Brian answers readers’ horticultural questions
Q: What would happen if I planted a tomato plant in a sunny spot outside and didn’t take out the side shoots? PG, Cosham.
A: If we have a super warm summer you will get a very good crop. Removal of side shoots is recommended because it saves space. I take them out.
Q: We have a wonderful Genista hispanica which is in full bloom at the moment and is about four feet high. It’s getting too tall and we must cut it back. When is the best time and how far can we reduce it? T and PF, Wallington.
A: We have one in our garden and every other year I cut all the top off leaving only four inches of stems on the entire plant. After pruning, water the Genista with two gallons of Maxicrop Complete fertiliser dissolved in water. Repeat two weeks later. New growth quickly emerges. A lovely rounded shape is achieved and the shrub will flower at this time next year.
Q: Our lawn has buttercups all over it. I need something to kill the weeds but not the grass. I hope this isn‘t a silly question but this is my first garden. HL, Eastney.
A: Mark out the lawn using pegs and string in three strips about a yard apart. Buy a selective weedkiller from your garden centre, Verdone Extra is a good one. Use a pump sprayer and spray the lawn evenly all over the first two strips. Once they have been sprayed, move the pegs and string from the first strip and move it to the next area to be sprayed. Do this until the lawn is completed. In a fortnight you will see the weeds curl up. Spray again and your lawn should be free of weeds.
Q: I planted a row of asparagus last year and each plant has sent out about five shoots. The instructions suggest not picking a crop in the first spring, but I would love to pick a few stems to see what they taste like. Do you think this would do any harm? HS, Cowes.
A: Pick two shoots off each plant but no more. Give them a feed of Maxicrop Complete liquid fertiliser afterwards. The stems will grow to a height of about five feet and all the energy will go from these stems down to the roots. You will have a super crop next spring.
JOBS FOR THE COMING WEEK
Buy seeds of winter-flowering pansies ready to sow in the greenhouse at the end of the month. I know they are in full bloom at the moment but the seeds have to be sown at this time to ensure a good display of flowers this time next year. It is called forward planning.
Plant out leeks now. They are very prone to attacks of leek moth. These devastate the foliage and destroy the heart of the crop. The leek moth lays eggs alongside the seedlings which have just been planted and by late summer the leaves are chewed badly. The chewing then devastates the long white heart of the crop. Beat this pest by covering the seed sowing with insect barrier netting and as soon as the young plants are set out in rows, cover the plants with insect barrier netting suspended on plastic water piping . Put wooden dowels in the ends of the piping to make it easier to be pushed into the soil. Just think, the crop must be covered to prevent the flying moth from laying eggs which hatch out as caterpillars which are very difficult to see because they are exactly the same colour as the veins of the leek leaf.
Slugs are now very active, go into the garden early in the morning, pick them off and give them a quick size eight on smooth paving.
Sow seeds of F1 hybrid Brussels sprouts. If you have already planted out early varieties, choose another which will produce sprouts in January to March. The seeds are quite small. Sow single seeds into insert cells. The size needed is 24 cells to a standard seed tray. F1 hybrid seeds are expensive but this variety is well-behaved and they don’t turn into miniature cabbages like the old-fashioned types.
Clematis plants are now growing rapidly. Encourage the shoots to grow upwards. Clematis support frames don’t cost a fortune.
Short rows of lettuce, spring onions and beetroot can be sown. Sow thinly so the hoe can be used between the rows.
Sow seeds of sweetcorn in the greenhouse. These will be ready to plant out in blocks 15in between plants with 15in between rows in three weeks.
Plant out runner bean seedlings but cover them if frosts are forecast. Everyone should try to grow runner beans. They are the most nutritious vegetable and everyone loves them especially if grandma cooks them. Plant some in a flower border on a wigwam shape using eight feet long canes.
Got a query for Brian? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org