Questions, answers and jobs for the coming week

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Brian answers readers’ horticultural questions

I have a small garden in Purbrook and would like to give my rose bed a dressing of manure as you recently advised. Where can I get small amounts of manure? RL, Purbrook.

You can buy well-rotted manure in bags at your garden centre and staff will help you get it into your car.

An old tree fell down in our garden and a tree surgeon used a stump grinder to remove most of the roots. We don’t want another tree but what about a rhododendron? We don’t want one which grows too high. L and PF, Denmead.

Your garden seems to be rather wet all year. A rhododendron (pictured) will be ideal and if you wait until early March you will be able to find a good selection at your garden centre. There are lots of new varieties which are not as large as the old types.

We have a huge and exceptionally beautiful ornamental crab apple shrub which we call cydonia japonica. The problem is every spring when it comes into flower, the new leaves hide the blooms. H and LH, Farlington.

Look carefully and you will see fat flower buds all over the shrub. Keep these buds intact but cut off all the shoots with no flower buds right back to just two or three nodes. The flowers will be beautiful because all the foliage which would have been in the way has been pruned off. The pruning can be done right now.

I would like to grow a camellia into the shape of a standard rose. Can you tell me how to do this please? JD, Hambledon.

It is possible and is a good idea, but it may take quite a while. Buy a tall camellia in a pot at your garden centre. Keep the main stem and cut out all the side shoots as soon as it finishes flowering. Tie the main stem onto a cane and keep pruning off all the side shoots. Once the main stem is at the height you require nip out the tip and new shoots will provide you with the bush effect needed at the top of the stem.


Seeds of holly can be sown now. Squeeze the berries on to a postcard or piece of cardboard and 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, simply put them outdoors somewhere out of the way of cats and, if kept moist, the seeds will germinate in April. Holly makes a defence hedge. Cats and burglars hate holly.

If you don’t want to sow the seeds, push the stems of holly used for winter decoration into the soil in a border and the blackbirds will soon eat them. Cats hate pieces of holly pushed into the ground, it won’t hurt them, it just keeps them off your border. By the way, I do like cats.

Save seeds of mistletoe. Simply rub the berries into the bark of an apple, poplar, malus or lime tree and with a bit of luck you will have mistletoe in your garden, but it could take a while.

Prick over the soil where the spring flowering bedding plants such as polyanthus, forget-me-nots and winter flowering pansies were planted. This will encourage a good root action because the 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 the gardening diary of plants which are looking good. It’s good to read what happened now in a few years time.

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 they arrive to feed. Soak bread in water and put this in the centre of the garden so that the birds have a chance to fly away from cats and PLEASE don’t throw bread into the road. Cars also kill birds.

If you have a question for Brian please e-mail