What does a Box caterpillar look like?

You don't need to keep you eye off the ball for long for your prized box plant to become decimated by Box caterpillar - Cydalima perspectalis . They are usually well hidden, well camouflaged and when you do notice some unusual damage on your box plants the accompanying webbing can be ignored as belonging to over-active spiders. However, move aside the foliage and once peering inside you can be surprised, or perhaps I should say shocked, at just how many Box caterpillar can be found hidden among the shadows. So just what does a Box caterpillar look like?

Box caterpillar moth
Well if you are on your toes you may spot the eggs. These are pale yellow and flattish, and are laid sheet-like, overlapping each other on the underside of box leaves. Newly hatched, young caterpillars are are greenish-yellow, with black heads but this changes as they mature. Typically, you are likely to  spot Box caterpillars when they are at their most active which will be when they are 25–30 mm long, green coloured with browning longitudinal lines.

The caterpillars eat the box leaves, in particular any new growth, and produce webbing over their feeding area, often hiding in a leafy tube held together with yet more webbing. Plants may also show patches of die-back which may be especially apparent on trimmed plants. Heavy infestations can create serious die back that does not grow back in subsequent seasons.

However, to try and avoid any damage to your Box plants it is advisable to try and  spot the moths themselves before the eggs are laid. These can be attracted using pheromone traps, and while these are not particularly good as a control method they are great as a tool for overall management.

Native to Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, far-east Russia and India, there are two variants of the adult Box caterpillar moth observed. The first and by far the most common found in the UK has conspicuous white wings with a faintly iridescent brown border. the second variant is almost entirely light brown. Both colour forms have a wingspan of around 4 cm.

Main image credit - böhringer friedrich - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20484379

In text image - By Didier Descouens - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33203392

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RHS Caterpillars



Box Tree Caterpillar - Cydalima perspectalis

Once upon a time, and up until about ten to fifteen years ago, the common box - Buxus sempervirens, was an incredibly robust, disease-free, hardy shrub. Perfect for topiary and hedging, it was a popular go-to plant for most gardeners. However due to an influx of pest and pathogens caused by the globalization of the horticultural industry more and more of our ornamental plants are at risk from imported dangers.

The one pest causing arguably the most concern for gardeners is the Box Tree Caterpillar - Cydalima perspectalis. The caterpillar itself is typically 25–30 mm long, and green coloured with browning longitudinal lines, however it is difficult to spot unless you are specifically looking for it. What is more noticable is the characteristic webbing and foliage damage. So. assuming you have an infestation of this insidious pest, how do you get rid of Box Tree Caterpillar?

Well the good news is that they are two excellent options for you which will indeed allow you to get rid of the Box Tree Caterpillar.

Xen Tari

Xen tari biological control
The first is a product known as XenTari. This is a biological insecticide containing a natural, potent strain of the microorganism Bacillus Thuringiensis subspecies Aizawai. It is easy to use, all you need is a small pressure sprayer. 

Simply dissolve the contents of 1 sachet in 3 Litres of water to treat 30 square meters of Boxwood surface. When a caterpillar eats the XenTari-treated leaves it will stop feeding within 1 hour, causing no more damage to your Box plants. The affected caterpillars will then die 1-2 days later.

 You will only need three treatments per season to keep the caterpillar pest under control. The Box tree caterpillar goes through 3 cycles each season, simply apply XenTari once every cycle at the moment when the first caterpillars are spotted. This moment can be more easily predicted by using a Box tree moth trap to monitor Box tree moth activity, when moths are trapped you can expect new caterpillars a couple of weeks later.

Box Tree Moth Trap

Box Tree Moth Trap
Covering an area up to 200 square metres, the Box Tree Moth Trap contains a pheromone dispenser which first attracts the moth and then traps them inside the container. This is a very effective method of catching this pest and several may be required to cover a large garden. 

In practice though it is not 100% efficient although its presence it extremely effective. For maximum effect it is advised to set out your Box tree moth traps around mid -April. Then once the moths become evident apply Xen tari biological control thereafter. By using these two methods of control you can effectively eliminate the presence of Box tree moths and their caterpillars in your area. 

