Our gardening expert dips into his postbag and solves your problems
Q: We are given a cock bird for Christmas each year and my husband has to pluck it – a job he hates. There are hundreds of feathers. Are they any good for the garden? JF, Hambledon.
A: Yes, put a spray of water in your compost bin, add the feathers and sprinkle with water. All this does is stop the small feathers flying around.
Q: A branch on my magnolia seems to have been buried in the soil. I used a hand fork and there are five little roots where the stem went into the ground. I would like to see if I can make this into a new plant. What would you suggest? Liz, Cowes.
A: I am always pleased to open letters like yours. Once all the leaves have fallen, cut the rooted cutting off the parent plant and pot the rooted cutting into a five-inch diameter pot in John Innes No2 or 3 compost. Add 20 per cent sharp sand to the compost. This will encourage more roots and good drainage. Once the pot is full of roots, next summer, the new plant can be planted in another area.
Q: I grew gloxinias from seed after writing to you last February. I tried to buy tubers from garden centres and they didn’t even have them at Wisley. You told me to grow them from seeds and they have been brilliant. Will they have tubers once they die off? KG, Bedhampton.
A: Yes, they will produce a tuber once they die off. As they’re indoors gradually reduce the amount of water so the foliage dies slowly. All the energy in the leaves will be translocated to the base of the plant and the tuber is then formed. Well done!
Q: We grew begonia Non Stop seedlings from Keydell last February after reading one of your articles. We have been delighted and we thought you might print our letter because not everyone can afford to buy begonia bulbs. We have had a frost and they have died off. How long will it be before we can dig them out to find new bulbs? H and JP, Hayling Island.
A: Once they have been cut down by the frosts leave them in the ground for three weeks. This will ensure all the sap in the leaves and stems will pass down into the new tubers. Store these in dry peat in a frost-free place all winter and protect from mice.
JOBS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
• As there is less foliage in the garden there appear to be more cats. Buy a pot of garlic paste and dip six-inch long sticks into the paste so three inches of paste is on top of the sticks. Push the sticks into the ground. Cats hate the smell of garlic.
• If you can’t be bothered to clean out the pond, (the best time is as soon as all the leaves have fallen) take the water pump out, give it a scrub and keep it in a dry shed all winter.
• If the pond IS cleaned out at this time of year, the water will not be too cold, there is less shock for the fish and there is no frogspawn to worry about.
• Bear in mind this is the best time to transplant trees and shrubs. You would be surprised at how many letters I receive asking if it’s too late in June! When transplanting or moving plants around, choose a nice day. Don’t be pushed into trying to do it when the weather is unsuitable.
• If fencing posts have to be renewed, look at Metpost fixings. They make the job a lot easier. Postmix is easy to use too. Dig the hole, put in the post and pour in the dry mix. Soak the ends of the posts in creosote substitute overnight. There’s nothing wrong with creosote substitute by the way. It’s good as well as cheap.
• Check there are no rotten nuts in the bird feeders. Rotten nuts kill blue tits.
• Please put water out for the birds.
• Plant seeds of early peas called Feltham First in cells in the cold greenhouse, only two pea seeds in each cell, using the 24 cells which fit into a standard seed tray. No heat needed, just make sure they are in a place where mice can’t get them. Keep them on the dry side otherwise they will rot. Be careful not to give them too much water.
• Save up for a soil-warming cable for the greenhouse or buy one as a present for the gardener in your life for Christmas. A lot more exciting than socks.
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