Facebook Q&A Session 19th August 2014

Helpful Ideas
- your horticultural questions answered.

View the answers to our previous sessions.

"We have recently moved and now have a south facing entry porch. I would like to place a plant in there in a big pot to add a bit green when coming in. But what is suited for this situation. It can get very hot in there with the sun on it (it's all windows), but it's not heated in winter. I was thinking of something that was on the bigger side, about 50 cm high or so... Any suggestions what type of plant would do well there?"

Sue - T&M
Horticultural Expert

"Hello Elvira, I hope you've settled into your new home now. Given that this plant will be under cover throughout the year and therefore reliant on you for water, I would suggest a plant that enjoys Mediterranean conditions - hot and dry in summer, and cold and dry in winter!

My first thought is Lavender. There are some lovely English Lavenders that will be hardier in winter than the French ones , such as 'Munstead' or 'Hidcote'. Once established these can easily reach about 45cm (18"") high. Lavender has the added bonus of being beautifully fragrant, especially in a confined space.

If you want something a little more formal then maybe some topiary, although you will need to keep these fed and watered more often than Lavender. Box, Privet, and Lonicera nitida all make useful plants for topiary that can be trimmed to whatever size and shape you want. You can always add a splash of colour by adding a few Allium bulbs to brighten them up, if the container is large enough.

A standard Bay Laurel, Olive or even a standard Holly"

"Can you recommend a small, upright-ish growing ornamental tree for our front garden please. Not too wide a canopy - don't want one that casts too much shade. It will be in a south facing garden. Reason - I have to replace a winter flowering cherry that has died of old age and need a similar open branched, delicate looking tree - but not a cherry again. Thank you."

Sue - T&M
Horticultural Expert

"Hi Diane. I'm going to recommend one of my favourites - Sorbus vilmorinii (Vilmorins Rowan). I love this species! It has delicate ferny foliage, panicles of creamy white flowers followed by pink-red berries and astonishingly good autumn colour. Better still, it has a small canopy and an open habit. What more could you ask for?

You might also consider one of the smaller crab apples but I should warn you that crab apples can be quite messy when they drop their fruits, so these are not great for paved areas! How about Amelanchier 'Ballerina'? This is another good small tree for a long season of interest with pretty spring flower and lovely coloured foliage. Acer psuedoplatanus 'Brilliantissimum' is a good choice too and has lovely autumn colour, or you might like Acer griseum for its beautiful peeling bark. I hope this gives you a few ideas as a starting point. Let me know what you decide upon."

"Is it possible to take cuttings of a rose, as we are putting the house on the market and i would love to take a cutting of my one rose as i am happy to buy some new when we move but this one is special and i would love to keep it."

Sue - T&M
Horticultural Expert

"Hi Joanne. Yes you can certainly take some cuttings from your rose. It's a fairly straightforward process and they don't require much attention. Cut out some strong, healthy stems from this year's growth - do not use older wood. To prepare the cuttings, simply cut your chosen stems into lengths of about 25cm. You will need to cut just above a bud at the top of each cutting and just below a bud at the bottom. Remove all of the foliage except for one leaf at the top of each cutting.

Dip the base of the cuttings into a rooting hormone if you have some available, before pushing them into a pot of gritty, well drained compost. Don't use multipurpose compost. John Innes No 3 or even some well drained garden soil is preferable. You can fit several cuttings to a large pot if you position them around the edge of the pot.

Place the pot in a sheltered, shady spot and keep them well watered. They will root over the winter months and by next summer should be ready for potting up into individual pots and growing on. Best of luck with them, Joanne; and good luck with your house move."

"Hi, we have had to remove some hedges and hawthorns from our garden to make way for a greenhouse. What if any is the best product for killing/ breaking down the stumps without poisoning the soil?"

Sue - T&M
Horticultural Expert

"Grubbing out the roots would be ideal if at all possible to prevent any suckering. Otherwise your best option really is to kill the stumps with a systemic glyphosate based herbicide such as 'Roundup tree stump and root weed killer'. Glyphosate becomes in active once it comes in contact with the soil and is readily broken down by microbes, so this should not have a lasting effect on the soil.

