BRIAN KIDD: Can I save my bramley apple tree?

Bramley apples

Bramley apples

Feed and prune your rhododendrons once they have finished flowering. Picture: Steve Cobb

BRIAN KIDD: A radical no-dig plan to save time... and my aching back

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Our gardening expert dips into this week’s postbag and finds jobs for you to do this week

Q: We live at Hayling and have an old bramley apple tree. It is healthy in one part but is dying on one side. L and PH, Hayling Island.

A: This tree needs lots of pruning to get a better shape and to avoid death in about three years. I’ve sent you the name of a good tree surgeon who will reduce the tree in size and will keep some of the young healthy growth. An estimate will cost you nothing. Feeding afterwards will be essential. I’ll tell you what to use when the surgery is done.

Q: We want edging for a flower bed but can’t see what to use at garden centres. My husband was going to use four-inch wide wood but this is not suitable for curves. HD, Waterlooville.

A: I’ve sent you the name of a firm which supplies plastic edging which looks like brick or stone. I’m going to use this to edge a path at my allotment to stop grass invading a strawberry bed.

Q: I have a raised bed and am pleased with it as our soil is clay. I took your advice and filled it with old growing bag compost and fish blood and bone fertiliser. Slugs are getting in by squeezing between the micromesh netting and wooden edges? HRP, Fareham.

A: There are rolls of copper tape with sharp edges at Keydell Nurseries. Four metres cots less than £4. Fix the tape along the top of the bed’s wooden edges with the sharp edges upright. Problem solved! The slugs get a kind of electric shock. After a time the copper tarnishes, but it is still 100 per cent effective.

Q: We have sciarid fly in our greenhouse and I can’t find a cure. Can you help us as we have a great collection of orchids and achimenes with roots all being eaten by these blighters? SP, Emsworth.

A: You will need to remove all the infested compost, wash the pots, staging and glass and repot the plants. I have sent you details of an electric device which uses sulphur in a special way which will kill the insects at the fly stage. Once the plants have been repotted switch on this device for a fortnight and you will not have the problem ever again. The air in the greenhouse will smell of rotten eggs. DO NOT USE A SULPHUR CANDLE, the smoke will kill all plants as well as pests and diseases.

JOBS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD

• For instant colour, try winter-flowering heathers in pots. They are already in flower and if planted now will give your garden a glow. No heather likes chalk so plant them in a raised area or a container of acid compost. The best is John Innes ericaceous mix. Ordinary John Innes composts are not suitable.

• Plan ahead. After digging the area where you will plant summer cabbages, scatter a thick dressing of garden lime but not where other crops will grow.

• Buy a packet of exhibition onions to be sown on Boxing Day in your greenhouse. My dad always did this to escape from the children for an hour on Boxing Day.

• If you buy a Christmas tree with a root, pot it in garden centre potting compost. It will be easier to handle and more likely to survive. If you buy one already in a pot and there is moss growing on top of the compost’s surface, it is more likely to survive Christmas. Many people don’t buy a tree without roots because they feel the poor thing has been sacrificed. So why not buy an artificial one like me! If, however, you do get one without roots, buy a water retainer so the trunk can absorb water. Cut an inch off the bottom of the trunk before using the water retainer to reduce needle drop. Top up the water retainer just before going to bed, ensuring the lights are unplugged.

• Blackbirds are eating holly berries as if there is no tomorrow. Pick some ASAP if you want berries for indoor displays otherwise you will need to buy some of those which are on wires and they have to be twisted on to indoor decorations. I don’t mind having to do this because the berries are natural food for the lovely blackbirds.

• Are you going to make a holly wreath with a red ribbon to go onto your front door? This job is made easier if you buy a circle of oasis at the garden centre. Simply soak the oasis circle for an hour and then thrust in fresh holly, ivy and mistletoe with baubles and the ribbon and everyone will feel welcome to your home.

• On the mundane side, try to get some more digging done on the vegetable patch. Leave it rough so frosts will break down the clods.

• This is a good time to undertake fruit tree pruning, particularly apple trees. Buy a good pruning saw and secateurs and remove all branches which are crossing and scraping. If you are not sure how to prune apple trees, have a look at a book in the library.

Got a question for Brian? Click here to e-mail him.

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