BRIAN KIDD: Gets to grips with a thuggish mahonia and sets you homework for the week ahead

And from this week's postbag we have...

Thursday, 29th December 2016, 6:15 pm
Updated Monday, 9th January 2017, 12:52 pm
Mahonia Charity

Q: My daughter bought me a camellia called Debbie. It is in a pot but we live on Portsdown Hill and the ground is solid chalk. Any ideas? GF, Cosham.

A: Camellias are one of the best shrubs for growing in pots and containers. Use ericaceous compost choosing a pot four inches wider across the top and put little feet beneath the container to stop worms entering the pot. Use rain water and prune to the shape you would like as soon as it finishes blooming. Many readers grow camellias in pots indoors in good light. They are also one of the best shrubs for conservatories because they are evergreen.

Q: We have a massive mahonia called Charity (pictured). It is 20ft tall and one of the most spiteful shrubs we have ever grown. Would it be possible to cut it down to six feet or less? When can this be done or is it impossible? A and LT, Locks Heath.

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A: It is entirely possible and I would recommend you buy a Bahco pruning saw and tough gloves. Prune as soon as the shrub finishes flowering. In April dissolve Maxicrop Complete liquid feed in water and drench the soil with five gallons applied slowly. Then spray all the wood once a week for four weeks using the Maxicrop in water. New shoots will appear all over the old wood and you will have masses of flowers next winter.

Q: I have been looking at paraffin heaters. Which one is best, the yellow flame or blue flame heater? DP, Hambledon.

A: Wick size being the same, blue flame heaters are far more efficient and produce far more heat. Yellow flame heaters have an unpleasant odour but blue flame heaters do not smell. Blue flame heaters are by far the best but are more expensive. Looking at wick size again. Yellow burns the same amount of paraffin as blue. Choose blue.

Q: I made a raised bed in which to grow carrots and went to a garden centre to buy that micromesh you suggested last June. The garden centre only sells this in a pack but it isn’t long enough. Do you know where I can buy it by the metre? FL, Cosham,

A: Yes, at Waterlooville Allotment and Garden Association, Forest End, Waterlooville. It opens on Sunday mornings from 10 until 11.30. You have to join and become a member but will enjoy discounts and make new friends too. See you there!


• It is important to check bags of potatoes which were dug last autumn. Do this once a month in case any tubers are rotting. Remove any rotten ones. Don’t leave them around. Put them straight in the dustbin. Check onions which are often hung up in bunches. Some of these become soft in the neck (top) of the bulb. Use these first. Simply cut out the soft parts until you find firm flesh.

• Children are on holiday and a nice indoor job would be to sow mustard and cress. You don’t need a greenhouse. Some prefer cress to mustard, but if you want both sow the cress three days earlier than the mustard because it takes that time for it to reach the same stem-length as the mustard. In a temperature of 15C (60F) the crop will be ready to eat in 10 to 12 days. Children like things to happen quickly!

• Nearly all seedsmen have mail order catalogues. You’ll find the address on the back of seed packets. All catalogues have pictures and you can choose what you want to order on these dark evenings.

• Have you ever seen the flowers on anemone blanda? They are daisy-like blue blooms, or pink with the added name rosea. They are little tubers in fancy packs at garden centres and can be planted in pots now indoors. Once the pots are filled with roots they can be planted outdoors in a sunny spot. If you do this, they are always a great success whereas if planted directly into the garden, the little tubers often rot or are eaten by all sorts of beasties.

• Now that we have had frosts, dig out the roots of chrysanthemums which are called stools. Wash them off in cold water and put them into boxes of moist potting compost in a cold greenhouse. Cutttings can be taken in February and March.

• Dig out a huge clump of rhubarb. Leave it on top of the ground to allow frosts to penetrate the thick stem. Put the clump into a black polythene bag at the end of February and then into the airing cupboard, still in the black polythene bag so that the delicious red stems can be enjoyed in March. Rhubarb keeps you going! If you haven’t moved rhubarb plants for ages, do this now and give each clump a generous amount of farmyard manure. If you need more plants, this is the time to split the clumps.

• This is also a good time to plant or transplant strawberries. It is very important not to bury the crown (centre) of the plant. If you would like to grow some in pots in the greenhouse, pot the largest runners into 5in diameter pots, wash the roots first to remove all the soil, pot each plant into any potting compost BUT you will need six or even better eight plants for each person you intend to eat the fruits. Leave the potted plants outdoors for not less than four weeks to allow them to be cold. This initiates the hormones to produce flowers in spring. The flowers will need pollinating with a fine art brush once the blooms appear around about April, but you will be picking the fruit in early May for four weeks.

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