Problems with Flowers
- Bulbs and corms
- Shrubs and conifers
- Bedding plants
- Herbaceous borders
- Sweet peas
- Hanging baskets
- Tubs and similar containers
Q. Some of my yellow varieties of bush Hybrid Tea roses die in winter. Why is this and can anything be done about it?
A. Some yellow varieties like Lydia are not as winter hardy as most other varieties and a severe winter can kill the shoots. A method used increasingly these days is to earth up the soil around the base of the bushes of these yellow varieties to a depth of about 6 in. This earthed-up soil is removed in spring. The aim is to give extra protection from frost and severe weather, and it is certainly effective.
Q. Can anything be done to prevent blind shoots on roses?
A. This arises with very strong-growing varieties, e.g. Peace. It is best to cut back the blind (flowerless) shoots to about half-way, as the fresh breaks which will arise normally flower satisfactorily. I do not think that anything can be done to prevent these blind shoots.
Q. I have often taken cuttings of rambler roses, with good results; why is it not possible to take cuttings of bush roses?
A. It is possible to take cuttings of bush roses, especially floribunda varieties, but some of these make very vigorous, i.e. very strong-growing, bushes on their own roots. Some varieties of both bush, floribunda and H.T. varieties are not very long-lived on their own roots, i.e. when hard-wood cuttings are taken to give new bushes. The results are sometimes variable, compared with bushes which are budded, using R. canina as a root stock, which is the usual method for propagation.
Q. I have a Climbing Peace rose, but it does not flower. I have had it three years; shall I scrap it or can I do anything to make it flower?
A. It is true that in some cases this variety (as a climber) flowers very sparsely, or even not at all. I have sometimes found it a help to give extra feeding with potash, applying 2 oz. of sulphate of potash to the square yard, in autumn and again in early spring.
It may help to tie down the main branches at a sharp angle so that side growths are encouraged to develop, and, all being well, these may bear some flowers. This does not always work, but it is well worth trying.
If a combination of the two methods suggested above does not bring forth some flowers after, say, two further seasons,
I would not persevere further, but replace this variety with a free-flowering sort such as Danse du Feu.
Q. My Frensham roses suffer badly from mildew and I am now told that this variety is very susceptible to this particular disease. Is this so and can I do anything about it?
A. This varietal susceptibility is an unfortunate trait with Frensham. The mildew may be worst in soils which dry out very quickly in summer and the growth is checked as a result. Mulching will help conserve moisture and assist in preventing a check in growth.
Leaving the old foliage lying on the ground beneath infected bushes may spread the infection the following spring, so all diseased foliage should be burned in early winter. Spraying with Karathane is of benefit, although it may not give a complete control.
If several bushes are involved, and mildew is troublesome each year, I would suggest replacing the existing bushes, one or two each year, with a variety like Ama if a similar color is needed.
Q. How do I prune a miniature rose and can I grow these varieties out of doors?
A. It is best to keep these varieties fairly dwarf (some are rather more vigorous than the term miniature implies), and pruning can be done with a pair of sharp scissors in early spring. Shorten the main growths by half.
Plants can be grown out of doors as on a rock garden, but well-drained soil is essential, and some peat should be added to the planting area to help conserve moisture, especially if the soil is very light.
If grown as pot plants indoors do not keep them in very warm conditions. It is important to guard against Green
Fly and also to water with care but to avoid over-watering in autumn and winter. For growing in pots the varieties Perle de Montserrat and Baby Bunting can be recommended.
(b) BULBS AND CORMS
Q. When I plant anemone corms does it matter which way they are placed; in other words, is there a ‘right way up’?
A. The corms can be placed in the soil without regard to the right way up. They will grow equally well however set, and there is no means of telling top from bottom.
Q. How do I plant daffodils in grass in a lawn? Are any other bulbs suitable?
A. Daffodils are best for this purpose, although crocus can be used as well. With daffodils, lift the turf, cutting it first with a sharp half-moon lawn-edging tool or a sharp spade, and lift squares about 1 ft. by 1 ft. and 2.5 in. thick. Fork up the soil lightly and set the bulbs firmly 6 in. apart, then replace the turf. Planting is done in autumn.
Q. How can I tell which is the right way to plant tuberous begonias? Flat side up or round side up?
A. The flat surface goes uppermost and usually the base of the old flower stalk can be seen in the center of the flat surface.
Q. How long will it take for the very small gladioli corms at the base of the old corms to reach flowering size?
A. It will normally take two to three seasons’ growth for the corms to be large enough to flower. They are lifted each year, in autumn, and stored in dry, frost-proof conditions.
Q. How can I store my dahlia tubers? I have no greenhouse.
A. Dahlia tubers can be kept in a wooden box and a small tea chest is very useful in this connection. The tubers are first washed clean of soil. When quite dry they can be laid in the box in some dry peat or sawdust or vermiculite. Lay some of the material in the bottom, then place the tubers in position one layer thick, then pack some of the storage material being used in place around them. Continue in this fashion.
