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Facebook Q&A Session 11th January 2013


Thompson & Morgan Facebook Q&A Session 11th January 2013 - Your horticultural questions answered.

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Name: Elaine Randall

Question: New garden, blank canvas lawn only part shade help! Garden is all lawn at present, it's wide one end narrow the other. 36ft long widest part 24ft gradual narrowing to 18 ft. I'd like perennials, fragrant climbers, and obviously some evergreens. I also want to attract wild birds, I love honeysuckles, armandii clematis, jasmine, Lavender , Buddleja davidii . I also want pots strategically placed with maybe the fine cut acer? A bright red. It's all fenced. Sun one end early mornings, sun other end late afternoon evenings. I don't want to dig full borders, more corner borders filled with colour and fragrance and obviously climbers to cover bare fencing. Quite a tall order, but being disabled I know it'll take me awhile, and it needs to be mainly maintenance free, it's a new lawn too laid October last year, when can I start to plant drifts of crocus, snowdrops etc in it?

Answer: Hi Elaine, how lovely to have a blank canvas! You’ve listed some nice plants to use - and you’re quite right to suggest using evergreens as they give the garden some structure during winter. All these plants will require some maintenance, whether it’s pruning the shrubs and climbers so they put on a good show of flowers and stay within bounds, or cutting back and dividing the perennial plants every 3 years to keep them performing well. Some easy-going evergreen shrubs include Aucuba, Berberis, Daphne, Euonymus, Fatsia (which is big-leaved and architectural), varieties of holly, Pittosporum, Escallonia, Osmanthus , Garrya (fantastic winter catkins) and dwarf conifers.

It sounds like your garden is mainly part shade - on our website you can use the filters on the left hand side of the page to select plants for part shade e.g. in our perennial and biennial plant section. Click on any of the categories from the menus and you’ll be able to filter on the left according to your requirements.

We’ve put together a comprehensive list of plants for attracting birds (and bees and butterflies!) in our 'Plants for wildlife’ article - click here to view it. We’ve also put together a 'Plants for walls and fences’ article which is divided into plants for cool north and east-facing walls, and plants for warmer south and west-facing walls. Both articles include interesting plant features such as autumn colour or scent so hopefully you will find something here to inspire you! As for the crocus and snowdrops you can plant them this autumn as the grass should be fairly well established by then. I hope this helps Elaine - best of luck with the garden, we’d love to see some photos as it progresses!

Name: Stephen Muddell

Question: Just like I guess a lot of people, my allotment has been either under water or at least very soggy for most of the autumn/winter are there any pearls of wisdom to help the soil recover ready for spring planting/sowing?

Answer: Hi Stephen, the most important thing is not to walk on the soil whilst it’s wet - particularly with clay soils as this can damage the structure and make water logging even worse! The best thing you can do is to leave it until you need to, or are able to, work on it for sowing/planting. This could be mid-spring on clay and also depends on how the weather works out this year. Alternatively you could help the soil dry out and warm up by covering it with plastic sheeting or cloches from February onwards. If you do need to walk across the soil then try using a plank of wood to distribute your weight and reduce compaction. Make sure you keep adding organic matter each year as this helps to chemically and physically break up the soil for better air flow and drainage. I hope this helps.

Name: Fahima Khalil

Question: Hi there, my family back home are fond of the beauty, loveliness and variety of the flowers and greens in the UK! Therefore, I am thinking to send them some seeds! What sort of the flowers and plants would you reckon, bearing in the mind that from March the temperature rises to around 20, and it reaches to 40-45 in Aug. I have browsing through your site; I couldn't make up my mind, hoping to receive them with my order sometime next week! Can you help us please? I want something that is straightforward, plant them outside, I’ve read some of the seeds instructions, they are so complicated. Thank you very much indeed.

Answer: Hi Fahima, it sounds like you would be best to choose drought or heat tolerant plants - we’ve put together a list of these plants at the following link: 'Drought resistant plants’. You may also find our 'Plants for sunny and dry borders’ article helpful. For sowing directly in the ground choose annual plants which only flower for one season. Perennial plants, which flower for more than one year, and shrubs are trickier to grow from seed and generally need more care. The benefit to perennial plants and shrubs is that they will survive the intense heat and sun much better than annual plants.

If you’d like to have a go at growing easy annuals which are sown direct in the ground, try California poppies, sweet peas, sunflowers, poppies, cornflowers, poached egg plant, Love-in-a-mist, night-scented stock and Lavatera. Most of these annuals will die back fairly quickly with intense heat and sun but will certainly put on a good show before the very hot weather!

Question: Also, I have received my apricot, pomegranate and almond trees that I have ordered from T&M today! I am concerned about pruning them, in the instruction it says from third year chose 3 or 4 branches and cut them to the third .... However is third year from when I received the trees or the actual age of the trees as they are tall . Thank you a lot.