Main image credit - böhringer friedrich - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20484379

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RHS Caterpillars



How to grow Berberis julianae

Berberis julianae is a handsome, dense, hardy evergreen shrub usually grown as either a garden specimen plant or for hedging. Commonly known as the Wintergreen barberry or Chinese barberry, it was first discovered for western science in 1907, in the Hubei province of central China, by the renowned English plant hunter Ernest Wilson. It was named and described by Austrian botanist Camillo Karl Schneider. The naturally occurring variety Berberis julianae var. oblongifolia was actually discovered by Wilson several years earlier in 1900. So assuming you would like to grow this gorgeous plant in your garden, how do you grow Berberis julianae.

How to grow Berberis julianae

Under favorable conditions, Berberis julianae can be expected to grow to a height and spread of between 2.5 and 4 metres. When handling wear thick, leather gloves as it has strongly spined branches. In fact individual spines can easily reach 10 cm in length on mature specimens, hence its suitability as a secure hedge. The oblanceolate leaves are also edged with tiny spines and emerge copper-toothed when young. Throughout the growing season the glossy foliage will remain mid-green, but under freezing conditions can turn to a glorious, crimson-red.

The flowers are yellow with a few red spot at the base, slightly scented and are produced in dense axillary clusters. They appear late spring and once pollinated will produce dark purple, elliptical fruits which exhibit a characteristic white bloom. Each berry is approximately 6 mm in length.

Berberis julianae will be happy planted in either full sun or semi shade in most moist, but well-drained, garden soils. For hedging use 30-40 cm plants, setting them at intervals of 50-60 cm. After planting, prune out the upper 25% of all shoots to promote bushy growth.

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8 Hardscape Ideas for your Garden

 Hardscape includes anything that is in your yard that is non-organic. These are usually permanent, such as cement driveways and walkways or semi-permanent as in a trellis with climbing roses. Not only is the hardscape functional, but it can also be decorative. It should complement or even enhance the beauty of your home and yard. Of course, many of us are living in homes that had a previous owner. Unless you are building your home and are starting with a clean slate, you have probably inherited someone else’s decision on some of the hardscape. Your driveway and walkways are already in place. Probably, the choice of deck or stone patio is made and in place also. It doesn’t mean they can’t be changed, but usually concern over budget will prevail.

When you are ready to change or add to the hardscape, keep in mind the style of your house. If you have a contemporary designed home, it will be complemented by contemporary design in the hardscape. If your home is a Victorian or cottage style home, contemporary accents may look out of place. The following ideas will give you a starting point for addressing the hardscape in your yard.


1. Driveway and walkway 

You may not be able to remove your cement driveway, but you could edge the drive with pavers to give the look you want. Continue the edging along the walk or, if possible, take up the cement walk and replace it with the same pavers. Choose pavers that give the look you want. Use old bricks if you have an older house with a cottage feel or use large bluestone pavers for a contemporary look.

2. Deck or Patio 

This is another part of the hardscape that you may have inherited. Sometimes, the appearance of the deck can change dramatically by just restaining in a different color. Another way to change the appearance of a deck without replacing it is to change the railings. Keep the deck stained, but paint the rail. If the style of the rails and posts are not the style of the house, change them to be more compatible.

If the patio is cement, again, edge with pavers. Choose furniture that will evoke the feel you are looking for. Add outdoor carpet to soften all that cement.

Then, add lots of containers with plants. If you choose pots that match, the look will be more formal and more contemporary. Mix up the shapes and colors of your containers for a more casual cottage look. Add some unexpected containers like a large tin can with the advertising still visible or an old picnic basket and fill it with flowering plants for a farmhouse look. Use the bowl of a birdbath and plant it with grey-green succulents for a cleaner look.

3. Retaining Walls 

While primarily functional, a retaining wall can also become an accent feature in your yard or garden. A rock retaining wall can also become a rock garden with a little planning during construction to leave some pockets in the wall for plants. Your retaining wall can also become seating in your yard. Combine the wall with a fire pit feature for a special area to enjoy with your family and friends in the evening.

Tetiana Shumbasova/Shutterstock.com

4. Fencing 

If you inherited an existing fence from the previous owner or even the backside of the neighbor’s fence, you may not be able to change it. Hide it instead. Cover your side of the fence with a trellis and some beautiful climbing roses or another vine. Make the fence a feature instead of an eyesore.

