Our gardening expert with a selection of your e-mails and letters
Q: There is a lovely shrub with yellow flowers which look like large spider’s legs in a front garden on the A27 opposite the school on the edge of Fareham. Do you know its name? FL, Fareham.
A: I am pleased to tell you I found it and it is called hamamellis mollis, or Chinese witchhazel. In my opinion it’s one of the very best winter-flowering shrubs. It must be pruned hard as soon as it finishes flowering otherwise it will become a small tree.
Q: I read your article about a sink garden. My friend told me to plant some phlox in it, but mine are too tall. What do you think?
A: Your herbaceous phlox will be far too large. Your friend should have told you to buy alpine phlox. They’re only a few inches high and you’ll find them in the alpine section at your garden centre. They’re lovely in sinks in summer.
Q: I sowed some pea seeds in cells near the window of my shed about three weeks ago and five seedlings emerged. Then overnight the compost was all over the shelf and the little seedlings had been cut off. Can you tell me what has happened? FP, Cowplain.
A: I am sorry to hear about this and have sent you another packet of Feltham First peas so you can sow another batch at the end of February. Mice have caused this chaos. Use two buckets with a plank across the tops of the buckets and sow the seeds again. Mice can’t climb up the sides of the buckets. Keep the plank away from overhead shelves otherwise the little blighters will climb up to the shelves and drop down on to the peas in the cells.
Q: My exhibition sweet pea seedlings sown in November are six inches high. I grew them in one large pot. Is it best to put them into single pots as I intend to put them into a flower show in July. SL, Wickham.
A: Yes, put one seedling into each three-inch diameter pot in John Innes No2 compost straight away and reduce the height of each plant to three inches at the same time. Give them plenty of light and good luck at the show. Perfumed exhibition sweet peas have a good chance of winning a prize as judges love perfumed blooms. I can see the smiles right now!
JOBS FOR THE WEEKEND (IF IT’S NOT TOO COLD)
• Try to hoe through strawberry plants. The ground will be compacted by the wet weather. By easing the soil, air will be introduced and the plants will start growing earlier. This will help speed fruiting. If the strawberry bed is really overgrown with weeds, dig over another area and transplant the plants. They will give better fruits. I am going to do this next week if the weather is good.
• Have you had your motor mower serviced? If not, in another six weeks you’ll have to wait ages to get it done.
If you can’t be bothered, at least start the engine to see if it’s working after all the damp weather. The same applies to rotovators, if one won’t go, buy a new sparking plug.
A new plug is the heart of an engine.
• Put your bag of seed sowing compost in the greenhouse. It’s amazing how it will warm up ready for seed sowing a few days later.
• Buy some Copper Mixture so you have some ready to prevent potato and tomato blight. In June, when you need it, garden centres will have sold it all.
• Buy some seeds of Salad Bowl lettuce for sowing indoors in April.
• If you grow ornamental grasses, some of them still look attractive because they are the evergreen types but some are past their best and look brown. Cut those which are brown down to the base, leave just an inch of stem and then fork over the soil. A scattering of grit over the surface will make this spot look more attractive.
• If you lifted a clump or rhubarb roots just before Christmas and it is still out there lying on the soil, place it into a black polythene sack and pop it into the bottom of the airng cupboard or underneath the greenhouse staging. The lovely red stems which emerge will be tasty in about a month’s time.
• Nerine bulbs can be divided now. These great favourites spread quite quickly and tend to be ingnored. This is the time to divide the clumps and plant them elsewhere in the garden.
• If you can maintain 10C/50F in your greenhouse, you might like to sow some dwarf French beans and once large enough, plant them into pots. These will crop well in the greenhouse next June.
• Peas sown in insert cells in the cold greenhouse five weeks ago will be ready to plant outdoors now. Prepare the soil and if possible, cover the ground with some temporary cloches to warm it up and it will also help the soil dry out too. Obtain some hazel sprays to hold the pea foliage together and protect the new plants from pigeons otherwise they will be devoured in just a couple of days.
• Did you remember to knock out roses in pots, remove all the old compost and replant in new John Innes No3 compost? If you do this these roses will be excellent in June.
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