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Facebook Q&A Session 18th October 2013


Thompson & Morgan Facebook Q&A Session 18th October 2013 - Your horticultural questions answered.

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Name: Lucy Garden

Question: thanks for the great advice as always, Sue. I'd welcome your advice on tackling a new allotment. It's completely overgrown with brambles, horseradish and couch! It'd take me years to dig it all over the hard way - are there any shortcuts?

Answer: Hi Lucy, how lovely to have a new allotment - there are a few things you can try to eradicate the weeds. The easiest organic method of control would be to cut back all the weeds before laying down a thick cover over the whole area, such as black plastic, weed membrane or cardboard. Without light the plants will eventually starve, although it will take many months to weaken tough weeds such as brambles. Weed membrane can be left on for as long as needed whereas black polythene doesn't let air or water through so is best taken off after a few months to let the soil breathe. Once the situation is under control, regular hand-weeding or hoeing should help keep the plot clear. If you don’t mind using chemicals then try using strong weed killers which contain triclopyr or glyphosate such as SBK Brushwood Killer or Scotts Tumbleweed. Cut back all growth to 20-30cm (8-12”) from the ground and apply the weed killer to the freshly cut stems. I hope this helps Lucy, best of luck with your new allotment.

Name: Lesley Gilbert

Question: Hi my raspberry cane area on my allotment is heavily overgrown with tough grass and weeds. Is it best to dig up and transplant my canes to tackle this problem? Thank you

Answer: Hi Lesley, digging up your raspberry plants would certainly be the quickest way to tackle the problem, if the grasses are growing at the base of your plants. This should ideally be carried out between now and November. Spreading grasses such as couch grass are very difficult to eradicate and by digging up your raspberries you can carefully pick out any weeds entwined with the raspberry roots. Make sure you remove the weed roots thoroughly as they can quickly regenerate from these. Regular hoeing in future will keep weed growth in check. Alternatively you could use a systemic weed killer containing glyphosate, such as Scotts Tumbleweed although these weed killers are not selective so will kill your raspberries too if allowed to get on the leaves and stems. Use a cover while spraying the weeds to prevent spray drifting on to your raspberry plants. Alternatively you can buy spot weed killers which are applied as a gel to the leaves. I hope this helps Lesley, with a bit of persistence you should be able to keep on top of this problem.

Name: Jackie Emery

Question: Is it too late to grow potatoes and if it isn't can I plant potatoes in a large compost bag where I grew tomatoes if i renew half or all the compost?

Answer: Hi Jack, it is too late to grow potatoes this year, the latest you could plant them for a late autumn/early winter crop is in August or early September. New or baby potatoes need at least 11 week of growth before they are ready to harvest and with temperatures and light levels falling now, potato plants will start to struggle. It’s probably best to wait until next year, planting from March onwards. As potatoes and tomatoes can both suffer from the fungal disease blight, it’s best to start with fresh containers and compost if possible, particularly if your tomatoes had blight this year. Tomatoes are greedy feeders so if you do re-use the compost you will need to add some slow-release potato fertiliser before planting. I hope this helps Jackie.

Name: Carole Browning

Question: I have masses of bind weed how can I get rid of it all amongst my flower beds arghhh

Answer: Hi Carole, bindweed is a rhizomatous perennial and the rhizomes spread deeply in all directions. They can reproduce from just a small fragment of stem or rhizome which makes them difficult to get rid of. It’s a good idea to try and fork out as much of the roots as you can before collecting them and disposing of them in household waste (don’t compost the pieces) or via burning. You can also persistently hoe the new shoots to weaken the plants. It may take several years of digging and hoeing to eradicate it completely. If the plants appear to be creeping in under a neighbouring fence then you could try erecting a solid physical barrier 45cm (18") deep along the fence boundary. This should prevent rhizomes spreading into your garden and help you get the problem under control.

If you want a faster method then the only alternative is to use weed killers that contains glyphosate, which is carried through the plant to its roots, causing death. This is a non-selective chemical and will kill your garden plants so make sure you cover the plants you want to keep before spraying! To get the best results spray the plants when they are flowering as their leaf surface area will be larger. Also spray in the evening rather than during the day. I hope this helps Carole, best of luck.

Name: Aisha Hee

Question: Can I put egg yolks into my compost or mix with some water, used it to water the base of my plant?

Answer: Hi Aisha, egg yolks do contain various useful nutrients but there are lots of fats and proteins too which would be of little use to the plant. The small amount of useable nutrients would be better sourced from fertilisers, nettle or comfrey tea, seaweed extracts, or fish, blood and bone. All of these would be safer to use than egg yolks and prevent unwanted attention from rodents, not to mention the smell that could result from the eggs rotting down! I hope this helps.

Name: Joan Watson

Question: Hi Sue. We planted jubilee hydro broad beans and had a medium but not great yield. However all the pods had a rust type marking on the skin? What caused this please?

Answer: Hi Joan, there are a few fungal diseases which affect broad beans, one of which is broad bean rust and another called chocolate spot. Broad bean rust normally only affects the leaves and stems whereas chocolate spot will affect the pods too and is the more common of the two diseases. Broad bean rust causes dusty brown spots and chocolate spot causes dark brown spots. Chocolate spot weakens the plant and in severe attacks can cause the plant to collapse. Unfortunately there aren’t any chemical sprays available to treat these diseases – the best course of action is to make sure plants are spaced well to encourage good air flow and destroy infected plant material at the end of the season. You could try using the organic spray’ Vitax Organic 2 in 1’, which may help prevent infection and should be applied in the spring, with repeat applications carried out into summer.

Name: Sarah Griffiths

Question: When should I cut back my honeysuckle?

Answer: Hi Sarah, honeysuckles which flower on the previous season’s growth, such as Lonicera periclymenum, should be pruned back by about a third in late summer, straight after flowering. Honeysuckles which flower on the current season’s growth such as Lonicera japonica should be pruned in the spring, only cutting back any misplaced, dead or diseased shoots. The deciduous honeysuckle shrubs, such as Lonicera fragrantissima should be pruned in late spring or early summer after flowering, removing old or weak shoots entirely and trimming to fit the available space. I hope this helps Sarah, best of luck.

Name: Pia Mifsud

Question: Hi just planted some of my sweet pea seedlings a week ago & they were doing great but now they started dying for me. It’s like the upper & under part of the leaves are being eaten & a paper leaf skeleton is left (posted a picture). What is happening to them please?

Scorched sweet pea seedlings

Answer: Hi Pia, this looks very much like leaf scorch. Sweet peas are prone to scorching when stressed by temperature or drought. If your plants were growing in a warm, sheltered environment and weren’t hardened off to outdoor conditions enough before planting, this could be the cause. Warm environments cause soft growth, leaving plants susceptible to cold or windy conditions outside. Conversely root rot can also cause scorching as the plants struggle to take up water. It’s best to keep the compost or soil only slightly damp to prevent water-logging and root rot. Position your sweet peas in a warm, south-facing position for the best growth. Your sweet peas may well recover if you make sure the soil isn’t too dry or too wet. You could try moving them into a cold greenhouse if you have one, just to offer a bit of protection but still keep them cool. I hope this helps Pia, best of luck with your sweet peas.