CAN YOU GROW A BANANA TREE IN THE UK?

Hardy bananas growing in England

Who doesn't like bananas? Well of course some people don't. But if you do, have you ever wondered it it were possible to plant your own banana tree and then over time produce your very own fresh, organic fruits? Well if you live in the United Kingdom and not the tropics then no it wouldn't be possible, at least not left outside to its own devices. However with the benefit of modern technology you can grow a cavendish edible banana tree in the UK. You just need money, space and facilities. 

To be fair, the first pineapple (another tropical fruit) was grown at Dorney Court, Dorney in Buckinghamshire, England in the early 18th century so growing banana tree in the UK in the 20th century should be child's play. In fact a huge stove was designed and created at the Chelsea Physic Garden in 1723 to specifically heat the soil in which the pineapple plants were being grown. 

Cavendish bananas
Furthermore, a shipment of bananas from Mauritius (courtesy of the chaplain of Alton Towers, then the seat of the Earls of Shrewsbury) arrived in England in around 1834 at the estate of William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire. His head gardener and friend, Sir Joseph Paxton, cultivated them in the greenhouses of Chatsworth House. The plants were named as Musa cavendishii, after the Duke, and Paxton won a medal at the 1835 Royal Horticultural Society show. So we do in fact have a bit of a history in the UK of growing bananas.

So not to put too fine a point on it, all you need to grow a banana tree in the UK is a tall heated greenhouse with additional soil heating cables and supplemental solar lighting. Job done, questioned answered.

However if fancy controlled environments is not your thing then is there another option? Well yes there is. There are a number of banana varieties which can be grown outside in the UK without the need of a greenhouse. In the southern lands of England there are only two which I have managed to keep outside, albeit with winter protection. The first is the hardiest of the banana species - Musa basjoo, the second is the gorgeous Musa ensete 'Maurelii' - the Abyssinian Banana. For your information, Musa ensete 'Maurelii' will not produce any fruits in the UK and if id did they would not be edible fruits. It is the roots, which once processed are edible on Musa ensete. But it will indeed grow year after year. You just need to remove its leaves before winter and cover it with appropriate frost protection.

So we are back to one contender. Will Musa basjoo produce edible fruit in the UK? Again the answer is sadly no but only insofar as it produces edible fruits - which it does not. However it has been known to produce fruits in the UK on established specimens around the south coast when global warming provides us with a long and warm enough summer.

So for the question can you grow a banana tree in the UK? The answer is yes.

WHAT IS BRYOPHYLLUM USED FOR?

What is Bryophyllum used for?

Native to the island of Madagascar, the Bryophyllum genus is notable for vegetatively growing small plantlets on the fringes of the leaves. While still commonly known as Bryophyllum, this genus has now been incorporated into the larger Kalanchoe genus, so to be botanically correct all plants known as Bryophyllum should now instead be correctly named as Kalanchoe. Although some species of which, notably Kalanchoe daigremontiana and Kalanchoe delagoensis, are popular in their own right as ornamental, succulent houseplants they also have useful medical properties. So just what is Bryophyllum used for?

In the traditional medicine of tropical countries the fresh juice of Bryophyllum is used internally for diarrhea and a general fevers. Furthermore, an ointment with hemostatic, anti-inflammatory and wound-healing action can be prepared from the juice of the leaves mixed together with vegetable oil or shea butter. This can be used externally for the treatment of burns, ulcers, abscesses, or poorly healing wounds. Rudolf Steiner who first introduced Bryophyllum in 1923 believe that it could have uses as a medicinal plant for hysteria.

Kalanchoe laetivirens
In Trinidad and Tobago Bryophyllum has been recorded as being used as a traditional treatment for hypertension and the treatment of Kidney stones. In South Eastern Nigeria, Bryophyllum is used to help ease the passing of the placenta of a newly born baby 

Today, Bryophyllum pinnatum is used in ethno-medicine for the treatment of earache,ulcers, burns, abscesses,  insect bites, once again diarrhea and Lithiasis. It has also proven useful to prevent alcoholic liver damage, viral liver damage, toxic liver damage and to treat ailments such as infections, rheumatism and inflammation. There is also research to suggest that it can also lower blood pressure.

