Our horticultural hotshot this week gets to grips with super-early cucumbers and a deteriorating Daphne.
Q: I have been looking after my mum so have not been in my garden since last October. I have a box of tulip bulbs called Oxford. Is it too late to plant them or shall I keep them in the box until next autumn? GL, Cosham.
A: Plant them in the garden as soon as you can but ensure you have four inches of soil over the tips of the bulbs. Shallow planting will produce disappointing blooms. If left in the box the bulbs will shrivel and die.
Q: I have bought a 12-metre-long polytunnel in the hope of growing super-early cucumbers like you do. When should I sow the seeds and what are the half-sized cucumbers like? Are they easy to grow? SN, Emsworth.
A: You must have about my success with cucumbers on Radio Solent. The seeds are not sown until the first week in April. The half-length types are called Petita and are easy to grow in growing bags – plant two in each bag. Do not sow the seeds too early. Stem rot will kill the seedlings if the weather is very cold. The secret of success is not to allow the base of the stem to be wet. A ring at the base of the plants is a great idea.
Q: My Daphne odora seems to be deteriorating. Is there an easy way to revive it? KV, Farlington.
A: Lightly fork around the canopy of the shrub and place a three-inch layer about the size of a dustbin lid over the top of the ground. During spring you will appreciate lovely fresh shoots and these will flower next winter.
Q: My moth orchid is in a small clear pot and it keeps falling over. Do I need to keep it in a clear pot if I put into a larger pot? PJ, Havant.
A: They are best grown in clear pots. A round fishing tackle weight can be placed in the base of the pot to keep it stable. Buy the correct compost.
Q: My clematis Barbara Jackman has buds growing right at the base of the plant. When shall I cut it right down? SU, Portchester.
A:My word, it must be trying to get out of the wet ground! Cut it right back during the last week in February. Give it some form of wind protection because you are very close to the sea and wind may scorch the new shoots.
JOBS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
• Brushing the lawn will enable you to pick up all the bits and pieces which can go into the compost bin. The lawn will look a lot smarter afterwards.
• Sow single seeds of early cauliflower in insert cells in a cold greenhouse. You won’t need more than 12 because they all come into fruition at the same time. Sow another batch in the same way in a month’s time.
• Autumn-fruiting raspberries can be pruned now. Cut off every shoot down to soil level. Once this is done, spread a four-inch layer of well-rotted manure over the border where they are growing.
• Green-seeded broad beans can be sown now in a cold greenhouse or cold frame. Plant one seed in each insert cell and they will germinate in about three weeks. Don’t over-water otherwise the beans will rot. Not all green-seeded broad beans are hardy, so don’t sow outdoors until the first week in April.
• Begonia tubers can be planted in the greenhouse now.
• Seeds of fragrant exhibition sweet peas can be sown now. Sow single seeds in deep pots. They need no heat but ensure they are well protected from mice. Mice eat sweet pea seeds as if there’s no tomorrow.
• Set yourself another target. Plan to get as much digging done in the vegetable garden as soon as possible and continue to leave large clods so the frost can break the soil into a good tilth.
• If you are not happy with your compost, take out a trench for runner beans, put the compost into the trench, cover it with soil and the soil bacteria will rot the material. Fork over some soil and start another compost bin.
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