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Facebook Q&A Session 10th January 2014


Thompson & Morgan Facebook Q&A Session 10th January 2014 - Your horticultural questions answered.

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Name: Cat Jd JamesonTearse

Question: I have an armandii and montana clematis when's best to prune it’s got a bit out of hand!! Thanks!

Answer: Hello. What a lovely choice of clematis - but both are vigorous growers. Both Clematis armandii and Clematis Montana are Group 1 varieties which will flower in early spring on the previous year's growth. It’s best to wait until the summer to prune them once the flowers have faded. Simply remove any damaged or dead stems entirely before cutting back the remaining stems to a pair of healthy buds. This should help to reduce their size and maintain the plants within their allotted space. So for now you can just sit back and enjoy their flowers!

Name: Andy Brown

Question: As a group of parents we volunteer at our kids primary school to look after the school gardens and allotment. We have just raised the funds for a greenhouse. Any suggestions as to what we should kit it out with?

Answer: That’s great news! What a brilliant thing to do for your children. Kids love getting out in the garden so I’m sure that your greenhouse will be well used.

To start with you will need something to grow their plants in - a range of pots, seed trays and module trays will be most useful. Obviously they will need plenty of bags of compost too. Get them some seed sowing compost to start their seeds off and some multipurpose compost for growing plants on. Plant labels, Dibbers, and watering cans will also be handy.

A few other thing you might like to consider are child height potting benches and a range of pot sized tampers for levelling level the soil when they are planting. These could probably be made by one of the parents if anyone enjoys a bit of woodwork.

If you have sufficient funds then you might even like to consider buying a propagator. An electric propagator is most useful, although this will depend on whether you have a power supply in your greenhouse. And of course you will also need something for them to grow. Here’s a few of our seeds for children to get you started.

Name: Jo Sutton

Question: We inherited a pear tree with our new house. Last autumns fruits were bitter & inedible even when soft and ripe. What's wrong with it?

Pam Hill comments:

You possibly have a pear which is used to make perry [pear cider]. Often, eating pears are grafted onto perry rootstock - if improperly pruned over the years, the grafted pear dies and the rootstock takes over. Alternatively - some pears should be picked when mature, but unripe, and let ripen at room temperature.

Answer: Hello Jo. As Pam has already said, pears should be picked at maturity and ripened indoors to be appreciated at their best. It is quite likely that your pear is simply a variety with a more bitter flavour that is best used for cider or as a cooking pear.

There is a disorder called Bitter Pit which can affect the flavour of pears but this is usually accompanied by small sunken pits on the surface of the fruit and patches of dry flesh beneath these areas. I suspect that you would have noticed these if your tree was suffering from this disorder. But it may be worth reviewing the growing conditions of your tree as this disorder is caused by a calcium deficiency which often occurs after a dry summer and insufficient irrigation. It’s a shame that the fruits are not very tasty - try stewing them with a little sugar this year to see if this makes them more edible.

Name: James Burrage

Question: I recently purchased some tree lily bulbs from T&M, but the wet weather has meant I can't plant them out. Should I wait till it dries up and is there a risk that a cold spell could damage them if I do? Should I try and wait till spring and if so how can I store them in the meantime? Thanks!

Answer: Hello James. The weather really hasn’t been very favourable over the last few weeks, has it? Lilies can be stored in cool, dry conditions but they are likely to sprout if the temperature is above 7C (45F), and once sprouted the shoots are easily damaged. Nonetheless, you can afford to wait for a couple of weeks to see if the weather improves.

If the soil still remains sodden over the coming weeks then the best solution would be to plant up your lilies into pots for the time being. Use a loam based compost such as John Innes No.2. You can stand the containers in a cold greenhouse or sheltered position outdoors to protect them from becoming too wet. By the time the warmer spring weather arrives they will have rooted in to their pots and can then be transferred to their final positions in the garden.

Whatever you end up doing, you will need to protect new shoots from being frosted. Cover them with fleece or an upturned cardboard box during periods of cold weather. I hope that helps James.

