Questions, answers and jobs for the coming week

Red stems of the winter cornus.
Red stems of the winter cornus.
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Brian answers readers’ horticultural questions

Q: How can we get our gingerlily to bloom? We started it off when the root was about five inches long and after several years it is now 30in. It produces wonderful stems with leaves but no flowers. Potash has not helped. DP, Alverstoke.

A: Ginger flowers well in hot dry places. Move it into an area close to your house. Facing south will help. A glass cloche put over it at the end of March will encourage early shoots which should initiate flowers in August. Use Maxicrop tomato liquid feed once a fortnight once the first shoots appear.

Q: My dad was a keen pea grower. I read your article about growing peas in The News a fortnight ago. There are several packets of peas in his shed but I don’t know if they will grow as the seeds might be old. Liz, Copnor.

A: Take a sandwich box and place a sheet of absorbent paper in the base and wet it. Pour in some seeds and cover them with another sheet of absorbent paper. Keep moist but not too wet. After seven to 10 days the viable seeds will send out a root. Those with roots can be planted in cells or little pots and planted out when the pots are full of roots.

Q: I bought a packet of broad beans called Windsor Green. The packet says that the seeds can be sown in the spring. Can I grow these in cells in my greenhouse? FL, Fareham.

A: Windsor Green broad beans are excellent because they remain green when cooked and look most attractive on the dinner plate. They are not hardy but can be sown in cells in a greenhouse at the end of February and planted out in mid April.

Q: We bought a cornus Westonbirt two years ago after reading your advice in The News. The instructions recommend cutting all the stems right down to the ground in spring but we feel this is too drastic. Is there a compromise? K and PF, Alverstoke.

A: Yes, cut all stems which are more than two 2 feet high right down to three nodes, but leave all the shorter stems. This is the shrub with brilliant red stems all winter. Beautiful.


Set up the tubers of seed potatoes in trays somewhere light and frost free. They need to be able to shoot so egg trays inside seed trays are ideal to use because the tubers won’t fall over. You should see tiny buds. Set the tubers so that these buds are uppermost. Look at the tubers occasionally in case some are upside down. Remember, the shoots need to be in the light because if planted with strong shoots the crop will be much better.

Try to concentrate on producing as much garden compost as possible so this can be used as a top dressing when earthing up potatoes in summer.

See if you can find some stables where manure is readily available. If you are short of space you can leave the manure in bags so it can rot down. Mixed with compost from your compost heap, this is another good material to use to earth up potatoes in the summer and can also reduce the problem of potato scab which causes marks on the new potatoes.

If you usually order flowers and vegetables as plug plants, this is the best time to place your order. By ordering early you can be assured of receiving what you want rather than being offered a substitute.

We are now enjoying two extra minutes of light each evening. It may seen cold but there is more strength in the sunshine and this is reflected in the garden. Ease the soil around bulbs and spring bedding. This will help the new foliage emerge with ease. A hand-held garden fork is ideal for this


Take dead leaves off the base of the Christmas rose (helleborus) plants and scatter sharp sand around the plant to prevent the blooms being splashed with mud.

Make sure the birds have clean water every day.

Did you buy some wild bird seed? If you did, then you are enjoying these delightful visitors who look forward to visiting your garden.