Our gardening expert answers readers' questions and suggests jobs for the coming week.
Q: We bought a Christmas tree in a pot. We do not want to plant it in the garden as the label says it will grow to 20 metres. How can we keep it in the pot for next Christmas? HV, Cowplain.
A: Many readers will be interested in this answer. Get a flowerpot just a little larger then the one you have. Dig a hole in the garden and bury the pot so the rim is level with the soil. Put your tree in its pot into the pot you have inserted and the tree will stay upright. Keep it watered and once a month turn the pot completely around to break off any roots that have grown into the ground. Next December it will be easy to pull out your tree which will be about nine inches taller.
Q: I am aware that you continually tell us not to get on the ground when it is too wet. I bought my shallots and was going to plant them in the middle of December but the ground has had puddles for weeks. When is the latest date for planting? DS, Cosham.
A: You are wise to wait for the right time. I often suggest planting them on the shortest day because the date is easy to remember. They can be planted right up to March.
Q: I used to grow mushrooms in boxes which I bought from a garden centre but they don’t sell them any more. Can you tell me where I can buy one please? LY, Havant.
A: Have a look online and you will be able to buy some.
Q: I have just taken on half an allotment at Fareham and there is a large heap of soil and rubbish in one corner. I have done a little bit of digging but the ground is too wet to do much. I want to level out this heap but can you tell me the name of the white roots I have sent you. I expect they are weeds. JS, Fareham
A: Welcome to the world of allotments which you will find very educational. These roots are the underground stems of couch grass and should be teased out before you spread out the soil. It is not a difficult job, just do a little bit at time and take the arisings to your recycling centre.
JOBS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
• Sow holly seeds now. Squeeze berries on to a postcard or piece of cardboard. After a week the seeds can be picked out of the squashed flesh and sown in a seed tray of seed compost. They need no heat, just put them outdoors out of the way of cats. If kept moist, the seeds will germinate in April. If you don’t want to sow seeds, push the stems of holly used for winter decoration into the soil in a border and blackbirds will soon eat them.
• Save mistletoe seeds. Simply rub them on to a branch of an apple, malus or poplar and they should take by spring.
• Prick over the soil where spring-flowering bedding plants such as polyanthus, forget-me-nots and winter-flowering pansies were planted. This will encourage good root action because surface compaction will be broken.
• Try to get on with digging and manuring where potatoes, peas and beans are to be planted.
• Make a note of the additional minutes of light we are now experiencing.
• Put a note in your gardening diary of plants which are looking good. It’s good to read what happened now in a few years.
• Sow exhibition onions from seeds in the propagator in the greenhouse. Seeds of onions sown now are far less likely to go to seed quickly in early summer.
• To keep the little ones occupied, get them to jot down the names of birds visiting the garden. If there are none, buy some wild bird food and you will be amazed how quickly they arrive to feed. Soak bread in water and put this in the centre of the garden so birds have a chance to fly away from cats and PLEASE don’t throw bread into the road. Cars also kill birds.
• Shrivelled apples cut in half and left in a clear spot are much enjoyed by blackbirds.
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