Another option is to paint the fence. If you paint the fence a dark color like a charcoal grey or forest green, it will act like a backdrop to the plants you put in front of it and be much less noticeable.

There are also planters available that can be attached to the fence and, when planted, disguise the fence even more with plants that grow vertical or hang over the planter and down the wall.

5. Water features 

If you have a multi-level yard, you have the ideal topography for a water feature that includes a waterfall culminating in a pond at the bottom. A simple recirculating pump will return the water to the top and gravity will do the rest. These are especially effective in a partially wooded area where it is easy to naturalize it with native plants. What a surprise for visitors to your garden who will enjoy the sound of water first and then discover this hidden and unexpected gem in your garden.

6. Arbors

Use an arbor at the entrance to your yard. There are wooden arbors in traditional styles and there are metal arbors that look sleek and modern. Some arbors also have seating. Plant a vine in a color that coordinates with your house or your patio furniture color. The roses on your arbor could also fill the air with a heady scent, depending on the plant variety you choose.


7. Garden Décor 

This can include bird baths, fountains or sculptures. Look for items that reflect your style. Try to find items in different heights for more interest. Most birdbaths are table height, but there are some that are only a foot high. It is fun to find a partially hidden surprise in the garden. Try to find unique garden decor items to add to the garden that are made of unexpected materials. Try colored glass items. If you have ever seen a Chihuly garden exhibit, you know how impactful glass can be in the garden.

8. Benches

Don’t forget to include seating in your hardscape plans. There should always be spots throughout your yard and garden for sitting and enjoying the results of your planning. It can vary from an upright log or stump to a teakwood bench or even a hammock strung between two trees.

With a little creativity, you can modify any part of your garden to give yourself the landscape and hardscape you’re dreaming of. 

Traditional Wedding Flowers – Find the Perfect Arrangement for Your Big Day

The flowers you choose for your wedding have a huge impact on the look and feel of your big day. This is especially true for your bridal bouquet. After all, when else do you get to carry a huge, beautiful array of flowers designed just for you?

In fact, you can plan your entire wedding around that specific arrangement of flowers. While ordering Bouqs Wedding Flowers is exciting for any bride, there are a few tips to keep in mind before finalizing the flowers you have selected.

Choose the Dress First

When you go to the florist to discuss your flower bouquet, make sure you take along a picture of your dress. The design of the bouquet will depend on the detail, shape, and style of your dress. The bouquet design shouldn’t drown you out, unbalance the line, or hide the silhouette of your dress.

Size and Shape of Your Bouquet

Don't choose a trailing bouquet if the main detail of your dress is on your skirt. However, if you have a longer bustle or train at the back of the dress, you may want to balance the look by choosing a more dramatic bouquet. Don't hide your waist, as this is the narrowest part of the body. Be sure the bouquet is narrower than your waist.

Even though fashions for bouquets will change over time, you need to make sure that everything works and that you have a balanced look.

Seasonal Options

You can't find some flowers during certain parts of the year. If you can find off-season flowers, they are probably going to be extremely expensive. Be sure you consider this when you select the flowers for your wedding bouquet.

Wedding Dress Color

Color is an essential consideration. This is especially true for creams, ivories, and whites. There are countless shades to choose from, and your florist will be able to recommend the best bloom type that will work with the dress's color, and that will complement the dress color your bridesmaids will wear. If you have swatches, be sure to take them to the florist with you.

If you plan to have your dress altered or custom-made, be sure to talk to your seamstress and find out if there is a dress-matching material that your florist can wrap the bouquet's stems with. This will ensure you get a perfect match.

Make the Bouquet Personal

It's a good idea to add flowers that have some type of personal meaning to you or someone in your family. Also, if you have a family heirloom, like a lace hanky or antique brooch, see if your florist can add it to the stems. This is also a great location for your something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.

Broaches, in particular, look amazing. They also offer a great way to finish the handle of your bouquet. You can also implement cultural traditions, such as those that are seen in the Chinese culture.

Holding Your Bouquet

If you are nervous before your wedding and hold your bouquet for the first time, most brides may hold it with two hands and carry it high, which causes the shoulders to go up. This doesn't usually make a good picture. This is particularly true if you have chosen a strapless dress.

Try to keep the bouquet in one hand and below your hips, slightly away from your dress. This will ensure you can see the silhouette of your wedding dress. This position will also help to open and relax your shoulders, which improves your posture and creates a good pose for the photographer.


