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Facebook Questions and Answers for the 20th June 2014

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Hello Facebook fans, thanks for your questions this week, here are Carly's replies:

Layla Salisbury

Can anyone tell me what this plant is? It's about 5ft tall (but this may not be the norm as everything in my garden tends to grow super tall) they look like mini snapdragons, about half a little fingernail in size. I'm not sure if it was planted/sowed or if it's a weed but it seems to have spread everywhere around the garden. Regardless I'm not pulling them up as the bees love it. Thanks to anyone who can help.

purple toadflax

Hi Layla, from your description of the snapdragon-like flowers this plant is Purple Toadflax (Linaria purpurea). It's a perennial plant which is cultivated for its elegant flower spikes, produced continuously from early summer through to early autumn. It self-seeds freely so will often pop up in gardens as a weed (or a bonus plant depending how you look at it). As you've noticed it's popular with bees and is on the RHS Perfect for Pollinators list - a great addition to the garden! I hope this helps.

Valerie Hartshorne

I have a young magnolia sunrise in a large pot with John Innes number three and added grit for drainage. Last year it was full of flower this year however there were none. No swelling buds during the winter and the leaves are a little on the small side and slightly yellow. Do you think it needs feeding or could it be the conditions this weekend? I have a sheltered courtyard garden. Thank you.

Hi Valerie, as no buds were produced I think that this is an issue with its growing conditions, and a bit of extra care this year should rectify the problem. If your Magnolia has been in its pot for more than three years I would suggest re-potting it using John Innes No.3 compost. If it has only been in the pot for a year or two then it could be dryness at the roots or a nutrient defiency causing non-flowering. Dry soil in summer causes a check in growth and prevents the formation of flower buds for the following spring. This summer and autumn, try to make sure that the compost does not dry out to reduce stress on the tree. Conversely if the compost gets too wet this can drown the roots and cause stress, but as you've added grit to the compost this seems unlikely. I would also recommend feeding your magnolia this summer while it is in active growth, with a balanced liquid fertiliser. Yellowing leaves are most often a sign of nitrogen deficiency, although can indicate water logging too. The liquid feed should quickly help your Magnolia recover if there is a lack of nutrients available in the compost. Lastly, Magnolias will flower best if given at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. I hope this helps Valerie, do let us know how you get on.

Nicola Price

I have recently moved and have bamboo in my garden that I really like but it is tangled up in ivy! If I cut the bamboo right back so, say, about 5cm of stalk is left sticking up, will it grow back? Thanks Nicola

Hi Nicola, bamboo will re-shoot from the base although it would be a good idea to leave a few shortened stems (at least a third of the clump) with leaves remaining, to help the plant recover. Cut these stems back to the desired height, just above a node or set of leaves. Once cut, they won't grow taller although may produce some short leaf shoots from the node. They can be cut back to the base once the plant has developed new canes to support itself. The others canes can be cut right back to ground level as they won't grow back without leaves, and the stubs may encourage water to collect and rot the crown. Hopefully these measures should allow you to get the ivy out! Bamboo are tough plants and I would expect the plant to recover well. Make sure it has ample water throughout summer and autumn to give it the best growing condition possible. I hope this helps Nicola, good luck.

Kate Rose

Hi Carly. I've been given a small fig sapling. I know it needs sunny spot but can I grow it in a container and if so how large, what soil and how do I care for it? Thank you.

Hi Kate, you can certainly grow figs in containers. They'll be happiest in a large container with at least 45cm (18") diameter and a similar depth. Use soil-based compost such as John Innes No.3 as these have a better ability to hold nutrients and water and provide stability and weight to the container. Figs will benefit from regular feeding with a high-potash fertiliser throughout the summer months and regular watering during hot weather to encourage fruit production. Figs don't require much pruning - only to remove dead or damaged growth. New shoots can be pinch pruned in summer back to 5 or 6 leaves to encourage fruit formation. When growing figs in the UK climate the fruits will develop in spring and ripen throughout the summer for harvesting in late summer or autumn when soft. A second crop may begin to develop in late summer. Leave these figs intact - any that survive the winter will ripen the following year. I hope this helps Kate, best of luck with your fig tree!

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