Our gardening queries from Country Gardener readers this month range from an old favourite in how to deal with tomato blight to drying herbs and getting plum trees to produce fruit. I would like to enter my dahlias into a competition this year. It is the first time I’ve done this and I need to understand more about disbudding and ensuring I get fewer, but better show class blooms. More and more dahlia growers end up wanting to see what it would be like to grow a very large specimen bloom, worthy as you say perhaps of entering a competition. There is a method of making the flower heads grow considerably larger than normal called ‘disbudding’. Disbudding is the process of removing surplus buds on the stem of the plant as they appear. If you were to leave the plant and not disbud, no harm would come to it. In fact, you will end up with many flowers on a single stem, but they would be small compared to a disbudded, single stemmed dahlia. It is not uncommon for three or four buds to appear on a dahlia stem. Disbudding works by channeling the plant’s energy into making the one, single bloom, hence it will grow to become very big. This process does not affect the colour of the resultant flower either, meaning that disbudding can be an excellent way of producing a very impressive focal point in the garden when the dahlia comes into bloom. To disbud a dahlia, care must be taken to not damage the main bud that you wish to keep. As flower buds start to develop in July and August, just disbud by taking out the smaller buds below the central flower on a stem. It is very easy to inadvertently snap off the bud you had intended to nurture, so pinch very lightly. Pinch off the side buds cleanly where their stalk reaches the main stem of the plant, this will normally be butting up to a leaf.
Helen Duigan, Poole
I have a very prolific lavender hedge and will again try and dry some for the winter. My attempts have not been very successful so far and I often get mouldy, rotten dry stems which soon disintegrate.
Melissa Kirk, Bath
Lavender is one of the most rewarding herbs you can grow but getting perfectly dried lavender needs care and attention. Deciding when to begin harvesting the flowers needs to be given some thought. The weather conditions and humidity will play a role as to when you may begin harvesting lavender for drying. If you have had dry weather for a few days go ahead and start cutting flowers. Morning or evening is fine as long as it’s dry. Remember when you prune lavender bushes always leave some green leafy growth. It won’t regrow from woody stems so if plants become woody and straggly you should replace them. It may be that your problem in terms of drying lavender is trying to dry the herb in too large a bunch. The best results are often achieved in smaller bunches when especially in the early days of drying air can get into the middle and dry evenly. Also don’t dry in direct sunshine which will dry the flowers too quickly and they may start dropping. Hanging the bunches upside down for drying which will allow for air to reach all sides and to prevent the flower tops from curling over. You can use an old coat hanger and clothes pegs to hang several bunches. Place your drying lavender flowers in a cool dry spot, away from sunlight and check on their progress every few days.
My wife and I have a regular discussion about how often the hedges in our garden - box and hawthorn - need cutting to make sure they stay healthy and don’t get too big. It isn’t something we seem to be able to agree on. Whatever hedge you grow the principles of keeping it in trim are largely the same. A hedge that has reached its desired full size effectively just needs all of this year’s growth cutting off. Otherwise logically it will just get bigger and bigger. If however your hedge is still growing to its full height and width just shorten side-shoots to about a third to encourage bushier growth and leave the top until it has got as high as you need it. This is just a basic rule however and there are variations to the answer depending how often different hedge species need cutting back.
Andrew Collis, Barnstaple
Box for instance should be cut twice –once in June and then again in September. Coniferous hedges again need twice a year attention in May and then again in August, pruning any later is inked to brown patches appearing. Ilex (holly) only needs a once a year cut as does yew and lavender. Hawthorn with its often-ferocious growth spurts needs cutting back every June and September. Check any hedge for nesting birds before clipping, as it is an offence to disturb them. The main nesting season is between March and August. www.countrygardener.co.uk
The August 2019 issue of Cornwall Country Gardener Magazine