Roses in con­tain­ers

The Daily Telegraph - Gardening - - Front Page -

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

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