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Help and advice - FAQs

Q: How do I protect my plants from frost?

A: First of all, watch the weather forecasts and know when frost is expected. Then you can be prepared.

 In a greenhouse, ensure heaters are working and any thermostats are accurate. You can save money on heating bills by consolidating frost sensitive plants into one half of a greenhouse – the half away from draughty doors – and construct a partition of bubble wrap. Heating just half, halves the bills! But if your greenhouse is packed with plants, you can insulate all the glass and even cover tender seedlings with a sheet or two of newspaper for the night (remember to remove the morning following the frost).

 Outside, have cloches ready to place over tender shoots and a few rolls of horticultural fleece can be wrapped over and around complete plants. Unheated conservatories can actually freeze so it's a good idea to move anything growing on windowsills slightly further into the room. Often houseplants are subjected to window-side freezing conditions whereas bringing into the room or even just inside of the curtains will make such a difference to their welfare.  

Q: How do I prune my clematis?

A: Firstly, the worst you can do by pruning a clematis incorrectly is to delay flowering by a year or so. It is difficult to kill your clematis outright, and indeed most plants, by pruning. Now that worry is out of the way, there are a few tips and tricks to bear in mind for all your clematis pruning activities:

 

  • February is a key month. It’s during Feb when many of the popular clematis need some kind of attention. Clear your diary.
  • Always use clean and sharp secateurs. This prevents diseases being spread around the garden and makes the job easier.
  • Whenever you are having a nibble at your clems do make sure to remove dead stems or anything that looks diseased. It’s generally all round good gardening practice.
  • Newly planted clems should be pruned to the lowest pair of buds in spring. This encourages more stems to be produced which in turn will produce a better display down the line. It feels counter-intuitive to be pruning off what you have just bought but in the long run it is best.

 If your clematis is new then the chances are that the plant label will have the pruning group printed on it. Our descriptions always tell you which pruning group your clematis belongs to. This is all based on the time of year the clematis plant flowers. If your clematis is already growing and the label a faded memory, then simply wait for it to flower. You then know which group to place your clem into to.

Next bit - you do different things to different pruning groups, but it is easy. Honest. We’re not fond of tables (other than potting) and spreadsheets (other than spreading sheets of newspapers on seedlings in the greenhouse to prevent frost damage), but we reckon this makes pruning your clematis clear:

 

Pruning group

When does your plant flower?

When should it be pruned?

What should be pruned?

Can it be hacked back to start again?

Group 1

January - February

March /April after flowering

Just take off faded flowers

Of course - cut to 15cm of the soil but you will lose flowers for a year.

Group 2

March - June

February and July

Just take off weak shoots in Feb and then faded flowers in July

Yep - but again it may affect flowering for a year

Group 3

July - September

February

Cut the whole lot back to a low pair of juicy buds usually around 75cm or so above the soil

Go ahead - new growth will soon flower

 

Or, just remember: if it flowers after June then give it a prune!

Print that table off, laminate it and stick it in your shed next to the secateurs (clean and sharp of course) so you never get it wrong.

So, get out there and brandish your secs in your hand and get to grips with your clems. And remember, if you are fed up with straggly growth with flowers nodding at the top, or a tangled mass of wiry, non-flowering stems, it’s probably all down to the pruning. And remember (again) that you can always hack the whole lot down and let the plant start again. No worries.

If you are still anxious about pruning then just get in touch, even send a few photos and we will sort you out. 

Q: How do I know what soil I’ve got?

A: If all your cosseting, TLC-ing, stroking, kindly words and gentle persuasion aren't paying off and your treasured plant is still in a state of perpetual sulk, then it might just be down to the soil. An often heard phrase in gardening circles is ‘right plant, right place’ and it’s absolutely right. Shove a plant that needs a particular type of soil in the wrong stuff and it won’t like it. It’s the same with us. If you eat meat would you like to be forced into a permanent vegetarian diet, or vice versa? No - so don’t do it to your plants!

Now - that all important soil. It isn’t just dirt. It’s a complex mix of all things lovely (there’s nothing like a scientific approach - and that's nothing like a scientific approach!) but let’s simplify things. Firstly, your garden soil is either acidic, alkaline or neutral. Keep with me here, it’s important and could save you some money. You can’t tell by just looking at your soil what the acidity is, but a simple soil test kit costing a few quid will quickly do a good enough job. And it’s important not only in guiding you towards the right plant (for the right place!) but it could save you cash as the plants you buy will suit your soil. In other words, they will thrive as opposed to die. You can go a little bit gung-ho and simply look at your neighbour’s plants to guess at the acidity of the soil. If azaleas and rhododendrons in next door’s garden are happy then the chances are your soil will be acidic too. But get a quick test done and be sure.

Now you know the acidity of your soil, you can move onto its type. Soils will fall into one of five distinct types: Clay, Sandy, Calcareous, Silt and Loamy (see images for visual). We can go on at length about soil types, but don’t worry - we won’t. Here’s everything you need in one handy table:

SOIL TYPE

What it Looks like and Problems

Treatment

Clay

Cloddy, blue/grey or red brick coloured, sticky, holds water in puddles during the winter and bakes hard in the summer. Heavy to dig and sticks to your spade (and boots).

The aim is to open the soil up and improve its drainage qualities.

Dig over the area to be planted and then spread over the surface a mix of 50% top-soil, 25% sharp grit & 25% compost. Let the worms get to work. Whenever you plant a new plant dig the hole twice as big as it needs to be and backfill with the same mix.

