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Facebook Q&A Session 21st February 2014


Thompson & Morgan Facebook Q&A Session 21st February 2014 - Your horticultural questions answered.

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Name: Geoff Catchpole

Question: Hi Sue, My grand-daughter, 8, gets a 2 metre garden for her birthday this month (other things too!). I bought her Pumpkin Ghost and Swan Gourds as something to try. My allotment mate says gourds and edible pumpkins don't mix as if the gourd pollinates the pumpkin it will be bitter. Is this so?

Answer: Hi Geoff. Yes your friend is correct. To be precise - the problem is that pumpkins and gourds mix a little too well and will happily pollinate one another. The resulting fruits may be inedible as a result. It may be better to grow one this year and save the other for next year. To be honest, if your grand daughter has a 2 metre square plot she will probably only be able to fit one or the other in that area anyway as they do need a bit of space. I hope she enjoys her garden - what a lovely birthday present!

Name: Anna Simon

Question: I have inherited a pond that has not been touched for some years. The water is coffee coloured and nothing appears to be living in it. We have dragged out most of the dead leaves and debris. What should our next step be? Oxygenating plants, a pump? Thanks, Anna.

Answer: Hi Anna. You might be surprised at what is living in there despite the state of the water. Removing the debris is a good start, but remember to always leave it sitting next to the pond overnight to give any creatures a chance to crawl back to the pond before you add it to the compost heap.

Oxygenating weed will be a great start, but I would also definitely use some Pond Wizard in there to help break down the debris and restore the water quality to a more habitable state. I tend to pop some into my own pond each spring and find it very effective. You will probably notice an improvement as Spring progresses, once the plants resume growth and start using up some of the surplus nutrients in the water.

An oxygenating pump may be useful too. It really depends on what you are planning to do with the pond. If you just want to keep your pond for plants and wildlife then there is probably no need to go to the trouble of installing a pump. However, if you would like to introduce fish then a pump would be a great benefit and will help to reduce ongoing maintenance. Best of luck with it Anna.

Name: Simon Gibbins

Question: I have a flat roof above my outhouse. It is very sturdy. What veg could I grow on there? Thanks.

Answer: Hello Simon. I would be wary about standing too many containers on your outhouse roof without knowing what weight it can bear. With this in mind I would be inclined to avoid bags of potatoes which can become quite heavy particularly when watered. Why not try Garlic and Onions? These can be grown in long window boxes and don’t require a great deal of maintenance so you wouldn’t need to climb onto the roof too often!

Name: Diana Elaine Herniman

Question: How is best to germinate verbena seeds?

Answer: Hello Diana. You can sow Verbena from February to April on the surface of a good free draining, damp seed compost and lightly cover the seed with vermiculite. Place them in a propagator or seal the seed tray inside a polythene bag, maintaining a temperature of 24-27C (75-81F) until after germination which usually takes 14-21 days. Do not exclude light as this helps germination.

Try to keep the compost on the dry side at all times, and water lightly as the seedlings emerge. When your verbena seedlings are large enough to handle, you can transplant them into trays or 7.5cm (3") pots and grow them on in cooler conditions until they are large enough to plant outdoors. I do hope that helps.

Name: Tracey R Ashburn

Question: With such poor weather is it worth leaving the sowing of seeds for a few more weeks? Thank you

Answer: Hello Tracey. Even if they germinate now, most plants won’t really get going until the weather warms up a little and the days become longer and brighter. It really depends on what you are sowing but I wouldn’t be in too much of a hurry - you can certainly afford to leave it for a few weeks.

Name: Lucy Garden

Question: Hi, Sue, some of my garden has had standing water for weeks, including around a greengage tree, a gooseberry bush and some daffodil bulbs - will I lose them all, do you think? What can I replant - will anything put up with being under water for that long? On the other hand, I don't think a bog garden would survive a dry summer and we have those too! (I garden on clay.)

Answer: Oh dear Lucy. It’s a real shame that so many people have been affected by the recent floods. There is a good chance that you may well lose your bulbs - if not to the wet then to fungal disease which is likely to follow flooding, but you may find that the gooseberry and your tree survives, particularly if the roots extend beyond the area of water logging. In the winter months there is little biological activity going on so the roots will require less oxygen than they would if they were in full growth. I would give them the benefit of doubt for now as they may well pull through.