Name: Matthew Perry

Question: What is the best way to care for an indoor orchid? Such as the right position in a room, watering it and feeding. It’s a Fata Morgana phalaenopis

Answer: Hello Matthew. Phalenopsis is an epiphytic orchid that enjoys warm temperatures. While your plant is in active growth from spring to autumn you should be watering it with soft water or rainwater to keep the compost continually moist but not waterlogged. Don’t use tap water as this can contain chlorine and lime. In winter you can reduce watering and allow the compost to almost dry out between waterings. The idea is to keep the roots dry but still provide a little water to prevent the plant becoming dehydrated.

From spring to summer, feed your phalaenopsis every three weeks (once a month will be fine if this is easier to remember). Use a specialist orchid fertiliser. Alternatively use an ordinary balanced liquid feed diluted to a ¼ strength solution. You do not need to feed the plant during the winter months while it is not in active growth.

Two final things to remember are that your orchid will need a warm position in bright, filtered light throughout the year. Remember that positions close to heaters or radiators should be avoided as these create very dry air, and direct strong sunlight can also be damaging. Also during the summer you should mist your phalaenopsis at least once a day to increase humidity around the leaves. There is no need to mist in winter however.

These plants are really quite specialist, but if you can find the ideal position for your orchid then the rest is just a matter of good care and attention. Good luck, Matthew.

Name: Rachel Denham

Question: Can u tell me when the best time is to lift and transplant naked ladies colcheium prob not correct spelling. Thankyou.

Answer: Hi Rachel. Autumn-flowering Crocuses can be lifted and moved in summer from July to August. Let their foliage die back naturally but pop a stick in the ground to mark their whereabouts so that you can find them later on. It’s best to replant your Colchicums immediately after lifting them so it’s worth preparing their new position in advance. Best of luck Rachel.

Name: Christine Colgrave

Question: My 40 yr old holly (looks like Golden van Tol) has shed copious leaves this year and now looks sparse in the middle. Is this normal? It was treated for cushion scale last year!

Answer: Hi Christine. Don’t panic yet - Hollies are really very tough plants and will often reshoot provided that the stems are still healthy. Give it some time to recover before you take any further action.

It’s worth noting however, that Holly responds well to hard pruning by sending up lots of vigorous shoots, even if you cut back into older wood. So if necessary you could prune your tree next spring to promote fresh growth and regenerate your tree. I hope that helps, Christine.

Name: Victoria Grozier

Question: Does climbing hydrangea grow in the UK/Scotland and if yes, where can I buy it for my garden? thank you!

Answer: Hi Victoria. The plant in your picture is not a hydrangea - its Viburnum opulus, a lovely deciduous shrub with plenty of year round interest. It is perfectly hardy and will happily grow in a sunny or semi shaded position, in any moderately fertile, well drained soil. You can buy Viburnum opulus here!

Name: Rhoda Honeyman

Question: Hi, my habanero chilli plant is dropping all the flowers. Temperature is right, not over watering and I am feeding it. I regularly grow chilli plants but this one is proven to be difficult. Any ideas? Many thanks.

Answer: Hello Rhoda. There are lots of reasons why chilli plants might drop their flowers and you have obviously already tried to eliminate a lot of those issues. At this time of year it may well be due to a lack of insects to pollinate the flowers. This can easily be overcome by hand pollinating using a fine paintbrush.

You have probably already done this but it’s worth double checking the variation between your daytime and night-time temperatures, as large fluctuations can cause flower drop. Also take care also not to over feed the plants at this time of year. Their growth will be slower in the winter months so they need considerably less fertiliser than they would during the summer months when they are in full growth. The same goes for water. A little and often approach is best.

Also make sure that you harvest any chillies as they mature. Not harvesting the fruits can cause chillies to drop the remaining flowers as they direct all of their energies toward maintaining the fruits that have already formed. Flower drop in chillies is a very common problem, so don’t be too disheartened. They will naturally shed a few flowers anyway but hopefully if you can reduce the number of flowers that are shed then you ought to be able to harvest a half decent crop. Best of luck Rhoda.