Cover the box with some sacking, and keep indoors in a cupboard under the stairs or in a spare room away from a window, but bear in mind frost-free conditions are essential. The tubers can remain in storage until May. They are not planted out of doors until danger of frost has passed.
Another way to get over this problem of winter storage is to dig a hole 2 ft. or so deep in the garden (or a short trench) and place the tubers in this, filling in the hole or trench firmly with soil or ashes. A layer of straw or compost on top of this will act as extra protection in severe weather.
Q. Can a large clump of dahlias be divided?
A. Yes, but wait until new shoots are showing. Divide the clump so that each portion has tubers and shoots.
Q. Can I grow heather in ordinary garden soil which contains some lime?
A. Many heaths and heathers need an acid soil, i.e. one which does not contain any lime, but one group of Ericas can be grown in soils which contain some lime, and this is Erica carnea and its several varieties.
This does not mean that the site should have lime applied prior to planting. It is best to add some peat or leaf mould to the planting area and fork this in lightly to mix with the top few inches of soil. Use about a bucketful to the square yard.
Q. I would like to grow some White Heather. Which varieties should I plant?
A. If your garden soil contains lime include one or two varieties of Erica carnea (dealt with above), e.g. C. M. Beale, Snow Queen or Springwood White. These are winterand spring-flowering varieties.
Another white variety is Erica cineria alba, the Bell heather which flowers in July and August, but this plant must have an acid soil. It can be planted in a pocket of peat, i.e. a foot or so depth of peat in an area about a foot square.
(e) SHRUBS AND CONIFERS
Problems with Shrub pruning
If in doubt don’t is probably the best and safest advice I could give under this heading, although no pruning at all is wrong for some shrub subjects. Those which flower late in the season, like Buddleia variabilis, Isle de France, do so on shoots made that same season. If the old shoots, which bore the flowers in the previous summer, are cut back hard in February to leave 2-3 in. only, new shoots will be vigorous and will bear large spikes of flowers.
Shrubs which flower in spring, like Forsythia, should have some of the shoots which have borne the flowers cut away—leaving young shoots—the pruning being done immediately after flowering.
Q. I have often had trouble with conifers after planting, in that foliage turns brown. Why is this?
A. This is often caused by dry weather, cold winds and dry soil in the spring and early summer following planting. It is a help to add some peat to the planting soil to assist with moisture retention, and also to mulch the soil around the base of the plant, extending to as much as a foot away all round, with an inch of peat or some well-rotted compost.
In very dry weather water the foliage and the soil. In very cold weather, just after planting, give some protection by twiggy pea stick material set in place on the coldest side of the newly planted subjects. Brown foliage can be the result of frost damage with established plants.
Q. Is it worth paying extra to buy a shrub in a can or other container?
A. Yes, especially if conifers and/or evergreens are being planted. These establish themselves without check. Planting from cans—with these and other subjects—means that the planting season can be extended, and the actual planting done at any time.
If plants (not in cans) can be purchased in autumn or winter, and the site is ready and soil in correct state for planting, then it is not essential to purchase a plant in a can. It is certain that much more planting of trees and shrubs from cans and other containers will be done in the future.
Q. What do clematis really need to do well?
A. These colorful climbing plants will thrive on a wide range of soils so long as drainage is good. I have seen good results on sandy soils and heavy soils, but the latter need peat and sand added to the planting area beforehand.
The lower part of the plant is best shaded, and an annual mulch of peat or leaf mould is of benefit. Guard against very dry soil conditions at the base of a wall. Always plant with care, so that any ‘kink’ at the base of the stem is avoided.
Q. I have treated my outdoor hydrangeas with ‘blueing compound’ but the flowers are pink and purple, not blue. Why is this?
A. Probably because the soil has a fairly high lime content. Best results with ‘blueing’ will be obtained in acid soils, i.e. those containing very little lime.
(f) BEDDING PLANTS
Q. I find that my display of summer bedding plants seems to finish very early in the season and there is a long blank period. What can I do to avoid this?
A. One of the longest lasting and latest flowering of the summer-bedding subjects is dwarf bedding dahlias. These can be planted as late as June or early July. If you raise the plants yourself, sow a late batch in April for late June planting.
If the plants have to be purchased, and are obtained in June, grow them on in 5 in. pots if a small batch is being dealth with, and set them out in a bed or border by themselves to follow late spring-flowering bedding plants like Sweet William.
An alternative is to grow usual summer bedding subjects like nemesia, and keep the dahlias in pots until the former are over, then set the dahlias in place to continue the display.
