BRIAN KIDD: On rubber tree plants, composting and... this week’s worksheet

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Our gardening expert dips into his inbox and tries to solve your problems

Q: I have a rubber tree plant indoors. It is 31 years old but far too tall to keep upright. Is it possible to prune it without harming the plant as it has sentimental value. WP, Portchester

A: You will need a good pair of secateurs and several sheets of kitchen paper. Decide what height you would like the plant to be after pruning. Cut off the top to reduce the weight, make the final cut to a nice leaf and use the kitchen paper to mop up the white sticky fluid. After pruning simply cultivate as normal. The plant may send out side shoots, this is normal.

Q: I put my orange peel into my compost bin. Will it make the compost too acidic? PO, Gosport

A: All citrus skins have an acid reaction when composted, but this is not a problem because your soil is slightly alkaline. If you want to counteract the acidity, sprinkle on a tablespoon of garden lime into the bin, but I wouldn’t worry about it.

Q: I read your article about using seaweed mixed with straw to transform sand into good soil and have decided to do this in a big way as we live alongside the sea at Selsey and our garden is alongside the beach. Does the seaweed have to be washed to get rid of the salt? DK, Selsey.

A: If the seaweed is taken straight from the sea yes, use a hose on your drive at home. If the seaweed has been on the beach and is dry there is no reason to water it. I am pleased you found the article interesting.

Q: We have a problem with club root disease. Is there any way of sterilizing the soil to kill off this disease which ruined my Brussels sprouts? GV, Cosham

A: Mark out each place where the sprout plants are to be planted, remembering they must be two-and-a-half feet apart, and take out the hole leaving the soil alongside. Use a handheld gas-fuelled weed burner and direct the flame into the hole and onto the excavated soil for two minutes on each station. Grow plants in cells, one seedling in each cell, and you should have great success. I have to do this and I have some club root resistant seeds which I have been asked to test. A gas weed burner will cost about £20.


• Try to plant a row of early potatoes. If the soil seems too wet, walk on a plank. Plant the tubers in soil dug over earlier, make sure the tubers are covered with five inches of soil. The tubers need to be 15 inches apart and two feet between the rows. Earth them up with a ridge about four inches high but when the shoots arise, use well rotted compost instead of soil to do the final earthing up. Mix 1lb of Sulphate of potash to a normal barrow of compost. If you do this, the new potatoes will be free of slug damage.

• Did you know that it is possible to start feeding seed potato tubers before they are planted? Sounds ridiculous but this can be done. Add a small amount of Maxicrop Complete liquid plant food in water and spray the tubers over as they begin to shoot. This gives them a very good start.

• Are you short of space in the greenhouse? Anyone who can invent an elasticised greenhouse would make a fortune. If you are desperate for space, have a look at the garden wall frames which simply need a garden wall as a backing. There are some types with polythene covering advertised in the garden press and more substantial ones with glass, panes they are a good buy, especially if you have a small garden.

• Start buying eight feet long canes for runner beans and keep them somewhere dry, This is a good idea because they are often already sold when we need them in May.

• Buy runner bean seeds, these can be sown in at the end of the month if you would love beans in early July.

• Did you have a disaster with sowing some of the annuals for summer bedding?. Don’t let this get you down, there are lots of seedlings at garden centres and nurseries, all ready to be pricked out. Use insert cells, one seedling in each cell for perfect plants, much better plants than those in ordinary seed trays. Choose F1 seedlings for best results.

• It is very upsetting to see millions of weed seedlings growing on the surface of the soil dug over in the autumn and winter. These can be hoed off but put a plank down on the ground if the soil is wet. Hoeing is best done when the soil surface is dry.

• Avoid cutting back hedges hard because the birds are laying eggs. Think about feeding the birds and please give them some clean water to help them.

• Look forward to the rewarding birdsongs every morning and evenings...

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