Every grower has their problems... Hopefully we can help! If you have any questions about growing alpines, the Alpine Garden Society or the Alpine Garden Society Bedfordshire Group, please get in touch.

Questions

Answers

How do I get Fritillarias to reflower? I have lots of grass like foliage, but no flowers after the first year.

There are a number of factors to take into account when cultivating bulbs in pots. Flowers are formed in the bulb during the previous years growth primarily in the period after flowering & before the leaves die down. For the flower formation to be successful the bulb requires sufficient nourishment & for pot cultivation it is strongly recommended that the bulbs are fed with a liquid fertiliser at this time.

I use Maxicrop fertiliser based on seaweed extract (2 capfuls in 2 gallons of water.) after the crocus+ cyclamen speaker recommended it. In fact some growers 'do not water bulbs but only feed bulbs'.

But there are other requirements depending on the species. Some like a cold winter to flower well, you may not achieve this in our recent winters especially if you keep them in the greenhouse. There is even talk of placing your pot of bulbs in a fridge for a few weeks in winter. Most bulbs will need need a dryish dormant period to ripen the bulbs - how dry you may ask? Most Mediterranean & Western USA bulbs appreciate a dryish summer as provided by an alpine house, bulb frame or dutch lights. - Tony Hale

How do I grow cushion plants? They tend to die off in the middle, or grow unevenly.

It could be that the roots at the centre of the pot are not getting sufficient water. In the growing season try dunking the pot up to 2/3 its height in water in a bucket for 5 mins, especially at the bud formation time & just prior to flowering. It may be strong sunlight in the case of saxifrages - you will need to adequately shade & water them. Uneven growth may be caused by inadequate watering or reduced light on one side of the pot - try rotating the pot on a regular basis. - Tony Hale

Please recommend the material you consider to be most useful on growing alpines.

As it is difficult to recommend just one reference I recommend the following pair as most useful.

'Collectors Alpines' by Royton Heath, out of print but second hand copies are available to buy & we have a copy in our library.- excellent for plants in pots but well out of date on insecticides & fungicides

'The Smaller Bulbs' by Brian Mathew. My favourite book on dwarf bulbs.

Other more specialised references I use include

'Cyclamen' by Kit Grey-Wilson,

'AGS Encyclopaedia'

'Porophyllum Saxifrages'

'The Propogation of Alpine Plants & Dwarf Bulbs' by Brian Halliwell.

 - Tony Hale

Fungicides & insecticides seem to be always changing. Please advise what you recommend for fungal & pest control especially for Lily Beetle & red spider mite.

Insecticides & fungicides seem now to be limited to a few such as Derris liquid or dust, Roseclear, Bugclear, Bio Provado Ultimate Bugkiller, Provado Vine Weevil killer, Dithane & Nippon Ant killer.

Derris will kill spider mite but ensure that your Alpine House is kept cool by adequate ventilation, shading & watering otherwise red spider mite will thrive in a hot dry atmosphere.

Bio Provado Ultimate Bug Killer in its concentrate form (not in aerosol or trigger spray forms) is effective against Lily Beetle & Red Spider Mite.as well as mealy bug, scale insects, greenfly, blackfly, wooly aphid, whitefly & thrips. Try entering the name of the pest into an internet search engine such as Google & you should find the information you are looking for. - Tony Hale

Do you recommend fertilising (feeding) alpines in the greenhouse? If so with what fertiliser & how frequently.

The topic of feeding bulbs and top dressing cyclamen have been covered already. Other alpines might benefit from a liquid feed at bud formation time & flowering time particularly if the plant has not been annually repotted. Phostrogen, Tomorite or Maxicrop would all be suitable at half strength. You could also use slow release fertiliser in the compost such as Osmocote.

How do I grow cyclamen from seedlings? When do they need pricking out? What compost to use? What feeds to apply?

Always try to sow fresh seed ie as soon as harvested from the plant to give best germination rates. If seed is sown later ie around the turn of the year or in spring, soak the seed before sowing for 24 hours in water with a little washing up liquid added. Leave the seedlings in the pot for 2 years & try to maintain continual growth during that time by keeping them moist & occasional feeding with half strength liquid feed. For seed compost, I use a 50% sand or grit compost ie 2 JI #2, 1 peat, 2 sharp sand, 1 grit, 1 vermiculite. For potting, I use a 25% sand/grit compost eg 2 JI#2, 1 peat, 1 sharp sand + osmocote slow release fertiliser.

Cyclamen dislike root disturbance so avoid repotting every year and instead topdress with a mixture of fresh compost & a little organic fertiliser added such as bonemeal.

Cyclamen watering - I have tried both watering methods & I found that the cyclamen flowered better when the pots were stood in a tray of water 2 ins deep but beware you don't leave them in too long- just long enough for the compost to get moist otherwise the compost will stagnate.

Cyclamen feeding - I've covered cyclamen feeding above by top dressing, additional liquid feeding should not be necessary. - Tony Hale

Please recommend half a dozen easy alpines for showing.

I've concentrated on those alpines that would be useful plants at the time of our show for 8 different classes.

Saxifrages 'Cumulus' (white), Coolock Kate (reddish pink), Alan Martin (yellow)

Primula allionii - 'Clarence Elliot' or 'Anna Griffiths' or 'Mary Berry'

Bulb - Fritillaria acmopetala or Fritillaria pontica; Trillium rivale

Sempervivum sp & many cultivars

Sedum spathufolium either purpureum or Cappa Blanca;

Dwarf conifer - Cryptomeria japonica 'Vilmoriana'

Silver/grey foliage - Helichrysum sibthorpii or Helichrysum. orientale

Cushion plant - Draba longisiliqua or Gypsophilia aretioides var. caucasica

- Tony Hale

Should we still be plunging our plants in sand in the greenhouse? Or is placing them on capillary matting the best method?

If your plants are grown in clay pots, they must be plunged to avoid drying out problems. If they are grown in plastic pots, placing them on damp capillary matting is probably better than on sand which dries out more quickly at the surface. - Tony Hale

Do you use the internet for information on growing & buying alpines? If so which sites do you recommend

I don't use any specific sites except the Plant finder service on the RHS site (www.rhs.org.uk) which identifies where you can buy specific plants with full nursery contact details. You can then browse individual nursery websites at leisure & enter them into your favourites list if you wish. - Tony Hale

Unless using topic specific searches (such as the RHS) remember to set the search engine to 'UK Only'. Always avoid Wikipedia, as anyone can alter the information, which makes it unreliable. When looking for information on specific plants, look for several sources and compare the information; remember, what works for someone may not necessarily work for you. - Robert Amos