Q. I bought some geraniums but they flowered very poorly; why should this be?
A. The plants could have been raised from seed, and these do not flower as freely as those raised from cuttings. Very rich soil could be responsible, i.e. too much leaf growth caused by heavy nitrogenous fertilizer dressings. Try planting in a less rich soil next year, as this should improve matters. One variety (Nittany Lion) can be raised from seed with good results.
(g) HERBACEOUS BORDERS
Q. I understand that in an exposed site it is best to leave the cutting back of all the herbaceous plants in a border until spring, as the old dead stems act as some protection from cold winds and frost. Is this correct?
A. Yes. Although it gives the border a very untidy appearance to leave all the top growth during winter, it is sound practice. The very tall stems 5 ft. or so can be shortened back to 2 ft. in early winter.
I would prefer to take up the canes and stakes and store these away in bundles in the dry rather than leave them out of doors all winter. The old stems should be cut back to just above the crowns when there is sign of new growth in spring. Although this method does not allow for an autumn clean up, it is certainly worth practising in a cold exposed position, particularly if some less common plants are being grown.
Q. I am hoping to plant a small herbaceous border, but plant names are confusing. Please give me a list of twelve suitable plants, not too tall, as I don’t want to stake them, which will give a fairly long show of color.
A. My suggestion would be :
Pyrethrum; E. M. Robinson
Aster; Little Red Boy
Helenium; Gold Fox
Erigeron ; Darkest of All
Aconitum; Bressingham spire
Gaillardia; Wirral Flame
Anemone Japonica; Queen Charlotte
Paeony ; Sarah Bernhardt
Potentilla; Gibson’s Scarlet
Solidago ; Golden Dwarf
(h) SWEET PEAS
Q. I am not clear as to when Sweet Peas should be sown. Please advise.
A. If an early display of these colorful subjects is required, then autumn sowing, in pots, in cold frames, is essential, but seed can be sown in January under glass with good results. If a few plants are being grown, then sow the seeds singly in 3 in. pots, in John Innes Potting #1; but larger numbers can be space sown, in 3 in. deep seed trays. By space sown I mean setting the seeds about i in. apart each way. The seed should be sown 1 in. deep, and precautions must be taken against mice, which are often a problem, as they seem to regard the seed as a delicacy. Cover the seed tray with a sheet of glass until the seeds germinate, when the covering should be removed.
Sowings can be made out of doors, where the plants are to flower, when soil conditions allow, usually in early March, but for high-quality flowers with long stems make a sowing under glass, and plan to grow in well-prepared ground, and to train each plant up a cane or other support, with the removal of all side shoots.
Q. What difference, in flowering times, results from autumn and spring sowing of Sweet Peas? What are the main points to bear in mind with autumn sowing?
A. Autumn sowing will give plants to flower in June and the main display will be over by early July in the south of England. Spring sowing will give flowers in July and up to early August.
(i) HANGING BASKETS
I find that many people would like to have a colorful hanging basket for the summer months but are not clear how to set about making one up.
The main point to bear in mind is that if half-hardy subjects are to be used these cannot be planted or at least the planted basket cannot be hung outside until danger of frost is past. If a greenhouse is available then the basket can be made up beforehand, and, in any case, it is a good practice to allow the plants a week or two to settle before being hung outside.
If half-hardy subjects are not purchased until it is safe to leave them out of doors, then the basket can be planted, and used, straight away, although flowering will be later than if the basket is made up a month earlier in a greenhouse.
For a display of color, in the summer months, a hanging basket is very suitable for a porch or verandah, and with careful choice of the plants to be used, a pleasing long-flowering effect can be obtained. Although these baskets can often be purchased already prepared from local nurseries, and can sometimes be made up to order, the four basic requirements, if they are to be planted oneself, are as follows: the basket, lining material, compost and suitable plants.
The so-called baskets are actually wire ‘bowls’ and are obtainable in several sizes, the most popular being those 10 in. in diameter and about 5 in. deep. The lining material can be some coarse moss, or a mixture of rotted turf and moss. The `grassy’ part of the turf is best used in the bottom of the basket, and the moss, or a mixture of equal parts of moss and turf, for the sides. It is easiest to line the bottom and part of the inside first, and to partly fill with compost, repeating this until the basket is filled. For the final soil level in the basket, remember to leave enough space for watering. Leave a shallow depression, about an inch deep, in the center, also to facilitate watering.
For ease of working stand the empty basket on the top of a suitably sized flower pot. This will provide a firm support for the round base of the basket. A small bucket will serve the purpose equally well. If only one or two baskets are to be used it is best to purchase some John Innes Potting #1 compost, as this will ensure good results. If this is not possible, use 3 parts of the best garden soil available, plus 1 part peat or leaf mould and I part of coarse sand. All parts by bulk, not weight. To a bucketful of such a mixture add 2 oz. of John Innes Base Fertilizer, and mix this in thoroughly before putting the compost into the baskets.