Sandy

Light, dry and gritty, low in nutrients and often acidic. Plants often die from lack of water or look sickly with yellowing leaves, quickly wilting in dry weather.

The aim is to bulk the soil up and improve its moisture retaining properties.

Apply a light top dressing of well-composted manure and compost every spring and autumn. This will gradually beef up the soil and improve its nutrient and moisture retentive properties.

Calcareous

Often pale and stony, chalky, limey  soil which is extremely alkaline.

Difficult to change. Can add well-rotted compost and top soil but lime will still be present. Use plants that like an alkaline soil.

Silt

Dark brown, light, can be almost sandy, moisture retentive soils with a high fertility. Can be easily compacted and are prone to washing away with rain.

Adding organic matter – compost, this helps the silt particles to stick together.

Loams

A mixture of clay, sand and silt that are neither too clay or too sandy, are fertile, well-drained and easily worked.

None whatsoever. Never move house as this is the creme de la creme of soils.  Great news if you have this soil.



SOIL pH – use a simple soil test to check for acid or alkaline soil.

Acid soil -  pH value below 7.0

Heathers,Rhodedendrons & Azaleas all love acid soil. Most plants grow in neutral to acid soil.

Alkaline soil - pH value above 7.0

Need to check plant labels carefully that they will grow in alkaline soil or use our recommendations.

Neutral soil - pH value bang on 7.0

To be honest, most soils are around pH 7 and most plants are happy in it.

Simply put : garden with nature and plant according to what soil you have.


Q: I have a shrub and it doesn't want to flower. Help!

A: This can be so frustrating, especially when the shrub in question is a focal point in the garden. OK, there's a few possible reasons. The first is that the shrub is planted in the wrong conditions. It's always worth researching whether a shrub likes the sun or shade; acidic or alkaline soil or wet or dry conditions. A happy plant will perform so much better a sulky one.

Secondly, some shrubs have specific pruning times. Prune some at the incorrect time and you might just be pruning off the flower buds.

Thirdly, there could be a deficiency of particular nutrients in the soil starving the plant of essential food.

So, make sure the shrub is in the correct conditions and that you haven't pruned the very thing you want to see off the plant! Then, it can only be beneficial to get hold of some wood ash from a wood fire or wood burner. Once absolutely cold (this can take a few days after a good burn) store in bags for a minimum of a month. In April, lightly dust the wood ash around the base of the shy flowering shrub. The quick acting potash in the ash often encourages plants to flower. Be careful to only use ash from untreated wood and definitely no coal ash. If you can't get hold of wood ash, then use a fertilizer formulated for tomato plants. It will work just as well. 

Q: Why won’t my Wisteria flower?

A: There is nothing more disappointing than planting your wisteria, waiting a whole year for it flower and then seeing a mass of leaves and no blooms (OK, missing the lottery draw the week your numbers come up is, but you get the idea!). This is especially when, as we all do, you have pictured, or even promised, your pergola, archway or wall to be dripping with white, blue, purple or pale lilac chandeliers of flowers, with their delicious, delicate unmistakable perfume wafting around the garden.

So, what’s gone wrong and more importantly, how do you put it right? Wisteria grown from seed take ages to get to flowering age - so your plant could just be too young. It can take two decades for a seed grown plant to produce its first flowers. Gardening can be a long wait. However, grafted wisteria (and we only supply such wisteria) should be flowering within a year; so, if that’s the case, there’s something else not quite right. You’d better read on.

Wisteria are sensitive souls and can take umbrage at being moved from the cosy confines of a snug pot to being released into the wild jungle of your garden soil. Be patient and all will settle down into the correct flowering pattern. A two or three year wait is normal if your plant is a sulker.

Many spring flowering plants, wisteria included, start to develop their flower buds in late summer (July-Sept) of the previous year so it’s important to ensure that plants don’t go short of water during that time. A good spring display indicates a previously wet September. Keep the watering can handy if we get a dry spell at that time of year.  A few other factors that could be annoying your wisteria include:

  • Sharp spring frosts: these can cause flower buds to drop before opening, or cause damage to the developing buds that never actually open correctly. There’s not much you can do other than cover susceptible plants with horticultural fleece on really cold nights.
  • Too shady: Wisteria likes lots of sun and will not deliver its late spring awe-inspiring performance if in the shade. The only remedial action is to wait until late autumn and carefully dig up the plant and replace in a sunny position. Or you could move to a house with a sunny wall.
  • Potassium deficiency - it’s no surprise that a plant capable of producing such an expensive display has a healthy appetite (expensive from the plant's point of view and not your wallet).  Hungry soils are no good to wisteria. But don’t go slapping on high nitrogen feeds as this will only boost leaf growth. Go for a high potash feed - fertiliser formulated for your tomatoes is ideal - or, if you can get hold of wood ash from a woodburner, sprinkle a handful around the base of the plant in March and April. Job done.
  • Pruning - regular and timely pruning can help to increase the flowering potential of the plant by producing a framework of flower spurs. And that will result in a magnificent display in late spring.  Cut back the whippy green shoots of the current year's growth to five or six leaves after flowering in July or August and then, if you don’t mind getting up the ladders again, nip back any stragglers in February so that you end up with a tight knit, woody plant made with short, stubby shoots studded with flower buds. Each one waiting to burst into bloom as the weather warms up and the light levels increase.

That lot may look daunting but really, it isn’t. And to be honest, any amount of work on a wisteria is surely worth the rich rewards.