Within the cosmetic industry it is an active ingredient in hand and face creams as it can help to soften and stabilise stressed, reactive skin.

In text image - Marvin Biko lano - Own work CC BY-SA 4.0 File:Bryophyllum (kataka taka).jpg

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MUSA BASJOO - The World's Hardiest Banana

Musa basjoo - The world's hardiest banana
If you are looking to create a topical effect garden but live in a cooler, more temperate European climate then it can be challenging to find suitably exotic looking plants that will survive the freezing temperatures of winter. One such plant, Musa basjoo, has proven itself to more than capable of standing up to the job, and is considered by many to be the word hardiest banana!

I should point out that while it will remain evergreen in its native habitats of southern, subtropical China, more specifically  the Sichuan province, and the Japanese Ryukyu Islands, there are no banana species which will survive with its foliage intact after subjected to a hard frost. While Musa basjoo is called hardy it should perhaps be more accurately called 'root hardy' as even though both the leaves and the pseudostems can succumb to the cold the root system will remain viable and produce vigorous new growth in the spring.  If well mulched, Musa basjoo will survive winter temperatures down to an impressive -20 degrees Celsius!.

Given optimum conditions you can expect Musa basjoo to reach around 2–2.5 m in height, and produce a crown of mid-green leaves at the top of the trunk-like pseudostem. Each leaf is paddle-shaped and can grow up to 2 metres long. In warmer climates creamy-yellow flowers can appear in the summer on more mature plants which are followed by small, green fruits approximately 5–10 cm long. Unfortunately the fruits of Musa basjoo are inedible with sparse white pulp and an abundance of black seeds.

Musa basjoo inflorescence
Musa basjoo is best grown in a rich, moist and free-draining soil. In cooler climates they can be planted in full sun but in subtropical regions they can become scorched in extreme temperatures and will do better with some part shade or filtered light during the heat of the day. Fertilize  and keep the roots well watered during the growing period as the best growth occurs soils that do not dry out. Of course, avoid the roots from becoming waterlogged. Strong winds can easily damage and even shred the larger leaves so avoid planting in exposed conditions.

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BANANA PLANTS

HOW TO GROW A COFFEE PLANT FROM SEEDS OR BEANS

How to grow a coffee plant from seed

When sat with both hands warming over a cup of coffee, I guess many of us have asked whether it would be possible to grow your own coffee plants from seeds, or should I say beans? Of course the bean is the seed! The first thing you would need to do is procure some viable beans. Unfortunately the roasted beans from your favourite coffee provider will not suffice as the heat from the roasting process kills the bean.

Germinating coffee seedlings
Once you have obtained you fresh beans, soak them in tepid water for 24 hours,before sowing into a seed tray containing damp sand or wet perlite or vermiculite. Cover with a thin layer of your chosen substrate to help keep the bean moist. Place the seed tray into a heated propagator and maintain a rooting temperature of approximately 20 degrees Celsius. Be aware that coffee seeds/beans can take anywhere between 1 and 6 months to germinate. Once germination occurs carefully removed the seed with its root intact. 

Using 9 cm pots containing a free-draining, soil-based ericaceous compost, carefully pot on the seedlings. Keep the soil most but not waterlogged and consider feeding once a month with a low-pH fertiliser such as Orchid fertilizer. Once the plant has established continue potting on as necessary into progressively larger pots, preferably those with deeper sides such as long-toms.

Place your seedling is a bright room, you may need to supplement your lighting with a solar lamp to prevent weak extending growth in temperate and cooler regions. Water once a week to soak the roots but allow this to drain off. As said previously, do not allow the rootball to become waterlogged as this can cause damage to the root system. Furthermore, maintain a temperature of between 12 and 25 degrees Celsius

Assuming suitable growing conditions are provided you can expect your seedlings to flower in 2-3 years as which point, and if they are fertilised, you can collect your own fresh beans for germination.