Select a Comfortable Bouquet

You need to make sure you choose a bouquet that is comfortable for you to hold. This means choosing something that will not be too big to carry or something that may make you stand off-balance or in an unusual position.

As you can see, there are more than a few considerations to keep in mind when choosing your wedding flowers and bouquet. With the tips and information here, you should be ready to make this important decision. Also, it is almost guaranteed that you will be happy with the final product by considering all these things.


How do you care for Ribes sanguineum?

During the late 17th century when I was a pre-horticultural, yet eager, teenager working in a south London garden centre, I had clear memories of block displays of flowering Forsytha x  intermedia cultivars and Ribes sanguineum. Both were early flowering and both would flower strongly on the new wood. By pruning them back to the crown the previous year you ensured nursery stock with top to bottom blooms. Both very eye-catching, both very impressive and both very popular with the customers. However we are not talking about Forsythia we are focusing on Ribes, so how do you care for Ribes sanguineum?

Native to the dry open woods and rocky slopes of western United States and Canada, Ribes sanguineum is a deciduous shrub introduced into cultivation by 19th century Scottish botanist David Douglas. In the UK it has proven to be a hardy and trouble-free with Ribes sanguineum 'King Edward VII' being the most widely cultivated and therefore the most available selected variety. When left uncultivated Ribes horticultural references indicate that mature specimens can reach a height of approximately 1.5-2 metres however the abandoned specimen in my garden currently stands at 2.5-3 metres! 

Once purchased, Ribes sanguineum will perform best in full sun in all moderately fertile, well-drained soils. If you experience periods of drought during their first season then they will require periodic watering. However once established they are relatively maintenance free except for the cut back down to the crown immediately after flowering. After this heavy prune apply a generous layer of mulch, such as sterilized, well-rotted farm manure or garden compost around the base of the plant. Avoid having the compost touching the trunk.

NOTE!  - Please be aware that Ribes should never be planted near pine trees as they can be a host to white pine blister rust. Ribes are also very susceptible to honey fungus. Aphids, leaf spot and powdery mildew may also be a problem. Apart from all of that they are fine.



If you are looking for a touch of the tropics in your cold, northern European garden then their is very little that can compete with having banana plants growing in your traditional borders. Of course you can purchase banana plants from you local garden center, but let's be honest neither availability or range are particularly strong in the UK. That being said they is a usually a good range of banana seeds available on the internet, mostly eBay although other sites are available. The trick is with the propagation of banana seeds itself, which once dealt with is as easy as any other plants that requires a heated propagator. If you didn't know before, banana seeds require different germinating temperatures at night and during the day, therefore you will need a programmable thermostatically controlled propagator for germinating banana seeds.

Of course you can go out and purchase a heated propagator from almost anywhere, and this will work although you may need to manually set the temperature each morning and each night for up to three months or so. This is obviously a bit of a faff. Typically banana seeds will need a night temperature of approximately 15 degrees Celsius and a daytime of between 25-35 degrees Celsius depending on the species. Therefore a programmable, thermostat which can run separate time periods at separate temperatures is a must. A simple home thermostat for your central heating is ideal! However, and ths is the clever bit, if the environment where you propagator is housed has an ambient temperature of around 15 degrees Celsius then all you need is a simple thermostat and a timer. Run the heater at your required temperature then turn it off so that it falls to the ambient temperature overnight. For northern Europe this effectively means that you a have two opportunities in the year where there is a three month period when overnight temperatures hover around 15 degrees Celsius - late spring and late autumn.

As you can see in the video the perhaps the biggest issue is maintaining the high day temperatures required which is why a purpose built propagator has been fabricated from polystyrene due to its fantastic insulation properties. Now depending on the size of the heat mats purchased, you may be able to obtain prefabricated polystyrene boxes from you local aquatic store. 

As with pretty much all seeds, light is required for germination so a glass top to you propagator is essential, one which is double glazed is preferred albeit pricey. If you need to supplement lighting remember that you will need a light with spectrum as near to day light as possible. These can be purchased on light or at your local pet shop.


Can you leave tulips in the ground all year?

