Plants - page 1
Any Questions?

Q. I have some young chestnut trees. When would be the best time of the year to move them?

A. The winter dormancy period is the best time, between leaf-fall and the end of the year is best, before the end of February if you can't manage this, trim about a third off all of the branches and dig it up with as large a root ball as possible and re-plant straight away. Support them with a stake or cane as appropriate so they don't get blown about by the wind until they have formed a new root system. (short stakes are better than long, just to anchor the roots and stop wind rock).

Q. I have a small container garden and would like to over-winter plants in my shed over the cold period. The problem is that the design of the shed is a basic 'shiplap' construction and has lots of gaps in and amongst the joints which allows frost and rain to enter in. Can you suggest a suitable type of lining which would be the most effective to guard against the cold and damp?

A.  I lined a shiplap shed very successfully a few years ago using fibreglass roofing insulation held in place with pieces of hardboard. The insulation fits into place between the internal batterns with hardboard nailed over. (Get help when it comes to the roof!) You may want to use a plastic sheet liner against the wood first if it leaks though. Wickes supply the necessaries at a reasonable price. 

Alternatively, you could use polystyrene insulation board or plasterboard. You don't say how large the shed is and you could end up spending as much to insulate it as to buy a small lean-to greenhouse or coldframe with a small paraffin heater inside, so maybe consider this as well?

Q.  I bought a Flaming Katy from a supermarket a few years ago. It was in flower but has never flowered since. I have pruned it and re-potted it. The foliage is growing splendidly but no flowers. It is situated on the windowsill of a north-facing kitchen. What am I doing wrong?

A.  I'd give it a bit more light, they are desert / succulent plants and prefer bright light though not full sun all day long. Feed it and don't prune it again, the chances are you may have removed developing flower buds. I know it's no consolation, but mine flower regularly, I suspect the pruning was the critical aspect.

Q.  If we are away from home for a week or 2 weeks how can we water our tomatoes that are just starting to bloom and have little tomatoes forming. Temperatures are about 72 daylight with full hot morning sun and no wind and evening temps are down to 60. We are 7 miles from the ocean and the tomatoes are east facing.

A. Not an easy one I'm afraid, this is rather a critical time for tomato plants and any upset in the watering regimen may well cause them to drop flowers or small fruit or cause the fruit to shrivel or split. The easiest solution is to ask a friend or neighbour to water for you, I get a friend of my son's to do it when we go away. Every day is ideal, every other day second best, and something is better than nothing!

You could set up a wicking system with buckets of water next to the plants and a wick leading from the water to the soil. It's a bit hit and miss and I've never really tried this over more than about 3 days myself.

The best alternative over a long time period is to set up an automatic watering system based on a timer valve attached to a tap with leaky hose / dripper nozzles feeding the plants. It's effective if not cheap. Test it for a week before you go away.

Q. Is it true that all plants have flowering potential? For instance given the right conditions will (for example) a Ficus benjamina flower? Do all plants flower whether insignificant or not? Can you tell me any that will not flower?

A. All angiosperms can flower, if they don't they are at an evolutionary dead-end. Ficus benjamina certainly flower but they don't do it until they are well on their way to the 100ft high by 50ft wide size that they can attain (they can be stranglers in the wild). Many houseplants that we grow in the UK are actually no more than small juvenile versions or saplings of large tropical plants.

Gymnosperms such as cycads, ginkgo, conifers and yew don't flower, nor do bryophytes - mosses and liverworts.

Some angiosperms don't as they have been artificially selected for other traits, lawn chamomile "Treneague" is an example.

Q.  I have a Geranium plant (red, white flowers). It is growing very rapidly indoors. I have no idea what to do - can I divide the branches and repot them? How do I go by doing it? I have no idea how to save this plant.

A.  You could take cuttings from the longer braches, cut above and below a leaf joint, pieces about 3" long will be ok, no more than 1 leaf per cutting and break off any flowers or flower buds first. Place in moist compost in a cool place indoors in light but no direct sun.

If you leave a framework of branches no more than about 4" high, they should re-grow strongly and this will keep it under control and stop it becoming too leggy.

Q.  I have a Stags Horn Sumarch which is getting out of control (its suckers are disrupting my neighbour's path and lawn). Is there a way to stop it suckering or to get rid of it without stimulating lots more suckers. When it was about 6ft high I tried spraying it all over with hormone weedkiller one spring. It died back, but only until it rained, then it sprang into life - within a week or two the tree itself looked as though nothing had ever happened to it and the garden (my neighbour's included) was swamped with suckers. It's now about 15' high.

A.  Not an easy one. Stags Horn Sumarch will sucker at the drop of a hat, any attack on the parent plant will result in all roots near the surface throwing up suckers like there's no tomorrow as a survival response.

You can get rid of it by a combination of chemical and physical attack, though each will result in a plethora of suckers. If the suckers are in a lawn, you can mow them down when they are small (you may wish to do this for your neighbour as a gesture of goodwill) and keep on going.

I'd dig up as much as you can of the roots from the parent plant, you then need to attack the new top growth of suckers with a glyphosate based systemic weedkiller (one that is taken up by the leaves and taken to all parts of the plants). More than one combination of physical and chemical attack will be necessary, but eventually you will conquer it.

Q.  Azaleas purchased locally from a reputable garden centre and planted in the late autumn a couple of years ago thrived well but have died this spring.

On inspection (upon removal) the roots have, lots of what appear to be eggs in them, which are bright yellow and about 3mm in diameter.

If indeed they are eggs and are evidence of the plants demise, what is the pest and is there a cure for the future, or is it just bad luck.

This has happened previously and am certain they were not present on planting. Trusting you can help.

A.  I can't tell properly without seeing them, but it sounds like the "eggs" and death of the Azaleas are unconnected. The "eggs" are possibly slow-release fertiliser granules often incorporated into the compost of containerized plants. They will be either hard and difficult to crush or soft and easy in which case they will be the same all the way through. Eggs will have a definite "case" and contents.

The most likely cause of their death is the soil, now this is a pretty sweeping guess without having seen them, but the reason for probably 90% + of all Azaleas dying. Azaleas need acid soil to survive, they just don't live happily or at all in soil that is in any way alkaline, in these cases they are best grown in pots or raised beds with an acid or "Ericaceous" compost. Do Azaleas survive in nearby gardens around in the soil? The same applies to heathers and Rhododendrons.

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