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HOW TO GROW MUSA LASIOCARPA

How to grow Musa lasiocarpa
Musa lasiocarpa is a highly unusual, yet extremely ornamental species of flowering banana, and a particular favourite amongst plant collectors. Native to the tropical region of the Yunnan province, China it is one of the cold hardiest of all banana species, a result of its natural habit which is high in the mountains up to an altitude of 2500 metres! Commonly called the Chinese dwarf banana Chinese yellow banana or golden lotus banana it is also a sacred plant of the Buddhist monks who live there,

Unfortunately there is some confusion regarding its genus. It was previously and perhaps best known as Musa lasiocarpa, but recently it has been transferred to the genus Ensete based on an analysis of DNA sequence evidence. However this conclusion has now been questioned and it is suggested that Musella lasiocarpa may indeed be the correct name. That being said, just how do you grow Musa lasiocarpa?

You can expect Musa lasiocarpa to reach  between 3-6 ft tall. Like other banana species it produces a conical, trunk-like pseudostem, with upright paddle-shaped, gray-green leaves. Each leave can be up to 2 ft long.

What make this particular plant interesting though is it distinctive lotus-like flower which usually appear in the plants second year of growth and then each year thereafter. The flower is a 8-12 inch long terminal panicle that  grows erect from the top of the pseudostem. It consists of a cluster of yellow tubular flowers subtended by broad, stiff, waxy, yellow bracts and resembles a lotus blossom just prior to flowering, hence the common name of golden lotus banana. As the plant mature they can produce up to three of these fascinating, and long lasting blooms. Surprisingly a single bloom can last up to 6 months although there have been some reports of them last almost an entire year! It will produce small edible bananas but not in cooler northern European climate.

Musa lasiocarpa will grow best in a rich, moisture-retentive, but well-drained soil and will benefit from having plenty of organic matter dug in beforehand. They will tolerate a position of full sun, but in warmer regions will benefit from a certain amount of shade during mid-day sun in the heat of the day. Keep the soil moist and fertilize plants regularly during the growing season. In exposed condition try to provide shelter against strong winds to protect the leaves from wind damage.

Although considered to be one of the hardiest of all ornamental bananas, but don't confuse cold hardy with frost hardy as  no banana species are able to tolerate a hard frost and survive intact. However Musa lasiocarpa is root hardy which means that while its foliage may well die back over the winter, fast growing shoots will reappear in the spring once the soil warms up. If you intend to overwinter Musa lasiocarpa in regions prone to hard frosts then keep the roots as well mulched and as covered as possible.

Main image credit - CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=134812

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THE RED ABYSSINIAN BANANA - Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’

he red Abyssinian banana -  Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii'

While not a true banana, the red Abyssinian banana -  Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii' is still a closely related genus and a spectacular addition to the exotic effect garden. It is a robust evergreen perennials with a short pseudostem, with large paddle-shaped leaves. It is arguably the most attractive of all ornamental bananas due to its fantastic maroon-red coloured leaves and reddish leaf axils.

Illustration of Abyssinian banana 1861

It doesn't grow as tall as many of the other popular species typically growing to 20 feet tall in tropical areas but  only 8-10’ tall in cooler European. However, it makes up for it in width by producing leaves up to 10 feet long.

Under the right conditions, and usually once the plants have had a chance to established for a few years white flowers are produce over the summer on mature plants. Plants that are grown in cooler climates and are cut back by the cold may never flower. Banana-like, 3 inch long fruits are produced but they are dry and inedible.

The red Abyssinian banana will require a sheltered position that receives as much sunshine as possible, although they will appreciate a certain amount of shade during the hottest part of the day in tropical and sub-tropical climates. Be aware that strong wind can quickly shred the leaves. In areas that experience winter temperatures of below 6 degrees Celsius, the red Abyssinian banana will be better off grown in a container so that it can be easily brought in for winter protection.

