Our gardening expert with advice and things to be getting on with as the new gardening season kicks off.
Q: I grow a lot of soft fruit and as I get older find weeding difficult. I use Mypex ground-cover sheets but don’t like its looks. It often blows away despite anchoring. Any ideas? GC, Portchester.
A: Continue to use Mypex but cover with wood chips. Use more expensive one as some cheaper brands contain sawdust in which weeds thrive. In spring each year remove weeds or during winter, when the woody ones are dormant, spray weeds with a suitable herbicide.
Q: We visited a garden and in a boggy area saw tiny pink primulas with hardly any leaves. Do you know the name? We have a garden which floods and think this primula would be good here. F and JC, Denmead.
A: It is primula rosea. It will grow well in your garden and the flowers last up to six weeks.
Q: Can runner beans be grown in a polytunnel? HC, Fareham.
A: Red Rum. It will do well and is self-pollinating. Other varieties will grow but flowers will not produce beans. If in doubt grow dwarf French or climbing French beans. Both are self-pollinating.
Q: My greenhouse cucumbers fell over and died last year and my dad told me I sowed the seeds too early. When is the best time to sow them this year? FL, Fratton.
A: Sow when the weather is really warm after mid April. The trick is not to allow water to touch the main stem on the seedlings when they are up to six inches high. Sounds daft but you will see it is good advice.
Q: I sowed lobelia and only seven seedlings emerged. I bought another packet and only got nine. What would you suggest? I have always had excellent results over a number of years, BC, Hayling Island.
A: Send the empty packs to the supplier with a short clear letter. You will not need a receipt. They will send you replacement seeds with no hassle.
JOBS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
• In the greenhouse or indoors, plant gloxinia corms. Use 5in diameter pots. Any potting compost is suitable for these exotic-looking plants which are easy to grow.
• This is the time to split clumps of nerine bulbs. Remove groups of five and replant in another part of the garden, making sure only half the depth of the bulb is below the surface. They love a sunny place and books say they prefer well-drained soil, but at home they are in soil which stays wet most of the winter but they are in a sunny spot.
• Think ahead. Where will you plant cabbages? All varieties need lime in the soil. Apply four to eight ounces per square yard where they will be planted.
• Scatter blood fish and bone where seeds will be sown in 10 days. Rake the fertiliser into the top four inches of soil as soon as it is applied.
See if you can find little plants of Brussels sprouts called Cromwell. This variety has replaced the best early one called Peer Gynt. If you can't find seedlings at your garden centre grow some from seed. Seeds can be planted now, but sow the seeds in insert cells. When they are large enough to plant into rows rememnber two-and-a-half feet is the minimum distance between the plants, and the soil must be firm. These sprouts will be ready to pick in early September and will last until November if you buy enough plants.
• Isn’t it annoying to see all the weeds appearing on the ground we dug earlier in the season? Don’t walk all over the soil, put down that plank and walk on it to prevent over-compaction of the soil before hoeing or perhaps you can carefully spray the weeds with Weedol. This saves a lot of work, but don’t allow the drift to go on to other folk's crops or on to plants you need to grow.
• Move snowdrops and winter aconites as soon as the flowers fade. You will also see them advertised as 'in the green' in adverts at the back of the monthly gardening magazines, only £10 per 100 seedlings.
• There is still time to prune bush roses. Simply prune back the branches down to where you see a strong looking shoot which is pointing away from the stem, not towards the centre of the bush.
Got a question for Brian? Click here and fire away.