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How to live with a saggy sedum and raise baby lilies, by garden expert Helen Yemm

Snake's Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris)
Snake's Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) Credit: Jan Holm / Alamy

Do you have a question for Helen Yemm? Email your gardening queries to [email protected] - and add your own tips to the Comments section below. 
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HOW TO GROW SNAKE'S HEAD FRITILLARIES

On impulse, I bought two little pots of pretty snake’s head fritillaries. Their flowers have finished and are now forming seed heads. I am wondering where it is best to plant them so they will come back next year. And shall I deadhead them, as you would daffodils?

Marion Mortby – via email

These fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) are much tougher and easier than they look. As garden plants they look rather uncomfortable in flower borders; they fare (and look) better if grown in grass that can be left un-mown until at least midsummer, where they will naturalise very freely. Experts say they need damp conditions but, in my own garden, they are quite happy in a bit of messy lawn that I have designated as “wild”, that is actually under the canopy of a large tree. After initial encouragement, described below, they are now spreading rapidly, “rogue” plants even popping up in other areas of my garden.

Perhaps you can find a bit of scruffy grass in which to plant your new charges (along with crocuses, perhaps, and other really early birds).

Take a couple of pot-sized chunks out of the turf, loosen the soil and sprinkle a little bonemeal at the bottom of each hole. Without disturbing them, carefully ease your fritillaries into place, drizzling a bit of dry loam-based compost (John Innes No 2) around them before watering to settle them. Don’t deadhead them but, this year, in order to establish a colony, collect the papery seeds that ripen so you can control their (immediate) dispersal once you have mown the area short. Seedlings will appear as a pair of grasslike leaves and will mature and flower a year or two later.

Fritillaries belong to the lily family, so watch out for the early appearance of devilish scarlet lily beetles.

WHAT NEXT FOR LILY ‘BABIES’?

As my large, lovely lilies started to 
grow, I noticed lots of baby lilies 
coming up around them in the pot. 
What should I do with these babies and are they likely to come to anything? I would be thrilled if they did.

Martin Humphries – via email

You do not say what variety of lilies you have growing in the pot, nor how long they have been in the same pot/compost. I should doubt if they are actually seedlings; they are more likely to be little miniature bulbs, or bulblets, that formed around the base of last year’s lily stems or that developed, unnoticed by you, in the leaf axils of the lilies during last summer. They drop off in the autumn, at which point they start to produce tiny roots and shoots.

 Lilium henryi  Credit: RM Floral / Alamy 

Whether they will “come to anything” depends on how much patience you have and also on how much disturbance they get during the next few months, I suspect. You could cover the surface of the pot compost with a layer of fine grit to encourage them to root, and water the pot very gently this summer.

If things go well for the developing bulbs, you could pot the best of them on into loam-based compost and nurture them – bearing in mind the fact that they will take at least three years to grow to flowering size.

A SAGGY SEDUM

Help. I forgot to divide an enormous sedum clump that became a bit of a mess last summer. The new shoots are already growing. Is it too late to do it now?

Beatrice Evans – via email

This email arrived in my inbox while the weather was still chilly, and I expect by now the fleshy, brittle flower shoots on your sedum are even further advanced. I am sure you would do a lot of damage if you tried to lift and split the plant now or, worse, carve a piece off the side of it without disturbing the crown, in an attempt to reduce its bulk.

Sedum about to flower Credit: Alamy

My advice is to leave the plant well alone and just give a “Chelsea chop” in a couple of weeks’ time, i.e. cut each stem down by about half. By “clipping the plant’s wings” in this way, you will force it to reshoot and produce twice as many smaller flower heads on stems that will be about two thirds their normal height. This will make it much less likely to become top-heavy and prone to sagging and gaping open in the middle.

The alternative, of course, would be to provide some support via canes and string as the plant grows, but with such a stout, fleshy plant this is hard to do with any subtlety.

When you do get around to splitting your sedum next winter, remember that this is a plant that is happier and produces shorter stems that sag far less if it is grown in absolutely full sun, in poor, unenriched, free-draining soil.