Answer: Hi Fahima, apricots and pomegranates are pruned in their first spring after planting to establish a good framework of branches which will shape the tree for the rest of its life. Almonds require very little pruning - only to remove any dead or damaged stems each year. After some initial training none of these trees will require much pruning.

For apricots, in the first spring after planting, select 3 or 4 well spaced branches on a clear trunk of at least 75cm (29"), and shorten them by two thirds. Remove the central stem to just above the highest of the selected branches. Remove any laterals below the selected branches. In the following spring, select 3 or 4 side-shoots on each branch and shorten these by half to create a balanced, open framework. In future years apricots will require only occasional pruning to remove damaged, badly placed or diseased wood. This should be carried out during April.

For pomegranates, prune plants from spring to summer. Select 3 or 4 low branches to form the main framework of the tree, and remove any misplaced, crowded and damaged branches. During the first 3 years shorten the main branches by a third of the previous season’s growth to develop a well branched plant. Thereafter pruning should be kept to a minimum as over pruning can reduce fruiting. Pomegranates produce suckers and these should be removed from the base of the plant. I hope this helps Fahima, best of luck.

Name: Caroline Evans

Question: Hi there, I’d like to plant some hyacinth bulbs in pots to use as table decorations for my wedding on May 18th - is that too late? I’m not much of a gardener but I understand that I need to plant the bulbs 10 weeks prior to the wedding and keep them somewhere dark? Advice much appreciated!!

Answer: Hi Caroline, unfortunately not many suppliers will stock specially prepared hyacinth bulbs at this time of year; they’re normally sold in the autumn so they can be forced for Christmas. If you do manage to find some (Ebay is normally pretty good for this sort of thing!) then you have plenty of time to grow them on. They’re normally called 'Prepared’ 'Heat Treated’ or 'Indoor’ hyacinth bulbs and have had heat treatment to bring the flowers on faster. Regular, outdoor, untreated bulbs could still flower in late spring if planted now - but it could be a bit hit or miss on flower emergence, quality and size.

To grow prepared hyacinth bulbs for 18th May I would aim to plant three batches, one week after the other to stagger flowering times in case some flower too early or too late. The bulbs will take up to 13 weeks to flower so I would start planting them from mid-February onwards. First of all make sure your containers have drainage holes. Then simply place a layer of multi-purpose compost into the bottom of your chosen container and sit the bulbs on top. Fill around with more compost so the tips of the bulbs are just showing at the surface. You can plant the bulbs very closely together provided they’re not touching. After this they’ll need a cold dark period, preferably around 9 °C, in a shed, garage or cellar for up to 10 weeks. Cover the pots with black bin liners to stop light getting through and check them regularly, watering them if the compost feels dry. Once shoots have appeared a few inches above the compost surface, bring them indoors and place in a bright position, taking care not to place them above a radiator. Water regularly when the compost dries out and they should start flowering within 3 weeks.

Just a note - local garden centres tend to stock planted pots of bulbs from now onwards but they’re brought on to flower in early spring so will probably have gone over by May. I hope this helps Caroline, best of luck with both the hyacinths and the wedding!

Name: Mary Edney

Question: My Mum was given 3 miniature roses bushes in little gold pots. How do we pot them on and when? What is the best compost to use? Thank you.

Answer: Hi Mary, it’s best to pot them on when the plants are in active growth. Choose a pot which is about 2 inches wider and deeper than the current pot - choosing a pot which is too big often drowns young plants as there is too much water in the compost and not enough root system to use it. It’s best to use a loam-based compost such as John-Innes No. 2 or 3 as it remains stable for many years and has better nutrient retention. Don’t worry if you only have multi-purpose compost as the roses will be fine growing in this for a few years. Partly fill the new pot with compost and sit the rose in the centre. Fill around the root ball with more compost, making sure the base of the rose stem sits at the same level it was in the original pot. Water them in well.

If they’ve been kept indoors and you wish to move them outside, make sure you acclimatise them to outdoor conditions for a few weeks first by setting them outside during the day and bringing them undercover each night. Start to do this from April onwards as the weather warms. I hope this helps Mary, good luck.

Name: Sam Wilson

Question: I have just bought the Crystal Tree lily collection & am planning on planting into pots. How many in what diameter pot please? Thanks

Answer: Hi Sam, when planting tree lilies in the ground we recommend spacing them 15cm (6") apart but for container displays it looks much better to plant them closer together for a full display. Plant them one bulbs width apart and make sure they’re not touching the sides of the container. You should comfortably be able to fit about 12 in a 45cm (18") diameter pot and perhaps 6-8 in a 30cm (12") diameter pot. It’s best not to use a container any smaller than 30cm in height and depth as the lilies need to be planted quite deeply and due to their height will be prone to falling over in smaller pots. I hope this helps Sam; we’d love to see a photo of your display this summer!