21 September, 2019

Ornamental queries and replies

Christmas Box and Daphne

Q: A Christmas Box, which is in a plant pot,  was OK the first year, even flowered, since then no flowers.  And the stems keep dying off although there are new ones.    I also have a Daphne in a plant pot- again it has hardly flowered.  What am I doing wrong?

A: Thanks for your mail regarding Sarcocca (Christmas Box) and Daphne. These are good questions which I have been pondering over. Both plants do well in pots but don’t like drying out as this slows down new growth and makes flowering unreliable. Have you got saucers under the pots? Now is a good time to prune out damaged, dead or poor growth on the Sarcocca.  As for Daphne, give her a good feed with acid plant food and high potash fertiliser.

Jonathan Piercy



Q: I have a small flowered rhododendron in a pot which has become very leggy.  Is it alright to give it a hard prune?  If so, what is the best time of year to prune?

A: So you want to know something about pruning rhododendrons?  Well, there really isn’t much to say because they don’t need any regular pruning. If they are of the right shape and size, leave them alone and let them get on with it.

Depending on their size and age, the most extreme pruning involves cutting them hard back to within 2-3 ft. of the ground.  I saw this done at Caerhays Castle in Cornwall some years ago where they were enormous and difficult to manage and to see properly.  This pruning was done in the late winter and they started sending out new shoots in the spring as though nothing had been happened.

On a more realistic scale, rhododendrons are normally pruned, if required, straight after flowering.  This is because they are spring flowering and the flower buds are formed in the previous growing season.

Small bushes will need shaping in their early years so that they grow into good looking adult plants and not all leggy and gawky like some unattractive teenager.

To keep them tidy, it is a good idea to pinch out the old flowers once they have faded. Be careful, though, as the new growth buds are grouped around the flower heads and these must be left.

However, remember that most rhododendrons and azaleas are shade loving plants and need acid soil conditions if they are to flourish.  You can achieve this in two ways.  The first is to grow them in tubs of ericaceous compost and feed them with a similar feed.

The other is to mix either the same compost or some moss peat into their planting position. Both will create the necessary acidic soil conditions.

Peter Blackburne-Maze

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