Our horticultural hotshot answers readers' questions and has a list of jobs for the coming week.
Q: I grew five hyacinth bulbs all the same colour in a deep pot in fresh potting compost as you suggested last autumn. The leaves are more than a foot long but the flowers only the size of an egg cup. What can I do to encourage the flowers to have long stems? GV, Havant.
A: You may not have kept them cold enough. They must be cold from mid-September to the first week of December. If you didn't buy prepared bulbs buy this type next time. Put the pot in a bright window all day and the stems will grow. The leaves will still be long but you will have good flowers.
Q: I bought 12 alpine saxifrage plants to grow in a hot, dry place in my garden but because of the wet weather the leaves are covered in mud. I have been carefully spraying it off. How can I prevent this? EM, Waterlooville.
A: I agree, saxifrage is a beautiful group of plants and ideal in dry places. Prevent the mud problem by covering the bare ground with slate chipping, sharp grit or white granite chips. Look in your garden centre to see what you would like best.
Q: A friend who has an allotment gave us a yellow marrow with hard skin. Is it OK to eat this? SC, Fratton.
A: Yes, yellow or orange-coloured marrows taste even better than green ones.
Q: I was unable to buy fresh thyme as the supermarket had sold out. I bought three plants from a garden centre so I could make stuffing for Christmas. I have decided to grow these plants. Do they like shade or a sunny spot? SP, Fareham.
A: A sunny well-drained soil is best. If in doubt add a generous amount of sharp sand. I mention this because a lot of gardens at Fareham have clay soil.
JOBS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
•The soil is wet but exhibitors will need to sow parsnip seed soon. Fork the soil which should have been dug deeply in the autumn, but NOT manured. Once dug over, cover the rows with cloches to allow the surface to dry and warm ready to sow parsnips at the end of January. It's essential to buy fresh seeds as last year's will not germinate well. Parsnip seeds can be started in a jam jar in damp vermiculite. As soon as roots emerge, sow them into open ground which has been warmed.
•If you are planning to sow seeds in a greenhouse, ensure the propagator is turned on 24 hours before sowing the seeds. Remember, a section of a greenhouse can be kept warmer by using bubble wrap to divide it.
•If you need to move shrubs, trees or roses, remember there are only six weeks left to undertake these moves. You would be surprised at how many letters I get asking if shrubs can be moved when the leaves are opening.
•Leave planks of wood on the soil once it has been dug and turn the wood over once a week and squash the slugs which love to hide below it. This will reduce slug damage considerably. In small gardens, use upturned half-grapefruit skins and inspect these daily, killing the slugs by giving them the size eight treatment.
•Are your secateurs really sharp? It might be a good idea to put that garden centre token towards a new pair.
•Have you thought how useful a soil warming cable could be? Have a look in garden centres and you will see on the box how easy it is to install one.
•Does the mower need servicing? There is a three-week wait at the moment, so don’t leave this job until spring. If you are confident your mower is OK, start it once a month so none of the parts seizes up in the damp. Start rotovators too, it ensures it will start easily when needed in spring.
•If it’s windy when digging, always work with your face to the wind, this prevents bad backs.
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