Roses in containers
I have a couple of roses in big terracotta pots and I’ve heard that they benefit from winter root pruning. Can you tell me how to do this? How much should I cut off? Can I cut off some of the fine roots that are starting to curl around the walls of the pot? How brutal can I be?
Mahruk Bailey, via email I always follow the advice handed out by rose specialists: that you should trim back any damaged roots of roses when you initially plant them bare-rooted. This makes absolute sense if you want to avoid the real risk of bits rotting underground and causing future problems. Root pruning of established roses is a new one on me, I have to say, but then I don’t grow roses in permanent containers – I think they look uncomfortable. But that’s just a personal thing.
I have read, however, that rose-grower Robert Mattock advocates cutting back the thick tap root of roses that are to be planted in containers in the long term, to encourage them to make more fibrous “feeding” roots, and thus prosper in what could be considered a slightly hostile environment. The process can be repeated every two or three years.
It sounds to me that if these roses of yours are making a mass of fine roots that are visibly curling around the edges of their terracotta containers, maybe it is time to repot them anyway – maybe into larger ones (I bet you didn’t want to read that last bit). I am sure you will agree that this is not a job you would want to do often, so now, while they are dormant, it might be as well to give their roots a thorough inspection. Certainly I would not just cut away at the fibrous roots and leave it at that.
Give the top growth of your roses their normal prune before you start which will make them much easier to handle. Then tip them gently out of their pots. Don’t be alarmed if most of the soil falls away from the roots, while they are dormant this doesn’t matter. If the roses’ thick tap roots seem to be really cramped, bending around the base of the pot, then prune them back cleanly – common sense tells me that this should be by no more than between a third and a half.
Then repot the roses in a root-friendly shrub-intub mixture of about 70 per cent loam-based John Innes no 3, and 30 per cent multipurpose compost, spiced up with a couple of handfuls of horticultural sand and a little rose fertiliser. Make sure that their graft unions (the knobbly bits) finish up at – or just below – compost level in the pots. the best time to do this without damaging future growth?
John Bowen, via email One of the best things about a beech hedge is the fact that although deciduous, it provides a good screen all year round. It retains its old leaves for the winter, only dropping them when new growth is made in spring.
Annual pruning is therefore recommended as a late-summer job, so that the hedge has time to leaf up again before the autumn. In my experience, those who cut beech hedges in August or thereabouts do so rather timidly (reluctant to remove all the leaf growth, particularly from the sides). Thus over time beech hedges tend to become really “fat”, and eventually need more radical treatment.
If your hedge has not been cut back for some time, and has become seriously overgrown, you could cut it back hard now, while it is dormant. You might want to spread the shock to the hedge (and messy work for yourself) over two years, cutting the top and one side back really hard now, and leave the other side until the My husband received some telescope-handled tree loppers for Christmas and is keen to christen them. Our lollipopshaped evergreen oak trees are looking more “schubertii” than “globemaster” and are in need of pruning into shape. Can you advise me when is the best time to do this job?
Lucie Neame, via email I loved your very visual Allium reference and thought I would share it with readers – the point being (keep up at the back), that your trees are shaggier than you would like.
Telescopic loppers and long-handled pruners are brilliant additions to a garden armoury, and I can’t imagine managing my own lofty trees and shrubs without them.
However, the general rule with evergreens (apart from ivy that needs to be controlled) is to hold off pruning until growth is under way or just about to start when the worst of the winter weather is over, since any new growth encouraged by the cutting would be vulnerable. So lock up your husband’s pruners for a month or so.
Or, since he has such itchy fingers, you could encourage him to remove unwanted lower branches of deciduous trees (raising the canopy to let in more light in the summer etc).
This is a job that should generally be done in winter when trees are in their dormant period (exceptions to this are stone-fruit trees, such as plums, which are susceptible to disease if pruned in winter). same time next year. This twostep method is generally a good way to go about the serious renovation of any hedge.
Take the opportunity to grub out all the debris from under the hedge, apply a general feed and mulch the root area as well. There is a problem with either of these options where indoorflowering spring bulbs are concerned. The Paperwhites such as those you enjoyed are extremely pernickety. To perform the way they do, when they do, they are carefully nurtured and specially “forced” by the growers. If you simply plant the bulbs in the ground now, letting them die back naturally as you would other bulbs, they will refuse to flower again. Even if you treat them with what might seem to be a bit more TLC, feeding them while letting their leaves die back indoors, drying out the bulbs before replanting them late next autumn, they will do no better. Hyacinths are slightly more accommodating. They will eventually settle down and may flower annually outdoors, but the flowers will become skinnier by the year and end up resembling rather unremarkable bluebells (or pink or whitebells) more than their blowsy former selves.
I occasionally advocate what is considered by some to be out and out profligacy on various gardening matters. In order to save yourself unnecessary effort and heartache, you should treat your Paperwhites as annuals, chuck them out (not on the compost bin, where they might sprout annoyingly just to spite you) and simply buy new ones for next winter’s scent-fest. After all – and I have said this before, too – we need to remind ourselves that half a dozen or so narcissi bulbs costs less than a bunch of (equally disposable) cut flowers.
Top of the lops: telescopic pruners should be on your list