They will do best grown in a rich, well-drained soil that has has plenty of organic matter dug in beforehand. Water regularly over the growing period and do not allow to dry out. Apply a liquid soluble fertilizer weekly and again only during the growing season. Pot grown plants should be planted in a good quality, well-drained, soil-based compost. Again water freely over the growing period but do not allow the root system to become waterlogged.

In text image credit - English: Painting of Ensete ventricosum in an Abyssinian setting
Date 1861
Source Curtis's Botanical Magazine vol 087 (1861)
Author Walter Hood Fitch (1817 – 1892)

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HOW OFTEN SHOULD I WATER MY HOUSEPLANTS?

How often should I water my house plants?

Overwatering is the biggest killer of houseplants by a long way, followed not too far behind by underwatering. The trouble is this a houseplants can't tell you when it's thirsty or had enough, and no two plants have the exact same water requirements. So how often should I water my house plants?

Unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules, and this because those plants that are considered house plants in your local garden centre or supermarket could have originated from such contrasting places as the desert regions of central America to the marshy environments of south east Asia. So what do you do?

See, no cacti in the desert!
Well you can begin by checking the label, however these tend to be generic with a collection of unintelligible graphics for guidance. However if it has a genus and species name then you can always research the requirements. Just be aware that conditions in your home will be different to that of your houseplants indigenous country, especially with regards to light levels and daytime temperatures which will have an effect on the amount of water a houseplant needs. 

In general, the majority of traditional houseplants are those which can tolerate the lower light levels however this will not be the case for all. Take cacti and succulents for example. However there are increasing number of more attractive houseplants which have increasingly challenging requirements which must be met if they are too survive. the new ranges of epiphytic ferns are a great example of this as they never seem to come with cultivation information. So if you are struggling to keep houseplants then try starting off with those plants whose popularity has lasted over the years, in fact think back to those easy-to-keep, resilient varieties popular during the victorian period. The Aspidistra is notable species and has been a favourite choice for centuries now due to its cast iron constitution and ability to withstand both waterlogging and drought!

I am going to give you some rough pointers and be aware that plants will require less watering during the winter months.

For regular house plants water once a week, do not allow the root environment to become waterlogged unless this is a particular requirement for you plant species such as African violets or or some carnivorous plant species. Then allow the top inch or so to dry out between waterings. Over the winter months drop this down to watering once a month.

Drought tolerant cacti

For cacti and succulents you can water once a week during the summer so long as they have been planted in a well-drained compost and usually about half to a quarter of what you would give an average leafy houseplant. Otherwise water the same but once a month. Over the winter watering can be cut down to a half, maybe even less.

Houseplants with a large amount of foliage will dry out in a small pot and will need watering more often than it would to in a large pot. House plants in full sun, warm rooms or in draughts will require more watering than they otherwise would. 

If you use a saucer under you plant pot and pour your water in that so that the moisture is drawn up into the rootball, such as for African violets and Cyclamen, tip away excess water during the winter period.

If it is your natural habit to over-water, you just can't help it, then replant your houseplants into porous terracotta pots as you will have natural evaporation of excessive water through the sides. As your house plants die through obsessive over-watering consider replacing them with water-loving specimens such as the Boston Fern,  Pitcher plants - Sarracenia species, Selaginella cultivars, Cyperus species -Papyrus and Baby’s tears - Helxine soleirolii. 

Water-loving ferns
If you natural habit is to forget to water, I mean under-water. then consider the multitude of cacti and succulents available. Just remember that the do not grow in the desert and will need some water sometimes. Only sand is in the desert, with the occasional camel passing through.

If you are just not sure then research your houseplants watering requirements or replant into a self-watering container.  

Dealing with overwatering

If you plant has wilted and yet the compost is soaking wet then the plant is suffering due to overwatering. Overwatering kills off the parts of the root system that draws in the water to make the plant turgid. If the plant is not too far gone, remove the pot and place the root-ball onto an old folded newspaper. The newspaper will draw out the excessive moisture like a wick, allowing he compost to dry out. Re-pot, the water less often with less water.