Tulips are arguably the brightest and purest coloured plants for early spring flowering. And if you don't have a passion for the fruits of the genus Tulipa then you clearly have a heart made from frozen spiders. But of course you love tulips as much as I do otherwise you wouldn't be reading this article. So once your tulips have exhausted their abundant charms and have withered back into the abyss there is a question to be asked. Can you leave tulips in the ground all year?

This is a great question. If you had grandparents like me you would be familiar with the yearly ritual of lifting after die-back and drying bulbs over the summer, a routine that had been handed down through the generations since before the Victorian golden age of gardening. On the other hand, my own parents did no such thing and everything was left in the ground with their usual two chances of survival. They either did or they didn't.

So back to whether you can leave tulips in the ground all year. The most important aspects to this question are site and soil. Your tulips will need to be planted somewhere where they will receive as much sunlight as possible. Regarding soil conditions, tulips will perform best in a nutrient rich, free-draining soil which does not become waterlogged during freezing conditions. If you can provide these conditions then you should be able to leave you tulips in the ground all year round. However to help your plants along consider applying a liquid soluble fertilizer periodically between the end of flowering and when the old stems have turned brown.

Just a few more points, the further north in the country you are intending to grow your tulips the ore likely you are going to need to provide a dry mulch to protect the bulbs from freezing conditions. Also the traditional tulip varieties that have proven themselves capable of remaining planted outside are likely to fair far better than the more modern fancier varieties. So the true answer to this question, as it is in life, is to do your research first.

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What do you do with tulips after they die?

Tulips are arguably the most bright and colourful of all spring flowering ornamental plants and (assuming they are not ravaged by slugs as they emerge from the soil) provide a gorgeous display, not only of hope for warmer weather, but of perfect lush foliage. This is also enhanced by the anticipation of the opening of their glorious buds. As with many of the best things in life the beauty of the tulip is short lived, so it isn't long before the petals fall and the foliage discolours. So the question is this, what to do with tulips after they die?

Of course once they have finished flowering and the foliage and stems fade they are not truly dead, they are just moving into the next phase of their seasonal existence. If the blooms have pollinated then the tulip will divert its energy into producing hopefully viable seeds. If not the plant is absorbing carbohydrates, nutrients and sugars back into the bulb to repurpose the following spring. Of course, it maybe that you tulip is actually dead and if that is the case , just throw it into a incinerator along with the surrounding soil to reduce the spread of any possible pest of pathogen.

As far as good horticultural practice goes, you don't need to do anything to the tulip after they die as they are quite capable of looking after themselves, assuming they have been positioned and planted in favourable conditions. Of course, any brown shriveled foliage or stems can be removed one the bulb has finished sucking the life out of them. However if you are gardening in an area of the country prone to freezing wet weather, or are cultivating weaker, virus colour-broken cultivars or even species unsuitable for overwintering in northern european climates then you need to get your hands dirty by lifting and storing.

Lifting and storing tulips

If you need to lift and store tulip bulbs then it's all about technique and timing. Once flowering has finished, dead-head you plants to prevent them from producing seeds as this is an energy sapping process for your bulb. The same energy which you will need for the following seasons display. 

Once the foliage had turned yellow/brown your bulbs will be ready for lifting, choose a day when the soil is lovely and dry to aid lifting. Working with wet bulbs is no fun. Clean off the soil and discard and bulbs which are damaged or diseased. Place they bulbs in trays so that they are not touching and move to a warm (un-heated), dry, well-ventilated environment so that they can continue to dry off naturally. A  temperature of between 18-20°C will be perfect.

Come the autumn your bulbs can be planted back into position once again, however if a flowering display is paramount, use these stored bulbs in less significan borders and new bulbs in prominent areas.

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How to Grow Species Tulips from Seed
OLD DUTCH TULIPS - Tulip 'Absalom'
OLD DUTCH TULIPS - Tulip 'Lac van Rijn'
SPECIES TULIP - Tulipa Wilsoniana
Top Tips for Tulip Care
Tulip History


Do daffodils grow back every year?

While not the first bulb to come into flower in the spring, daffodils are certainly the most prominent. Planted in huge numbers every year, England can often appear awash with their perfect golden blooms. When priced per bulb, the more common varieties are among the cheapest ornamental flowering bulbs you can buy, but when purchasing the more fancier cultivars in bulb for mass planting schemes it can become expensive. So with such an investment it would be great to have an answer to the question that is on many a novice gardeners lips. Do daffodils grow back every year?

