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Facebook Q&A Session 7th March 2014


Thompson & Morgan Facebook Q&A Session 7th March 2014 - Your horticultural questions answered.

Click here to view details of our previous Q&A sessions.

Name: Ann Olson-Neumann

Question: I also have brought a Yellow Gooseberry from T&M how do I plant it as I have never had one before. Thank you.

Answer: Hi Ann. Planting bareroot gooseberries is fairly straightforward. Here is a short video to help you.

Name: Dave Halliwell

Question: What is the most reliable form of grafting on fruit trees?

Answer: Hi Dave. It really depends on what you are trying to achieve and what kind of plant material (age, size etc.) that you are working with.

One of the most commonly seen methods is the whip graft which is used when grafting root stocks and scions together. This basically joins a selected variety onto a rootstock with specific attributes such as improved vigour, dwarfism etc. It is most effective when the plant material used (both scion and rootstock) are no more than ½ inch in diameter. Many young grafted plants that you buy will have been grafted in this manner, although sometimes a modified cleft graft is used.

If you are top working a mature fruit tree to add a new variety to the crown then it is preferable to use a cleft graft. This is better suited to branches no larger than 2 inches in diameter.

Budding is another method to consider. This is particularly useful for plum, cherry, apricots, and peach which are not so easily whip grafted or cleft grafted.

If you are hoping to have a go at grafting then the spring is the time to do it, just as the buds of the rootstock are beginning to open. Let us know how you get on.

Name: Pauline Petros

Question: Hi Sue - I gave the old apple tree that I inherited when I moved a severe pruning last spring opening up the centre - it was fine and produced apples but sent out hundreds of straight up whip like growths - is this the tree panicking - did I overdo the pruning last year do you think - shall I take all of the whips off this year?

Answer: Hello Pauline. As you’ve discovered, winter (spring) pruning generally promotes vigorous growth in apple trees. Don’t worry - your tree is simply responding to last year’s pruning exactly as would be expected.

Winter pruning is useful for developing a fruiting framework as it produces new laterals or side shoots (the whippy upright growths that you describe). You can prune these laterals to create fruiting spurs that will crop closer to the main branches rather than at the branch tips. This is preferable to avoid branches breaking under the weight of a crop.

You can prune your apple tree now. Cut back the long laterals to 5 or 6 buds from where they join the main branch. The branch leaders themselves can be reduced by a third of the previous season’s growth.

If performed annually, this type of spur pruning can become congested after a few years and you will need to begin removing the weakest spurs entirely. This process is call spur thinning.

With some careful pruning you will be able to enjoy the fruit from your old apple tree for many years to come.

Name: Elvira Massa

Question: Hi Sue, I just moved home and our drive is looking very bare. I would like a tree there that isn't too big or has roots that could damage the drive. The spot is south facing, it will go next to the wall between drive and pavement (about 1 m high), but the street gets quite windy. It will have about 1m square space. Is there anything that comes to mind. I prefer native trees (if possible). Many thanks!

Answer: Hi Elvira. My personal choice of small trees is Sorbus vilmorinii. This is a particularly compact rowan tree that ultimately reaches around 3-4 m high. It has attractive ferny foliage, panicles of creamy white flowers and beautiful red-pink autumn berries that slowly fade to white. Better still, the foliage turns to stunning shades of red and yellow.

Another reasonably small native tree is the Hawthorn. This also has creamy white flowers and red berries which the birds love. Both Rowan and Hawthorn are fairly resilient and won’t mind the street being windy.

If you prefer an evergreen then it might be worth considering Holly. It is fairly slow growing which makes it easier to control but you would need to consider whether the spiky foliage will become a hazard to people passing by.

Other non native trees to consider are Amelanchier × grandiflora ‘Ballerina’, Prunus ‘Shogetsu’, Acer griseum or even one of the smaller Magnolias. I hope that gives you a few ideas.

Name: James Burrage

Question: Hi Sue, I have a two parter about bulbs! We want to renovate an old border that will require the lifting of lots of spring bulbs, we'll wait till the flowers die down, but how long after that should we wait before lifting and is there a process to follow to ensure they flower again next spring? Part 2 - is it worth planting indoor flowering bubla, hyacinths, outdoors, I.e. Will they flower next year? Space is at a premium so I don't wany to plant them I'd we won't get flowers! Thanks, James

Answer: Hi James. Spring bulbs are best moved after flowering, and before the foliage dies back. When you lift them, try to leave a reasonable rootball of soil around them to minimise the risk of piercing through them with your garden fork. Replant them in their new position at the same depth and give them a good drink of water to settle the soil back around them. It’s that simple!

Regarding part 2 of your question, you certainly can plant Hyacinths outdoors for flowering next year. They are perfectly hardy, but may flower later in the season next year than when they were grown indoors. This is because they would have undergone heat treatment last year to bring them into flower early. Best of luck with renovating your border.

Name: Andy Brown

Question: The School Gardening Club has been given 2 Rhubarb Crowns. Can you tell me if they need any special treatment or do we just plant them where we want them to live?

Answer: Hi Andy. What a lovely donation to the school gardening club!

Rhubarb is fairly straight forward to grow. Plant it in a sunny position in well drained soil. Prepare the soil in advance by digging in plenty of well rotted manure and clearing all weeds. When planting rhubarb crowns, set them so that the top of the crown sits 3cm (1") below soil level and allow a spacing of 75cm (30") between plants.

During the first year, resist the temptation to harvest the stems, in order to allow the plant to become properly established. In spring, remove the emerging flower heads as they appear. From the second year, stems can be harvested from April to June, when the leaves have fully unfurled. Pull from the base of each stem and twist them away from the crown. Harvest only a few stems at a time.

Water rhubarb plants in summer during dry periods to prevent the soil from drying out. When the leaves die back in autumn, remove the old stalks and apply a mulch of well rotted manure around the crown. I hope that helps you Andy.