Desert image - By The Central Intelligence Agency - The World Factbook - Algeria, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29196928

Fern Image - GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=201008

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ARE RAINBOW ROSES REAL?

Are rainbow roses real?

Should you care to take a look, the internet is awash with images of multi-coloured rainbow roses. However, in a world where images can be easily manipulated to represent literally anything, no-one can ever be too sure of anything. With this in mind, are rainbow roses real?

Well they are real and they are not real, that is to say they only exist because they are manufactured. Putting it poetically it is a fake you can make!

Rainbow roses

So to confirm, you cannot walk into a garden centre and purchase a beautiful, multi-coloured rainbow rose. Such a plant does not exists and, unless those large-brained geneticists come up with an ingenious genome, such a plant will never exist.

The truth is that a rainbow rose starts its life as nothing more humble than a simple long-stemmed white rose. The stem is cut approximately 8-12 inches down from an opening bud. Spoiler alert! If the stem is to long then the coloured dyes may not be transported to the petals! Also, be aware that if the bud is too tight, it may never open, The bottom 3-4 inches is then split into 3 or four sections. Each section is then places in a tube of colour dye,  To get the full rainbow effect red, blue, and yellow dyes are used which should also ensure a colour mix as they partially combine in the stem.

And there you have it rainbow roses are effectively fake. This is why you will never see a rainbow rose as a grafted plant growing in the ground and why you will only every see it as a cut flower. Equally, this is why the seeds you see for sale for rainbow roses are also fake. You have been warned!

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Main image credit - Simon Eade @ Eaden Horticulture

HOW TO OVERWINTER THE RED ABYSSINIAN BANANA - Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’

red Abyssinian banana -  Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’

The red Abyssinian banana -  Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’, is arguably the most eye-catching of all the cold-hardy, ornamental bananas - although I accept that Musa sikkimensis 'Red Tiger' does give it a good run for your money. Yes that's right, I said cold hardy and I stand by that as I have several growing in the garden. The largest being there for three seasons now, and is now about to go into its next winter! Do I bring them in? No of course not, each plant is left in place with some appropriate winter protection. However there is a little technique that you must employ first. I should also say that these specimens are kept in a sheltered, west-facing position on the south coast of England so what I can get away here with may not be the same for the north of England.

Leaves removed from Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’
But before we go there let's look at the two usual techniques for overwintering the red Abyssinian banana -  Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii. The first overwintering technique is pretty simple. Grow your banana in a large pot and then come late autumn, or when overnight temperatures drop to below 7 degrees Celsius, bring it in a protected environment such as a conservatory or a greenhouse with suitable heating to keep temperatures just above 7 degrees Celsius. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. Also keep an eye out for fungal infections, although you may wish to systematically apply these as by the time you notice a fungal infection it may be too late to control.

The second  technique is to remove all of the leaves by cutting then off at the base of each leaf stalk and then dig your banana out of the ground trying not to damage or disturb the root system too much. Plant the root-ball into a suitably sized container and then bring in to a cool, reasonably bright but frost-free environment. Wrap a couple of layers of horticultural fleece around your banana for good measure. This is a technique that I myself have tried but to no avail as the root balls always failed for me. However it is the technique that TV gardener Monty Don recommends, so if you want to take winterizing advice from a qualified Jeweller then go right ahead.

Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ with frost protection
So this is the technique that I have been using with no losses to date. Leave your red Abyssinian banana -  Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ in place and do not disturb the root system. Remove all of the leaves by cutting them off at the base of the stalk. Next apply your frost protection, You can  wrap horticultural fleece around the truck but tend I to throw an empty aggregate bag over it as it is a lot easier. 

