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Facebook Q&A Session 31st May 2013


Thompson & Morgan Facebook Q&A Session 31st May 2013 - Your horticultural questions answered.

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Name: Steve Linden Wyatt

Question: Each year I buy hollyhocks but they never flower and never come back in the spring. Is there something special that needs to be done to get them to flower and as they are a perennial, come back?

Answer: Hi Steve, depending on how mature the plants are when you buy them they may decide to flower the same year, or they may wait until the next year, which normally gives an earlier display. They are fully hardy plants and are normally very reliable at returning the following year but could die if they’re suffering from a disease or waterlogged soil throughout the winter (e.g. heavy clay). The biggest disease of hollyhocks is rust, which causes yellow and orange spots to appear on the leaves and causes stunted growth. Plants which are suffering from this will lack vigour which could cause death, particularly in difficult growing conditions. Make sure you plant your hollyhocks in full sun and on free-draining soil. Heavy soils can be improved by working in compost or composted bark, or alternatively you could build a raised bed. I hope this helps Steve, best of luck with your hollyhocks!

Name: Kester Ratcliff

Question: I have some tuberose bulbs from T&M. I planted them about 3 weeks ago in terracotta pots in multipurpose compost, watering regularly but not letting them get waterlogged, but still little or no signs of activity. (I've tipped one or two out of the pots to see if there was any activity underground, and most bulbs are still not even activated. But they're not rotted either.) I've got them in our loft room, which is very light and warm, but they only get direct sun warming the surface of the compost for a few hours a day. It's the lightest room in the house, but most of the time the sunlight is reflected off the walls rather than directly heating the surface of the compost.

The options I have available are- shed roof where they'd get direct sun most of the day but be cold at night, or on top of the hot water tank where they'd get continuous warmth from underneath the pots but be in the dark (and I can't fit all the pots on top of the tank!). Which would you guess would be better? Warmer but dark, or more sun direct on the surface of the compost and cooler at night? Or I could tip some of the compost out so the tips of the bulbs are exposed to light, then if/when they've sprouted put more compost back in around the bulbs so they don't tip over when they grow taller (that worked with my Canna lily)? Thanks!

Answer: Hi Kester, Tuberose bulbs take a long time to get started so don't worry just yet! It sounds like you have them in a good location. They like to be planted underneath a few inches of compost so I would advise against exposing the tips of the bulbs. They prefer warm growing conditions, with a minimum temperature of 15°C (59°F). The shed roof may be too cold at night for your Tuberose so I wouldn’t put it there, but an airing cupboard or similar would be fine, provided temperatures don’t rise above about 30°C (86°F). It doesn’t matter whether the location is dark or light while the bulb emerges. As you have been doing, keep the soil moist but not wet, letting the top inch of compost dry out between watering. Hopefully you should see some signs of life soon. Let us know how you get on!

Name: John Adams

Question: I purchased a victoria plum from you in 2011. Last year I had a few plums but this year there has been no blossom at all. Can you explain what I am doing wrong?

Answer: Hi John, unfortunately this can happen in some years and can be due to pests or weather conditions, rather than cultural practises. Last year was a disaster for many fruit-growers due to the abysmal spring! Your tree is still very young so it may just be that the effort of fruiting in its first year expended all its energy resulting in no fruit this year - this is called ‘biennial bearing’ in mature trees. It may result in a heavier flush of flowers and fruit next year, in which case you could pinch out half the spent flowers to prevent a biennial cycle from starting. The flower buds may also have been caught out by the late snow and subzero temperatures we experienced. Plum trees flower early in the spring, and although they are fully hardy while completely dormant, as the buds prepare to open in spring they become more susceptible to cold temperatures. Another reason for non-flowering can be birds - some species will eat the fruit buds of trees, currant bushes and gooseberry bushes. A final cause can be drought conditions during late summer, when next year’s fruit buds are initiated. I think our summer was too wet last year for this to be the cause, although it’s worth thinking about if we happen to get a hot summer this year! I wouldn’t worry about the lack of flowers while your tree is young. My Victoria plum only produced its first blossoms this year and it has been in the ground for 2 and a half years. We have some more detailed plum aftercare information on our product pages under the /fruit/fruit-trees/stone-fruit-trees/plum-victoria/cww3217TM ‘aftercare’ tab. I hope this helps John and that your plum flowers next year.

Name: Rachel Denham

Question: This is a great tip thanks, but my tomatoes are looking like they have lost their main stem and just putting leaves out which are very erect . They are quite small still and are not yet in their grow bags. I pricked them into biodegradable pots this time so they have been quite wet and cold, even in the greenhouse because my roof leaks. Any ideas what’s wrong?

Answer: Hi Rachel, tomato plants are quite resilient and even if the main shoot is damaged, more shoots will re-sprout further down. You can either choose one shoot to train on as a cordon and remove the other shoots, or allow several to grow, creating a multi-stemmed plant. It’s best to make sure there is plenty of space between stems to allow light and air to reach the leaves and fruit. Tomato plants don’t particularly like cold growing conditions - they originate from hot, tropical climates so appreciate a warm windowsill or heated greenhouse. With night and day temperatures still quite low at the moment, they may be suffering in an unheated greenhouse. If you can move them to a warm and bright place indoors that would be beneficial to their growth. Also, it’s best to let the compost dry out slightly between watering as they don’t like waterlogged soils. You should hopefully see some growth over the next few weeks, especially if we get some more sunshine! I hope this helps Rachel.