Native to meadows and woods in southern Europe and North Africa, daffodils have evolved to survive in the warm, dry climates of the Mediterranean basin. That being said, they have naturalized widely and in doing so have become an important commercial crop centered primarily in the Netherlands. The Netherlands being a relatively cold and wet northern European country. Now not all plants native to the Mediterranean basin are able to cope with the freezing wet winters of England and so it is reasonable to assume that daffodils would not be hardy enough to survive our northern European climate. However, as with many bulb genera, daffodils have proven themselves to be considerably robust and over time both wild and cultivated plants have become naturalized widely. In fact, the daffodil is the national flower of Wales in the United Kingdom.

Of course, not all daffodil species and cultivars are going to be hardy enough to survive year on year under the environmental stress of the British climate, but the upside is that so many do. So, as long as you choose tried and tested varieties you will find that daffodils will grow back every year. To choose form the best you only need to go to the RHS website to research which varieties and cultivars have been awarded the RHS Award of Merit.  

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Can daffodils kill you

Can daffodils kill you! This is a great question and one which summons images of roaming Narcissi with the capability of murderous intent. Of course daffodils are not Triffids, which are themselves a only a figment of author John Wyndham's mind, and neither are they sentient in the way that humans imagine. However the question remains and as some say, there is no smoke without fire. 

Now most gardeners will probably tell you that Daffodils can't kill you, and then question why would you ask such a strange question of one of our most popular and ubiquitous flowering bulbs. However as it turns out, Narcissi produce approximately 80 alkaloids (in particular the notorious alkaloid poison lycorine), some of which are there to protect the plant, but can also be poisonous if accidentally eaten. This has occured when certain species are mistaken for leeks or onions and cooked and eaten. Unintentional poisoning is generally rare due to the strong unpleasant taste realised.

Toxicity among daffodil species does vary, as does the concentration of these toxins within the bulb and the foliage. Ingestion of  Daffodil species N. pseudonarcissus or N. jonquilla is followed by one or more of the following side effects,  salivation, acute abdominal pains, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Unfortunately it doesn't end there as this is followed by neurological and cardiac events, including trembling, convulsions, and paralysis. Death can result if large quantities are consumed and there is documented history of Daffodils being ingested in order to commit suicide. So it is true, Daffodils can kill you.

So imagine that you or someone around had eaten a daffodil, what do you do? Go straight to you nearest Hospital A and E. It is likely that activated carbon, salts and laxatives will be administered, and for severe symptoms intravenous atropine and emetics or stomach pumping may be required.

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Do Hyacinths prefer sun or shade?

Despite being under commercial cultivation since the 1500's, Hyacinths have remained a firm favourite with both gardeners and plant breeders alike. Today's cultivars are a fantastic collection of stocky, densely flowered specimens with some extraordinarily rich colouration. They are generally sold as forced bulbs in late autumn for flowering during the Christmas period. This is so that the heavy, luxurious fragrance can be enjoyed over the holiday.  Once flowering is over it is in the interest of the Hyacinth growers it is in the interest of the growers for you to throw them away and purchase new bulbs the following season but this is not necessary as they can be planted outside once weather conditions allow. This then begs the question of do Hyacinths prefer sun or shade?

To find the answer to this you only have to look at the environmental conditions that Hyacinths have evolved to survive.This is an area that stretches across the eastern Mediterranean from the north of Bulgaria through to the northern part of the region of Palestine. This region experiences low rainfall, subtropical temperatures and high levels of sunlight. Therefore is planting outside in the garden it is imperative that Hyacinth bulbs are planted where they can receive as much sun as possible.

That being said, when grown indoors as forced bulbs is is generally recommend to place in a room which is bright but does not receive direct sunlight as thi scan can cause the blooms to fade somewhat depending on the cultivar. So there you have it, do Hyacinths prefer sun or shade? Well on the whole yes, unless you are growing them indoors then its kind of yes.

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BBC Hyacinths


What do you do with Hyacinths after they bloom?