Come the spring, once the risk of late frosts have passed you can remove the bag and apply a good quality liquid fertiliser. Now if it looks like you may be hit by a late frost don't worry as it is very easy to replace the bag. And to be fair I have even done this without the frost protection bag and still have the new shoots grow through in the spring. The trunk will be dried up and dead looking but have faith as they have always grown back for me. Will this technique work further north in the country? I couldn't say although the risk of plant death will probably increase. So if you are not sure you still have the other two techniques to try. 

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MUSA BASJOO - The World's Hardiest Banana

THE RED ABYSSINIAN BANANA - Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’

WHAT IS A BANANA?CAN YOU GROW A BANANA TREE IN THE UK?

HOW TO OVERWINTER THE RED ABYSSINIAN BANANA - Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’

CAN I GROW A CHRISTMAS TREE FROM SEED?

Seed grown Christmas trees

Well, the obvious answer to 'can I grow a christmas tree from seed' is of course you can. Why? Because the entire christmas tree industry is based grown produce. the two questions you should really ask is which particular species do I want to grow and where do I find the seeds themselves. In the United Kingdom two trees dominate, the Norway Fir - picea abies and the Nordmann spruce - Abies nordmanniana. The reasons why this is are as follows. Firstly because of customer perception,  every body recognises these two species as Christmas trees, and secondly because they are super fast to grow. Anywhere from 6-10 years, depending on soil conditions climate etc.

Abies pine cones

Now growing Norway Firs and Nordmann spruces in your garden for future Christmas is perfectly fine if you intend to cut them down to bring them in when they are ready but these trees are absolutely not suitable as garden plants due to their final, mature sizes, unless you are a member of the landed gentry. And even then, lets be honest, a full sized Norway fir isn't particularly attractive as a specimen plant. At least it isn't in my opinion. For permanent growing display consider instead the Korean pine - Pinus koraiensis or the Blue spruce - Picea pungens amongst many others. If you are still determined to grow a traditional tree then why not at least put an ornamental spin on it and consider Picea abies 'Perry's Gold'. However if that is your 'thing' then you must look at the phenomenal Picea pungens 'Golden Feathers'. I digress as you can not grow these selected colour forms by seeds, they can only be propagated vegetatively. 

So where do you get your Christmas tree seed from? You can either purchase them from an online store or garden centre or you can collect your own seed from cones from September onwards. Assuming you have a well-formed and healthy tree in mind, select pine cones that are still closed but brown, Ignore cones that have already opened as the seeds are likely to have been released already.

Pine seeds from pine cone

Keep you cones in a paper bag and bring them into the warm. The seeds will be ready for planting once they are released form the cone. However conifer seeds are best sown from February to March. 

Using a good quality compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting', fill your 3 inch seed containers or root trainers to approximately 1 cm from the top. Sow one seed per container and apply a thin covering of horticultural grit or vermiculite to the surface. Gently water in so that the seeds are not disturbed and place outside into a cold frame. keep the compost mist but not waterlogged. If a cold frame is not available then place outside in a bright position but one that is out of direct sun during midday. If it is suitable to do so place a sheet of glass or clear plastic over the pots to maintain humidity.

Pine seedlings

Come the spring, root trainer grown seedlings can either be potted on into 2-3 litre pots using a soil-based, ericaceous compost or planted outside into nursery beds with a 1-1.5 metre spacing. Pot grown seedlings can be potted on as necessary depending upon your requirements

To create and maintain the typical Christmas tree shape it is essential to produce a single leader. If forking or competing side shoots occurs, remove the shoot furthest away from the main axis. This is best cut in March or April. To produce the even, compact, pyramidal Christmas shape, lightly trim your specimen each year, again in March or April.

Main image credit - Madereugeneandrew CC BY-SA 4.0 File:Christmas tree farm near New Germany, Nova Scotia, Canada.jpg

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HOW TO GROW A LEMON TREE FROM SEED - Citrus limon

How to grow a lemon tree from seed

The lemon tree is an iconic plant in many parts of the mediterranean. It is a small, evergreen tree with fragrant blooms, but of course it most noted for its tangy, yellow fruits. The history of the lemon is a little hazy but the first cultivated varieties are believed to have been produced from wild plants originating from northeast India, northern Burma, and China. In fact India and China account for a third of the worlds commercial lemon production. So how do you grow a lemon tree from seed?

