100%. Also observed that the ones that has more roots grow faster than their counterpart with less roots. The upside to the higher humidity is frequency of watering is much less and plant has more leaves on higher humidity (90-99% RH) compared to plants on normal humidity (40-50% RH).
Worsleya in mini-greenhouse Small Worsleya grown in mini-greenhouse

Growing the Worsleya in self-watering planter with the appropriate potting mix would allow the plant to thrive. Its like hiring a full time Master Gardener to take care of plants 24/7 or having a life-time insurance against catastrophic Worsleya failure. Some small Worsleya plants that I've grown are in a Deltini Series and Cube series.. The Mini / Maxi Deltini is a Decorative 2-pots in one self-watering planter. The outer pot is the reservoir and the color coordinated inner pot or liner has the level gauge , wick, and also comes with its own proprietary inert potting mix called PON consisting of pumice, lava rock, zeolite and built-in fertilizer good for a year. By using the self-watering feature(liner w/ the outer pot) Watering is from 6 to 12 weeks depending on how fast the plant consumes the water. Or if need the challenge, just separate the liner from outer pot and treat the liner as a conventional pot and use the other pot with no holes to grow aquatic plants. What I like about the Mini/Maxi-Deltini or the Mini/Maxi Cubico is you can grow anything from Cactus to Aquatic plants- plants from both extreme end of the watering spectrum (dry to wet) using its proprietary PON potting mix.

8-month old Worsleya in Mini-Deltini8-month old Worsleya in Mini-Deltini 2 pots in one 8-month old Worsleya bare-rooted I'll take another picture of the 8-month old Worsleya when it turns a year old in September 2015 and see how big it gets and its root system as grown in the Apricot Colored Mini-Deltini.

Just like the Mini / Maxi Deltini, the Mini / Maxi-Cubico is a decorative 2-pot-in-one self-watering planter. The PON (Non-organic potting mix) also comes with it and as the name suggests, the planter is in a shape of a cube. Other than the difference in the shape, the inner pot or liner is transparent so you could see what's going on inside the inner pot.

mini-cubi I'll take another picture of the 8-month old Worsleya when it turns a year old in September 2015 and see how big it gets and its root system as grown in the White Mini-Cubi.

The plant below in the Maxi-Cubi decorative self-watering planter filled with 3/8" sponge rock is always left outside exposed to the Morning Sun till Noon from Late Spring, Summer till just before the first frost before I bring it in. I don't even recall watering it as the rain and the self-watering feature took care of the watering for me. The other plant in a 6" standard pot is filled with 3/8" sponge rock top third and 1/2" pumice bottom two-third. Also exposed to full sun till 2pm outside from Late Spring, Summer till just before the first frost before I bring it in and watering once or twice or three times a week depending on weather condition. Notice also that it has fewer leaves compared to the one in the self-watering planters. Picture was taken in Winter. As its hand watered, it must have been consistently underwatered and if its overwatered, the consequences is loss of roots which is devastating as it takes a couple of years to regain the roots. . For optimum and consistent watering, plant the Worsleya in a Self-Watering Planter sized properly with the appropriate potting mix.

The same could be said for the larger Worsleya plants both in a 9" regular pot and 8"x8"x10" Cubico 22 Liner Self-watering Planter. Both plants are approxiately the same size, healthy with lots of roots just by observing the regular pot hanging when the plant is lifted but the one in the self-watering has a larger bulb, more leaves and more offsets. A testament to the Self-Watering Planters consistency in watering 24/7 and decrease in the frequency of water refill..

A larger Worsleya plant in a Cubico 22 Self-watering Planter. Notice the peacock shape leaves and number of leaves and also the offsets.

Worsleya in Cubico 22 Worsleya in Cubico 22 with Liner

When buying a Worsleya plant, don't just look at the size of the bulb, number of leaves but also how well rooted it is. And the test is have them hold the plant up in the air and see if the pot also is being held by the plant or check out the root system. Roots should be plentiful and white or brown but not black.

Another source of Worsleya are the offshoots or offsets from the mother plant. Compared to a seed grown or tissue culture all things being equal, the offshoot or offsets will be larger as it draws its energy from the mother plant. The offsets can be cut off from the mother plant once it has developed its own root system and planted in a separate

In summary, out in the wild, like the Clivia where it takes about 10 years to flower from seed to maturity due to it undergoing dormancy due to seasonal variation. Worsleya suffers from the same fate where 2/3 of the year its actively growing and the other 1/3 its just barely growing at all. Being able to keep it growing actively by providing warm temperature all year until it grows to sufficient size for flowering, then that's the time to expose it to the colder temperature at night just like when it is in its natural environment to induce it to flower. Being able to grow the Worsleya continuously without any dormancy, You'd be able to flower it in 5-6 years.

After reading about my trials and tribulations in growing this magnificent Worsleya, I hope you don't make the same mistakes that I made.

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