Questions, answers and jobs for the coming week

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Brian answers readers’ horticultural questions

Q: I sent away for alstroemeria plants. They were cheap, £1.20 for five. When they arrived I was shocked to find bits of root which look like white bindweed roots packed in damp wood shavings. Will they grow or should I return them and ask for my money back? KA, Bedhampton.

A: They need some loving care. Pot each one in loamless compost placing one piece of root lying flat in a three-inch pot. Cover the root with a quarter of an inch of compost then water. Keep the pots in a warm light place and during April little shoots will appear. Once the pots are full of roots, the plants can be planted in a sunny spot.

Q: I can’t seem to grow gypsophila. I bought a plant two years ago and it died. What would you suggest? HL, Fareham.

A: Your clay soil is not suitable. When planting a new pot-grown plant, dig over a large area and work in 10lb of sharp sand. Get hold of a large piece of chalk about the size of a coconut and break it up with a hammer so it is crushed. Work this into the soil too. Your gypsophila will thrive.

Q: We were driving through Wickham last week and saw an amazing shrub with long grey/silver catkins. It was in the front garden of an hotel. What is it and would it grow well in a north-facing situation? H and PG, Bishop’s Waltham.

A: I have seen this and admire it. It is called Garrya elliptica James Roof, a magnificent evergreen which will grow well even in cold north or east-facing positions. In fact any well-drained place is suitable.

Q: How far back can I prune an overgrown berberis? Ours is about 15ft tall and we can’t really walk past it. Could I cut it down to about three feet and when? HE, Denmead.

A: I am glad you are restoring a garden! Prune it as far back as you wish, but prune it as soon as it finishes flowering. Give it a dressing of Vitax Q4 fertilser, 4oz over each square yard, and fork this in as soon as you complete the pruning.


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. They need to be 15 inches apart with two feet between the rows. Earth them up with a ridge about four inches high. When the shoots show, 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 it is possible to start feeding seed potato tubers before they are planted? Sounds ridiculous but... 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 good start.

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

Start buying 8ft canes for runner beans and keep them somewhere dry, They are often already sold when we need them in May.

Buy runner bean seeds, these can be sown indoors 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 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 walk on a plank if the soil is too wet. A spray of Weedol 2 over the weeds will kill them in three to four days if spraying is done on a sunny day. Avoid the spray drifting on to other plants and walk on that plank if the soil is too wet. Why? We must try never to walk on soil which is very wet because the surface becomes compacted.

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