Growing a lemon tree from seed is surprisingly easy although germination times can be quite slow unless you can provide enough warmth. However first you must obtain some seed. Most commercial seed suppliers do not sell species or particular varieties of citrus seed, which may be due in part that modern lemons are highly cultivated and hybridize easily. This means that the resulting seedlings are unlikely to display the same characteristics of the parent plants. If this is not important to you or if you are interested in producing new hybrids then you can collect the seed from most lemons sold in the local supermarket.

How to prepare lemon seeds for germination

lemon seeds
It is quite possible to remove a seed from a lemon, clean off any remaining pulp with fresh water and pot it in some soil-based seed compost and wait. If you live in a warm-temperate or subtropical country then it may not be necessary to make this procedure anymore complicated. However if you are in a cooler, northern European climate then putting in a little effort will improve your germination results.

For citrus fruits to ripen fully they need to be subjected to the cooler nights that autumn provides. Because of this there is a line of thought that says that lemon seeds will need to be pre-chilled before sowing to encourage a more successful rate of germination. However as it is not possible to produce a cost effective and successful lemon crop in northern Europe all fruits are imported under refrigerated conditions, meaning that the seeds would have been pre-chilled before you purchase the lemons. So all you really need to do is remove the seeds and clean off any remaining pulp. This is important as the pulp will contain anti-germination properties.

Sowing lemon seeds

lemon fruits and flowers
Allow the seeds to dry out for a week or so in a warm position, then soak in warm water for a couple of hours before sowing. Any non-viable seeds will float to the top where they can be removed and discarded. Fill 3 inch pots with a good quality compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting' and sow the seed 1/2 inch deep. Gently water in and allow the excess to drain away before placing in a heated propagator at a temperature of approximately 20-25 degrees celsius. Alternatively seal the pots inside a clear polythene bag and place on a warm, bright windowsill. Avoid direct sunlight as this can dry out the compost inhibiting germination. Your can expect the seedlings to emerge from 2-4 weeks depending on the temperatures. Higher germination temperatures will result in faster germination.

Once germinated remove the pots from the propagator or polythene bag and keep in a warm, bright position. Once they have established in the pots they can be potted on into 1 litre pots using John Innes 'No 3' or good quality multi-purpose compost. The can be hardened off over the summer where they will perform best in a sunny, sheltered position. Water frequently over the growing period but do not allow the roots to become waterlogged. Feed every week or two with a liquid soluble citrus fertilizer.

Bring lemon trees back in under protection in October before the winter frosts. While they can tolerate a certain amount of frost, and will even tolerate below freezing temperatures for short periods of time, they will suffer damage. It is best to keep them in light, frost-free conditions with a minimum temperature of around 7 degrees Celsius.

As lemon trees do not like their roots disturbed only pot on as necessary over the winter period when the plant is dormant.

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HOW TO GROW TREE PEONIES FROM SEED

How to grow tree peonies from seed

If you can't appreciate the beauty of a tree peony in full bloom then there must be something wrong with both your mind and your heart. Why, because their loveliness is arguably beyond compare. However you rarely see them in people's gardens which is a real shame, but there is good reason for this  - they are expensive! 

If hard cash isn't an issue for you there are some other reasons too, mainly that when they become available in the spring you are presented with little more than an unsightly, crooked stick in a pot with a picture card to hint at its potential. More importantly is that fancy selected peony hybrids do not grow from seed and so to get the one in the picture they are vegetatively propagated using one of the many time consuming and technical grafting methods - hence why they are expensive. So assuming the picture card is on the right plant, the price is reasonable and the graft has taken successfully then go ahead and pick one up.

