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Almond Trees, Jasmine, Hydrangea & Roses

Guessing what the rootstock for flowering almond trees might be; jasmines as houseplants; suggestions for non-flowering Hydrangea and Forsythia; and the best roses for winter colour (hips)!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

July 23, 2006

Above, the relatively unknown popcorn cassia (Cassia didymobotrya) growing in a container beside the door to my office (it’s not hardy outdoors here over winter!) and a little flower box on the west side of our house at window-height level. Below, the waterside deck now refinished with Penofin stain (a separate story I’ll tell some time!) and a sail-boarder and his dog on our shoreline.
Author photos.

After last week’s tirade against the detractors of pesticides generally (and 2,4-D and Mecoprop specifically), it is back to questions.

For example, Kathy Rifkin of Oshawa wrote on July 2: “I was on your website and read your answer to Sylvia Jones' question on the suckers growing from her flowering almond tree. The funny thing is our flowering almond died many years ago and a plant starting growing from the graft trunk that we had left standing. It is now huge and occupies one whole corner of our garden. We have always been curious as to what it is. It has small white blossoms in the spring and olive sized light green fruit in the summer. From checking the internet I can surmise that it is some kind of plum tree. We originally thought that it was a Russian olive but the leaves are wrong. Some of the branches have long spikes on them. Any ideas?”

My thought was that it was likely another plum, but not being close to this type of stuff, I asked my friend Larry Sherk, a consultant (and retired from) Sheridan Nurseries. He said that generally Prunus tomentosa is used for the standards but it doesn’t fit your description. He suggests it could be Prunus spinosa, generally known as black-thorn. Do those small fruits you describe eventually turn blue-purple and then almost black? Blackthorn produces 1.5 cm (1/2”) purple-turning-to-black fruit (sloes) that are very bitter until touched by frost at the beginning of winter (however, the birds may get them first!). The sloes are used both for preserves, and in the manufacture of sloe gin.

If that description does not fit what you have, I am at a loss to suggest what it is, and the situation becomes extremely complicated with self-hybrids turning up all the time. Sorry!

Mannie Micallef of London, Ontario wrote two weeks ago about a Jasmine: “I recently purchased a jasmine plant (something I have always wanted to do) but do not know how to care for it. Any suggestions? I appreciate it greatly.”

I wrote back as follows: “There are about 250-300 species of Jasmine. I guess the most common, for indoor use there, would be the climbing Jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) which has white star-shaped flowers, and can either be grown as a climbing vine, or curled around on a circular trellis much like we buy Stephanotis plants. Does that sound like the one your have?”

Mannie’s response was: “The jasmine plant that I have is strictly a house plant which grows like a potted small bush and has double white and fragrant star-shaped flowers. Hope this is enough information.”

The Jasmine is not a difficult house plant to grow. It likes a rich, well-drained soil, but likely you won’t need to change the soil in which it is growing for a year or two. I would apply Liquid Growth (the Garden Bloom and/or Garden Growth formulae) monthly from spring until the end of August. The one problem that can occur with them if grown in the home is that they fail to bloom. They need a slight threat of cold temperatures to cause them to set buds. That can be easily accomplished by setting the pot outside for a couple of weeks (at the most) in late fall or early winter. However, it should not be left out on nights when temperatures will dip below minus 5o C.

And, switching from southern Ontario questions to those from near here on Vancouver Island, Jodi wrote last Thursday: “My question is, why are my hydrangeas not flowering? I have four, three were here previously and did not flower last year; the fourth was bought and planted last year (at that time it had flowers). This year no flowers??? If you have any information I would love to hear it.”

The only suggestion I can make to Jodi is that she or someone may have pruned them this spring, or even during the winter, and pruned all the flower buds away. This is a common happening! So, the answer is definitely no pruning now for a year! Other things that might help would be applying a high-phosphate fertilizer--anything with a high middle number, monthly now until late August at least.

And likewise, from somewhere on Vancouver Island came this from Ernie V. Jacobs: “Your thoughts on TV are interesting and helpful. Thank you. We have two types of Forsythia. The one grows fast with lots of flowers. The problem one is the one that has slightly jagged leaves. Hardly any blooms. The ones with the smoother leaves are great. One type we have is ‘Northern Gold’. We are not sure which. We’ve been told that our problem ones are a kind that never has many flowers. Is that true? Or is there some way to give the plant a boot in the rear?”

Well Ernie, there are few gardeners who have problems with Forsythia not blooming if they prune it/them correctly. The only good time to prune most early-flowering shrubs is immediately after the flowers begin to drop. If you prune later, or very early in the spring, you will remove the flower buds, and hence reduced or no flowering.

‘Northern Gold’ is a newer cultivar out of the University of Minnesota that was specifically developed for cold climates like Ottawa and Montreal where most other cultivars (save for F. suspensa sieboldi which has similar at-tributes) will not flower, except for branches which are snow-covered for most of the winter. What I am saying, there is no particular reason you should be growing ‘Northern Gold’ here on Vancouver Island.

Try that one for one more year with no pruning, and if no flowers appear, dig it out and replace it with something much nicer!

And, finally this week, also from the Island here, Pauline Clark wrote just three days ago: “Thank you in advance for answering this question about my rose bush. It is about 4 feet high and the same around. The roses are Floribunda I believe, although there are usually only 3 or so roses on one stem. They are nicely scented. My question is should I cut the finished buds off or leave them on so I can have the red hips throughout the winter?”

If your bush is in fact, one of the floribunda type, then I would prune back all the blooming canes about one third their length, as soon as the last flower has finished. Doing this, and fertilizing the bush up to the end of August or so should yield you still more blooms. In our case here, we often have roses in bloom in December and early January--not terrific specimens but nice nevertheless! If you are looking for rose hips for over the winter, look to some of the shrub roses such as Rosa pimpinellifolia, R. rugosa, R. Canina and R. moyesii.

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