Ageing gracefully with the help of a little paint; an unrosy outlook in the borders; and a prickly issue with a pyracantha...
No fire, few thorns
I planted a pyracantha two years ago as a thorny deterrent against a north-facing fence. It has produced new growth but has neither flowered nor produced bright berries. Will it?
Emma Hill, via email
From your accompanying picture I can see that, at barely 2ft tall, your shrub has a long way to go before it either flowers/berries or, for that matter, provides any kind of useful “thorny deterrent”.
Prickly-stemmed pyracantha (firethorn), while not exactly a sprinter, should grow just about anywhere and is therefore often recommended for shady sites. But small plants against north-facing walls or fences always struggle to “take off” and yours will be unlikely to flower and berry-up until it grows upwards and receives more light. You should therefore take steps to persuade it to grow more vigorously.
First, clear away any weeds and leafy debris from its base. Tie the plant to the fence post or a strong dahlia stake using soft twine so it doesn’t flop in the wind. To get it growing this coming year, apply a fistful or two of a balanced fertiliser (e.g. blood, fish and bone) around its base early next month and then a mulch of rotted manure, homemade compost or something equivalent out of a bag. Give it another feed of sulphate of potash (to encourage flowering) in late summer.
Once big enough, pyracantha flowers/berries are formed on the shoots produced the previous year, so don’t cut it back. Just snip off the very tips of the lankiest stems in late spring to encourage it to thicken up.
A magic ageing process
We used a product on our new “orange” fence that I am sure I read about in one of your articles. We painted it on and shortly afterwards the fence turned a light green weathered colour. I’d like to recommend it to a friend but can’t find the name of it.
Susan Bolton, via email
I do indeed remember recommending this product to readers, having used it to preserve and instantly age some herb planters I was making out of bright, raw-looking wine boxes. It is extraordinary how effective it was at mellowing the colour of the wood.
My boxes are still going strong two years later. Having never tried out the technique on “orange” fencing, I am pleased to hear from you that the product worked well and did an instant-ageing job for you on that, too.
The product is called ECO Wood Treatment, is available from Harrod Horticultural and is, as the name would suggest, completely plant/people/animal friendly. It comes in a small box in powder form (£14.95 for enough to cover up to 150 sq ft) and when mixed with water it makes a clear, vaguely yellow liquid that you simply “paint” on, as you describe.
Then you just wait and let the magic happen.
If you will, dear readers, try to visualise the front of Penny Wilton’s house: a border runs along its length, planted by previous owners three years ago with 18 unidentified lovely (but alas scent-less) roses.
They are so vigorous that those that are situated under and in front of the low windows block the view from within. Cut back repeatedly in summer to counteract this, they scarcely flower. Penny finds the job of pruning such a large number of roses arduous anyway, and wonders if there is some way she can “dwarf” them. Or should she get rid of them and replace them with smaller, scented ones?
Harder spring pruning might help to reduce their summer stature a little, or (depending on the variety) could make them more vigorous at the expense of flowers. Replacement with smaller roses is an option, and as the originals are only three years old, rose sickness in the soil is unlikely to be an issue, although the use of Rootgrow to bolster new roses is definitely helpful during establishment. However, my advice has more to do with pragmatism than with horticultural sophistication.
By getting shot of the offending view-blockers and replacing them with neat areas of brick, paving or some such, Penny would at a stroke reduce the number of roses needing annual pruning and/or constant mid-season tweakery – and please her window cleaner no end into the bargain. Maybe there is somewhere else in the garden suitable for one or two scented roses.