Tree peony seeds in opened seed pod

However if like me you have access to many quality private and public gardens you should be able to find a selection of mature specimen plants from which to collect our own seed. 

Like I said, cultivated hybrids will not grow true to the parent form from seed however this doesn't mean that if you germinate enough of them you may produce something even better and have it displayed on the next cover girl for Peony fanciers monthly. So, if you are still interested, how do you grow tree peonies from seed? Oh just one more thing before you start on this great adventure, tree peony seeds can take up to two years to germinate and then a further five to seven years to produce blooms.

The varying tree peony cultivars will flower at different times of the year, but from the end of the summer until around November, the seeds pods would have ripened and split allowing to you easily pick out the seeds. If you are late and the pods are empty don't worry, peony seeds are large and the sharp eyed among you should be able to pick them off of the floor, so long as no-one else had been around and trod them into the ground by accident.

Tree peony seedling

Place your seeds in a bowl of tepid water and discard any that float as these are not likely to be viable. Place the good seeds inside a large sealable plastic bag along with a cup full or so of damp vermiculite or perlite. Seal the bag and move to a warm dark. Do not put inside a airing cupboard unless you can guarantee that temperatures do go rise above 20 degrees Celsius. Be aware that temperature over 40 degrees celsius can heat sterilize your seeds so don't do that.

Check the bag every few days to make sure it is kept damp and for evidence of germination, this will be the emergence of a single, translucent white root. Remove any germinating seeds you find taking care not to damage the brittle root. Take a 9-12 cm pot and fill with a good quality soil-based compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting'. Using a dibber or a convenient finger, drill a hole into the middle of the compost and gently place the peony seed inside so that it is buried just below the surface. Back-fill the hole still avoiding damage to the root.

Water in the compost then place outside in a cool shaded place, preferably a cold frame. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged and if necessary place a sheet of glass or clear plastic over the pot to help maintain humidity.

The following year the seedlings can be planted outside into their final position once their foliage has died back for the autumn. For those of you in areas which regularly experience freezing temperatures provide a dry mulch over the rootball area to help protect against cold damage to the young root system.

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HOW TO GROW ABIES KOREANA - The Korean Fir

How to grow Abies Koreana

Native to the mountain ranges of South Korea and Jeju-do island, Abies Koreana is a small, slow-growing, evergreen tree with an exceptionally neat habit when young. It was first collected for western science in 1917 by well known plant hunter Ernest Henry 'Chinese' Wilson (1876–1930).

In its native habitat, Abies Koreana occurs typically in subalpine regions. They are usually found growing in shallow mountain soils which are naturally poor in humus content. Sadly, the effects of climate change, pathogen attack and the invasion of pines and bamboo species on Jeju-do island, Abies koreana has now been classified as an endangered species by the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Abies Koreana cones

The needle-like leaves are between 1-2 cm long, radially arranged on strong shoots and loosely arranged on others. They are dark green above and a gleaming white underneath. It is an ornamental species noted for its violet-purple, cylindrical cones which are approximately 5-8 cm long, which can be produced on specimens as small as 1.5 metres in height. It is a slow growing specimen gaining around 15 cm per year. That being said it can, under favorable conditions Abies Koreana can reach up to 30 metres in height.

Attractive crimson, pink or green female flowers are borne freely in May, and emerge in upright lines along the branches. The male flowers are globular, and are clustered among the leaves. They appear red-brown then turn to yellow as they mature.

Abies Koreana has a notably compact and tidy, conical habit, and while as a species it can grow into a magnificent tree, the plants found under cultivation in the UK end up as rather poor specimens as they mature. It is fair to say that most examples of the Korean fir in cultivation in the UK are descended from the first introduction, which was taken from an isolated Korean island. This first introduction was sadly a rather poor representation of the species, so the plants subsequently propagated from it have been short and stunted in habit.

To maintain the most attractive shape make sure that Abies Koreana is planted n full sun and out of the shadow of surrounding plants or structures. It will perform well in any fertile, moist well-drained soil.

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