Glyphosate will need to be applied to fresh cuts so you may need to recut the stumps before you apply the weed killer. You can apply this with a brush and it will begin to destroy the plant from the inside. Target the outer ring of the stump, just beneath the bark as this is where the live wood will take up the herbicide. You may need to apply glyphosate several times but eventually it should do the trick. Persistence and regular application is the key here! After application, cover the stumps with plastic sheeting to prevent rain washing the chemical away and avoid harm to people and animals. Alternatively, if you have had to recut the stumps, keep the disc of wood removed from the top of the stump and this can be nailed back in place after the glyphosate has been applied to the fresh cut. This makes for a neater finish. Enjoy your new greenhouse, Nicola."

"I'd like to pot something up, perhaps a perennial, that we can leave at my mother in laws grave, but we only get to visit the church yard a few times a year; could you recommend something nice but hardy that can deal with a little neglect? Thank you."

Sue - T&M
Horticultural Expert

"Hello Jemma. That's a lovely idea. It might be worth checking with the church warden as there will almost certainly be a protocol for decorating graves. Often it is actually possible to plant directly in the ground by the headstone, and this would be preferable as even the toughest plant will still need watering if it is grown in a container.

I would suggest trying low maintenance perennials with a compact growth habit such as Primrose vulgaris, Polyanthus 'Most scented Mix' or Dianthus 'Gran's Favourite'. These could be under planted with spring bulbs such as Narcissus 'Tete-a-Tete' and Russian Snowdrops. All of these are fairly resilient and should cope with a bit of neglect. I hope this gives you a few ideas."

"This may be a really stupid question but I'm not sure what they are. I planted thousands of poppy seeds last year, are these young poppy plants or stinging nettles coming through?"

Sue - T&M
Horticultural Expert

"Hello Clare, don't worry these definitely aren't stinging nettles. They look like Honesty (Lunaria annua), a hardy biennial plant which makes a rosette of leaves in the summer and autumn before flowering in the spring. Much like forget-me-nots, they have a weedy nature but are often cultivated in gardens for their colourful show of spring flowers. Honesty also has attractive flattened seed pods which look like coins, and the flowers are an excellent source of nectar for early butterflies. The largest plants in your photo will probably flower this spring. I hope this helps."

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

Sue - T&M
Horticultural Expert

"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."

"I want to 'refurbish' a border in my garden, about 4 ms long by 1m wide, it has a path on one side and lawn on the other. I have a wish list of plants but wonder how to go about the process of clearing and the best time to do it?"

Sue - T&M
Horticultural Expert

"Hi Jane. Refurbishing borders is always exciting, although you don't mention what is growing there at the moment. If it is full of weed then I would suggest that you spray it off with a glyphosate based weedkiller to ensure that you have a clean border to start with. This can be done now, as it may take a few weeks for a systemic herbicide to take full effect. It won't be a problem on the path side of the border, but you may need a friend to hold a board as a screen along the grass side of the border while you are working. This will prevent spray from damaging your grass. Of course, if you are an organic gardener then you may prefer to remove unwanted vegetation by hand.

If there are any plants in the border that you want to save, then these should be lifted beforehand with as large a rootball as possible. Pot them up or move them to a new position in the garden. Once the weeds have died back then you can begin to improve the soil. Clear any remaining vegetation before thoroughly digging over the soil and incorporating plenty of well rotted manure, mushroom compost or garden compost. Leave the soil to settle for a few weeks before you start replanting.

Personally I would delay planting until the Autumn. The soil will be moist and the conditions cooler, which will be better for plant establishment and save you an awful lot of time watering. Just beforehand you might also want to add a sprinkling of slow release fertiliser or blood, fish and bone to get your plants off to a good start.

I recently made a video on How to plant a perennial border. Why not take a look for some extra planting advice. Best of luck with it Jane."

Sue Sanderson T&M horticulturalist

About Sue Sanderson

Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.

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