Questions, answers and jobs for the coming week

Photo: Michael Palmer
Photo: Michael Palmer
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Brian answers readers’ horticultural questions

Q: We had a lovely robin in our garden all winter but we haven’t seen him for three weeks. Sounds silly but we can hear him singing in a tree in a garden five doors away. Any ideas on how we can get him back into our garden again? O and I G Copnor.

A: Hen robins decide where to nest and they attract a cock bird to join her in her territory. Your little friend sings well to keep her happy. Buy some robin seed mix and both parents will visit your garden. They will digest your robin food to feed the youngsters. After July your original robin will return. I am not a bird expert but this happens in our garden.

Q: We have just moved to Denmead and our neighbour has told me the huge shrub in the centre of a border is called a winter flowering jasmine. It is growing 3ft over the pathway and needs pruning. When is the best time? H D Denmead.

A: What a bit of luck, you can prune this right now because it has finished flowering. Simply cut off all the shoots with dead flowers right back to the main thick stems. Tap, whiz and lightly thrust up and down a bamboo cane all through the shrub afterwards to flick off all the little dead bits. You won’t read this method in books.

Q: I keep reading about growing shallots. Does a shallot grow like a big onion? J D Cosham.

A: Shallots can be planted on the shortest day of the year or during March and April. One shallot bulb will have five to seven baby ones which grow all around the original bulb and they are the easiest vegetable to grow.

You need not pickle them, use them instead of a huge onion. No problems such as onion rot!

Q: We have inherited a huge apple tree and it needs to be pruned. It had a good crop of apples last year but the fruit was small. Can you advise please? H T Waterlooville.

A: This looks like a daunting job but you will get a good crop of large fruits if you follow this advice. Look at one branch at a time. You will find plump round buds in groups. These buds will form flowers and fruit this summer. Aim to retain some of these. Use a saw and secateurs and cut back all the side branches back to 3 inches from the main branch. Look at the next one and prune in the same way and continue to do this all over the tree. Use a garden fork and insert the tines into the grass to a depth of 3 inches all around the canopy of the tree and scatter blood fish and bone so that a lot of it falls into the holes. Let us know how pleased you are with the result.


It’s more than likely the grass needs cutting. You did get the mower serviced of course but if it wasn’t necessary, you started the mower (and the rotovator) up about once a month during the winter to make sure it would start when you needed to use it. The grass is quite wet, drag a stiff broom behind you all over the lawn, this will induce the drops of water on the leaves to fall onto the ground. Leave it for an hour and then mow the grass. It is quite pleasing to see the grass is easier to cut and this will transform the garden. The lawn is like a carpet in the home, if it looks good, the garden is enhanced. Try to cut the lawn regularly this year, short grass takes less time to cut than long grass.

Early carrots can be sown outdoors about now. Prepare the ground by digging over the soil but DON’T put in any manure or compost. 10 days prior to sowing the seeds, rake in 2 to 3 ounces of blood, fish and bone fertiliser and rake this into the soil. Sow early varieites such as Early Nantes and immediately cover the row with insect barrier mesh. Hoops made of plastic water piping 2 metres long with thin wood pushed into the ends of the piping makes a kind of tunnel, cover the hoops with the insect barrier mesh, this will stop the carrot root fly from laying eggs in the rows. Insect barrier mesh is available from Waterlooville allotments association at the trading hut situated in Forest End Waterlooville, it is under £2 per yard, 2 yards wide. You must be a member but it is not expensive to join. Open on Saturdays and Sundays, 10 till 11.30am.

Plant onion setts now, a lot of gardeners will have done this already. Before planting the setts, put the baby setts into a brown paper bag and add some sulphur dust and shake the bag to cover the setts with the sulphur dust, this is a simple way of preventing onion rot.

Support the herbaceous plants in good time, sprays of hazel pushed in around the outsides of all the clumps will support the new growth. The appearance of the border doesn’t look good but the plants grow so rapidly, in a months time the hazel sprays won’t be seen. If you visit Wisley gardens,or Ventnor Botanic Garden you will see the gardeners there have already undertaken this job.

In the greenhouse plant some freesia corms, plant 5 around the edge of a 5 inch diameter pot and push in hazel sprays around the edge of the pot to support the foliage. Just imagine, the perfume in 14 weeks time.

Sow just 12 seeds of lettuce in the cold greenhouse, be patient by sowing just one seed in single insert cells, these will be ready to plant outdoors in 6 weeks time.

Sow seeds in the same way for Brussels sprouts choosing early varieities, plase try F1 hybrids if you have not been successful with other types, the F1 hybrid types don’t “blow” into open sprouts like the older varieties.

Buy seed of curly kale, this is the tastiest winter cabbage and looks good on the dinner plate because it is a lovely dark green. (And it’s good for you) Sow the seeds in 2 weeks time.

Sow seed of beetroot, just a short row, these seeds can be sown at any time from now until the end of June.