If the completed basket is to have plants hanging out from the sides, as well as over the top, these must be planted as the container is being filled with compost. Take care not to damage the leaves, and lay the ball of roots on its side. Firm the compost evenly around the roots with the fingers. The plants which lend themselves best to being planted in the sides are those of a hanging or trailing nature. Such subjects can also be set around the outside edge of the basket at the top. The time to plant is the same period as the subjects concerned would be planted out of doors, mostly in early June.
Remember that the soil mixture or compost used should be firmed evenly around the roots of the plants used. It should not be rammed hard, neither must it be loose. The moisture content at planting time should be such that if a handful is squeezed it should fall apart in two halves when the fingers are opened. If it stays ‘put’ it is too wet, if it crumbles it is too dry.
After planting has been completed water the plants thoroughly and leave the basket to drain. If it can be left to `settle’ for two or three days before being hung up in the chosen position, so much the better. Watering will be an important feature throughout the summer, as in a sheltered position, such as beneath a verandah, the plants will not get the benefit of rain. To water, take down the basket, thoroughly soak the compost, and allow to drain before returning it to position.
Some of the most suitable subjects for hanging baskets are ivy-leaf geraniums, and plants are best purchased in 3 in. or 3.5 in. pots. Some varieties commonly met with are Galilee, with double-rose pink flowers, L’Elegante, cream flowers with purple markings, and variegated white and mauve foliage, Huntsman, double scarlet, and Crousse, with pink semi-double flowers. These plants can be kept for next year so long as they are kept indoors, in frost-free conditions, over winter.
Fuchsias are especially attractive, and one of my own favourites is Marinka, which has crimson flowers and is very free flowering. Other good varieties, although not of such pendulous habit, are Display, cerise and carmine, Mrs. Marshall, white and cerise, and Mrs. Rundle, rose and vermilion.
Lobelia lends itself well to basket work and plants can be set in the sides of the basket as well as in the top. There is a trailing variety which is especially attractive, and plants, although not very widely grown, can often be purchased from a local nursery.
Petunias are colorful subjects for baskets, as they tend to be of pendulous habit, and give a good trailing effect. Plants in 3 in. pots should be used, and some of the newer varieties, like Blue Satin, Glitters and Red Satin, are especially attractive for this purpose.
Other possibilities are nasturtium, both the dwarf and trailing kinds, and Begonia pendula, for a special basket.
Baskets can be made up of a single subject to each, i.e. fuchsias only or ivy-leaf geraniums only, or can be a mixture of two or three subjects. Trailing plants can be blended in with dwarf subjects.
The number of plants per basket may depend on how much one wants to spend, but in a 10 in. basket at least four or five plants are needed in the top, with a further four or five if possible set in the sides.
(j) TUBS AND POT CONTAINERS
The front entrance too, or for that matter the back of the house, can be made very colorful by using metal and plastic pot-plant containers on ‘legs’. These are in varying sizes and the cost. An alternative where there is plenty of space available is to use wooden tubs of varying sizes. These (not of oak), about 15 in. high, 15 in. deep and 12 in. across. Where these are utilized make sure that there are adequate drainage holes in the bottom, and if there are none, a brace and bit is the tool needed to put this right. Such a tub needs six 1 in. drainage holes equally spaced, and these should be covered with some pieces of ‘crock’ (broken pots). Some turf laid upside down will also serve the purpose. If nothing but garden soil is available to fill the tub to within 3 in. of the top, add 1 oz. of J.I. Base Fertilizer to each bucketful of soil used, and mix this in thoroughly.
If peat and sand and rotted compost can be obtained mix up 3 parts garden soil, 1 part peat, 1 part compost and 1 part of coarse sand, with J.I. Base Fertilizer added as above. The compost will need to be firm, although over-firming should be avoided. If the tub is filled level full, and the soil watered, then left for a week, the level will sink 3 in. or so and ensure adequate space for subsequent watering.
The outside of the tub is best painted (green or tangerine are my favorite shades for this purpose) and the colors of the flowers grown selected to give blend or contrast to the color of the paint work. Such a tub can be planted with a range of pot-grown subjects like fuchsias, geraniums, ivy-leaf geraniums, salvias or petunias. If a trailing effect is required as well, lobelia, mesembryanthemum, ageratum or nasturtiums can be considered. In a sunny sheltered spot tuberous begonias are a possibility for summer flowering. For the spring display daffodils and narcissi are very suitable subjects, as are early double tulips. Petunias are another popular summer-flowering subject. Some shrubs can also be used, e.g. Veronica Autumn Glory, Rosemary or Hydrangea.
A Bay Tree (Laurus nobilis) is often chosen for growing in a tub, and trees in a ‘leg’ or trimmed as a pyramid can be obtained. This evergreen shrub does well in towns.
Photo: D. De Wit