The producers of Hyacinths, notably the Dutch horticultural industry, want to sell you hyacinth bulbs every year. That way they can sell as many as the can, and maximize their profits every year. But here's the thing, Hyacinth bulbs are not annuals, the every fact of them being a bulb means that the have evolved to survive harsh conditions, ready to regrow and bloom the following season. This gives you two choices. Either pander to big business and throw your perfectly good Hyacinths away and contribute to our wasteful society, or try and care for them in such a way that they will have a chance to boom again in the coming spring. The question is this, what do you do with Hyacinth bulbs after they bloom?

For this answer I am going to presume that you have purchased hyacinth bulbs for indoor use so you can enjoy both the gorgeous scent and stunning full blooms. If you are thinking about bulbs already naturalized outside in the garden then you have two single choices. Either remove the flowering stalk to the base keep your borders tidy (either cut the stalk, or if it has died back enough it will just pull out by hand), or allow the flowering stalk to die back naturally so that the bulb can recuperate sugars and carbohydrates back into the bulb for re-use next spring - perfect recycling!

Back to indoor specimens, I accept that Hyacinths are not native to the freezing, wet condition of northern Europe. However given the right conditions they will indeed flower year on year with little maintenance. Firstly the aspect is important as Hyacinths have the capacity to produce enormous amounts of blooms and they will require two things to do this otherwise subsequent blooms will be considerably weaker. They need full sun, as much as they can possible receive and a well draining, warm soil. Absolutely avoid ground which becomes waterlogged, especially over the winter. Once flowering is over and the foliage is still lush, don't be afraid to provide a liquid fertilizer every week or so to help build up the bulb for next years display. In cooler northern regions of the country provide a couple of inches of a dry mulch (such as bark chips of gravel) to prevent the overwintering bulbs from being frost damaged. 

Alternatively, if you want to grown them on as container specimens you can do that too. Conditions remain the same as in full sun and well-drained compost. Choose something like a John Innes 'No 1' and add a handful of horticultural grit to it. In the winter you can easily move your container to a frost-free protected environment.

So that is what you do with Hyacinths after they bloom.

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BBC Hyacinths


When should I prune my Hamamelis?

Hamamelis species and cultivars are an absolutely glorious addition to the garden. There is literally nothing else which produces such a bold and yet bizarre display of late winter blooms. Unfortunately throughout the rest of the growing season I have to be honest and say, that when it comes to all-round-interest, boring is an understatement. But you know you can always hide them at the back of a border and use them as a backdrop for something more ornamental. So going back to their fantastic flowers, you are going to want your specimen to produce its best show and pruning will be an essential element to this. The question is therefore this, when should I prune my Hamamelis? Get this wrong and you could lose your seasonal display.

Native to North America, Japan and China the genus Hamamelis is composed or relatively slow growing deciduous shrubs, though arguably small trees which depending on the species can reach an overall height of between 10 and 40 feet tall. Selected cultivars will be considerably smaller. In general, Hamamelis will not require regular pruning so feel free to let them grow as the will. However it is always advisable to remove any dead, damaged, congested, crossing or weak shoots.

If you have planted one of the larger species and need to restrict the size of your specimen then cut back the previous season’s growth to two leaf buds from the main stem. This should be carried out immediately after flowering. Hamamelis flowers on the previous season new growth and usually before leaf-but break. If this cut is done later on in the year you will be removing the flowering wood. Be aware that leaf buds are longer and narrower than the more rounded flower buds, so always take care not to remove the flower buds in the process

If you have inherited a particularly large plant that has outgrown its allotted space don't worry. You can remedy this by remove some of the older, larger branches by cutting them back to a healthy new shoot. It’s best to stage this pruning over two or three years. Even over this is done in stages over a few years this will still stress your Hamamelis causing it to recover slowly. Furthermore these kind of hard cuts on grafted cultivars can encourage the rootstock to produce lots of suckers - long vigorous stems sprouting from the base o the stem

These suckers can be recognised as they usually hold on to their leaves longer in autumn. Try to spot these when they are as small as possible and tear them away from the rootstock. If you chose to cut them this can encourage even more suckering.

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Are Azaleas easy to grow?

It's hard not to be tempted when faced with a garden centre full of flowering Azaleas. Of course it would lovely to have one or more in your own garden, and why wouldn't you want them? Evergreen, hardy and resistant to most plant nasties found in the UK, surely they are a perfect package? The trouble is this, they look a little exotic, and maybe that means they are a bit too-good-to-be-true? So the question is this, are Azaleas easy to grow?

