Brian Kidd on diseased strawberries and... weeding

This week's readers' queries and jobs for the bank holiday weekend

Saturday, 30th April 2016, 4:49 pm
Updated Saturday, 30th April 2016, 5:54 pm
Frost-damaged strawberries.

Q: I planted strawberry plants in my allotment and the centres of the blooms have turned black. Is this a disease? JD, Locks Heath.

A: This problem is caused by frost. When one is forecast, cover the plants with two layers of horticultural fleece, but remove it during the day because bees need to pollinate the flowers. Don’t worry, there will be a lot more flowers and if you give the plants a generous feed of Maxicrop Complete liquid food you will have a good crop.

Q: My strawberry bed is smothered with weeds. Should I move them to another area or hand-weed the bed? HN, Havant.

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A: As the plants are only two years old it’s best to hand-fork the weeds, but give the plants a dressing of blood, fish and bone fertiliser using a hand fork to work it into the ground. Use an egg cupfull around every plant.

Q: I read your tip for repairing bare areas of lawn but the paper was recycled. Can you repeat it please? AP, Hilsea.

A: Use 1lb of grass seeds. Look for a mixture with dwarf rye grasses and mix this with 10lbs of John Innes seed compost and place in a black polythene bag for seven to 10 days. The seeds will send out tiny white roots. Once the seeds have sent out these roots, prick over the area to be repaired with a garden fork but only about an inch deep. You need lots of holes. Scatter the mix and lightly brush into the surface. The seeds will fall into the holes. Water if dry and you will have a transformation in about four to six weeks. The amount suggested will treat about 15 square yards.

Q: I have a batch of these seedlings in my garden. The garden was overgrown and I have taken your advice and waited to see which of the plants is a cultivated type. LF, Denmead.

A: It is a good idea to see what is worth keeping once you have removed the weeds and I am glad you found my advice helpful. Good news, the seedlings you sent in the box are of hardy cyclamen. Really good news for you! I have sent the box back to you. Very pleased you like Denmead.


Wall baskets which have flat backs and rounded fronts are excellent in windy areas. This is a good time to buy them so they can be rawlplugged into the wall. It’s too early to plant them. Wait until the middle of May. Hanging baskets however may be planted and hung in a greenhouse so they begin to grow well before being suspended outdoors in mid- May.

In all parts of the garden, try to remove all weeds before they flower. On allotments, chickweed rapidly smothers the soil’s surface and produces seeds within a few days of being hoed off. Pick up the weeds and put them in the compost bin and add an activator – one part urine to seven parts water, sprinkled not poured. This formula heats up the compost and, if the compost is hot, the weed seeds will be cooked.

Sweet pea plants can be planted now. Most serious growers will have removed the tips of the plants several weeks ago because they know that the first stem on sweet pea seedlings dies. Seedlings purchased from garden centres on the other hand are bought because people suddenly remember how nice they are. If the tips have not been removed, remove the tip and the top pair of leaves. This encourages a strong basal stem which will provide long stemmed flowers.

Plant out Brussels sprout plants 2.5ft apart, NOT CLOSER. Sow another batch of main crop peas. If short of space, sow them into insert cells and they can be planted out in five or six weeks.

Scatter soot or slug crystals where potato shoots are emerging, but avoid contact with the foliage. The slug crystals will not harm the birds. Well-rotted compost is excellent to use to earth up the potatoes. Mix 1lb of sulphate of potash to each barrowload of compost and use this as a ridge. The new potatoes grow in the ridge and the potash burns the slugs. It is possible to grow potatoes with slug damage but they are always damaged if the crop isn’t dug as soon as the haulms die off.

Sow another batch of 12 lettuce seeds. You don’t need 500 lettuces. Try the variety Salad Bowl. You leave the plant in the soil and the leaves are cut off when you need them. It is a crisp lettuce with a good taste.

In small gardens or in a small area on the allotment, sow short rows of spring onions, radish, carrots, Hispi cabbage and beetroot. Cover the row of carrot seed with insect barrier netting to prevent carrot root fly from laying eggs in the soil alongside.

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