Well the good news is that on the whole they are, assuming they have been given favorable growing conditions. Luckily there are just three things you need to know - root environment, watering and sunlight.


This is quite simple, position small leaved, alpine-like Azaleas in full sun. Place the large leaved varieties in partial shade away from first-thing-in-the-morning sun and full-strength midday sun.


Azaleas like a moist but well drained loam or sandy soil. Avoid areas which become waterlogged, especially during cold winters, and those which dry out over the summer. If you do experience extended periods of drought, make sure you water your Azaleas. At the base that is, I don't want to see water sprayed over blooms and foliage during hot weather.

Root environment

This is arguably the most important aspect to growing Azaleas successfully. Azaleas are within the ericaceae family and as such are known for tolerating acidic soils. They are so good in fact at tolerating acidic soils that they struggle to maintain any semblance of condition in alkaline soils. In fact they can easily become chlorotic and stunted in a pH over 6.5. With this in mind you will need to plant into acidic soil conditions, preferably within the 5.5-6.5 range. Don't worry if your garden soil is alkaline that there are remedies which can be actioned to rectify this. The easiest is to grow your Azalea in a contain filled with ericaceous compost. Avoid concrete containers as the lime within will leach out and increase the alkalinity around the root environment. When growing in the ground, again you can dig a large hole and fill with ericaceous compost.

Alternatively you can acidify the soil by digging in naturally acidic moss peat or by applying flowers of sulphur.

Main image credit - Famartin - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33017446

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Where do azaleas grow best?

Although promoted in many texts and garden centres as their own genus, Azaleas are in fact are Rhododendrons. That being said they are generally listed as the subspecies Azaleastrum. Of course while there are clear similarities, there are indeed differences such as stamen numbers, bud prominence and foliage size and structure. However when it comes to the growing conditions required within the garden environment they are very much the same. So where do azaleas grow best?

Being held within the genus Rhododendron, Azaleas are amember for the Ericaceae family which is known for its tolerance of acidic soils. Azaleas are no different and so when planting azalea in the garden you will need to provide a soil pH preferably between roughly 4.5–5.5, although they will tolerate between 5.0 and 6.0. If soil soil is not naturally acidic don't worry there are things that you can do to ameliorate this. The easiest is to dig a large hole and back fill it with ericaceous compost before planting your azalea. Alternatively you can dig naturally acidic moss peat into the soil or chemically alter it by apply flowers of sulphur. If you are intending to grow azaleas in pot the the solution is simple. When choosing which compost to use, you will need ericaceous, preferably one mixed with John innes compost. Just one more thing here with regards to container choice, avoid concrete pots as the lime within them will increase the alkalinity of your compost over time.

Assuming your soil is fine regarding acidity then choose a regularly moist position and dig in plenty of organic matter such as leaf mold and sterilized, blended, well-rotted farm manure. One thing you need to be aware of with, and not just for Azaleas but also Rhododendrons and Camellias, is to place them away from morning and full midday position so that their early flowers do not get frosted by a sudden thaw caused by sun.

Regarding light, Azaleas will perform best in partial shade and out of direct sun during the hottest part of the day. That being said, in the north of England they will be fine in full sun.

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When should you prune Rhododendron?

If you are looking for a fantastic spring flower display then Rhododendron have to be in your choice of top five shrubs.  Not only are they smothered in brightly coloured blooms, they are evergreen, and tough as old boots. Over time, many of the traditional cultivars can become quite large specimens and arguably not really suitable for the small suburban garden. So if you are facing a Rhododendron specimen that has grown beyond its appropriate space you are going to have to consider giving it a cut. The question you should then be asking then is when should you prune Rhododendron?

Typically, Rhododendrons won't need much in the way of pruning. Their normal requirements is just to removal unhealthy, dead, diseased or damaged shoots. This is performed mid-spring, just before the new growth emerges. Avoid trimming immediately after the spring flush of new growth as this can lose you the following springs display of flowers.

If flowering is paramount to you, and you are only looking at performing a light trim then the answer is simple. Prune immediately after flowering. That way you will minimise the impact on next years show. If you are looking at a severe cut then you are in luck as Rhododendrons are known to responding well to a hard cutting back. Such heavy cuts are advised to be performed when the plant is dormant in late winter.

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