If you do end up losing them, and if flooding in this area is common, then you may want to think about moving your productive plants to a drier part of the garden. Instead you could try a perennial border. You will be surprised at how many of our well loved favourites can cope with a period of wet during the winter months. If flooding becomes a common occurrence then you could even install raised beds to help alleviate the issue. Let me know whether your plants survive or not - I’d be interested to know.

Name: Mandy Price

Question: I’ve heard about giving strawberries a 'haircut ' this time of year. Is it necessary and what are the benefits?

Answer: Hello Mandy. It’s a good idea to cut back old foliage in the autumn and clear away any plant debris. Don’t worry if you didn’t get around to it. You still have time to do it before the spring arrives. The main reasons are that this old foliage can harbour pests and diseases over winter which can infect the new leaves as they emerge in spring. Clearing away debris will improve air flow around the plant too which will also help to reduce disease. It’s not a difficult job to do, but it is quite rewarding to see your strawberry plants looking neat and tidy.

Name: Julie Bedington

Question: My streptocarpus are all leaf, bought new last year, my neighbour bought the same and hers have died, too cold in her house. One of mine looks to be on way out but others have long leaves. Have fed once, any advice gratefully received please.

Answer: Hi Julie. It’s hard to say what’s wrong with your Streptocarpus without seeing them but I can certainly give you some tips. In their natural habitat Streptocarpus grow in shaded woodland and forest areas, so they prefer a windowsill with bright filtered light or dappled shade to mimic these conditions. Too much sun will scorch the leaves, leaving the tips brown and dry. They prefer a humid atmosphere so take care to avoid placing them near radiators during the winter months. A cool spare room or conservatory will suit them better than your nice warm living room!

Over watering is a common problem which is often exacerbated by over-potting plants in larger containers than necessary. Overwatering will cause serious root damage and lead to rot - the earliest sign is wilting of the foliage which often leads people to mistakenly water them even more! Water your Streptocarpus sparingly and only when the compost begins to dry out. Interestingly, my Mum always swore by using tepid rainwater rather than cold water straight from the tap. I’m not sure who gave her this tip but it seemed to work. Watering from below may help but remember to allow the plant to drain properly afterwards. Flowering will often be improved by allowing these plants to become slightly pot bound so it’s best to delay potting on until they really need it.

Throughout summer you can feed them a quarter strength high potash fertiliser to encourage flower production. However you should only feed them every other watering while they are in active growth as too much feed can promote foliage at the expense of flowers. I hope that gives you some tips Julie.

Name: Lesley Gilbert

Question: Hi Sue, I have a long, deep raised flower bed running the length of my garden rear boundary wall/fencing. There is pyracantha and very mature ivy growing all along it. We have dug out several old large shrubs past their best but it is a constant battle which we are not winning to try and make something of this area due to very deep roots systems, large weeds inc bramble and nettles and ground elder spreading fast. It was double dug last year and planted with some perennials but is it best to just plant it up with several med - large shrubs which will hopefully provide some ground cover. Any suggestions welcome. Thx

Answer: Hi Lesley. If it were my border then I would definitely want to spend some time clearing out all weed from this border before replanting anything else. It will require some effort but you will at least have a clean area that is more manageable. Nettles can be pulled out, brambles and ground elder can be rooted out with a fork and any regrowth should be treated with an application of glyphosate to kill off the roots. Take your time over this. Once the area is clear, you will be able to see exactly how much space there is and make a decision about what to plant there.

Certainly you will find a selection of shrubs to be far less maintenance than perennials. I would suggest dense evergreens that will shade out the light beneath them, thereby suppressing further weed growth. How about Aucuba (Spotted Laurel)? It makes a lovely looking border shrub that will give you year round colour. Euonymous fortunei and E. Japonica are both useful evergreens for dense cover too, and tend to have a naturally neat growth habit.

If it’s a sunny border then rosemary makes a nice fragrant addition, and you could even plant some fragrant Thyme plants at the very front of the border. For shadier areas try adding Mahonia, Sarcococca and Skimmia.

Whatever you plant, you will need to be really vigilant about keeping on top of any returning weeds until the new plants are well established. I hope that gives you a few ideas to get you started Lesley.

Name: Ann Olson-Neumann

Question: I am expecting a Pear tree with 3 different varieties on it & a Victoria plum tree, from T & M @ end of FEBRUARY. If these trees are 'bare root' how can I keep them healthy & safe as my garden is soaking due to the heavy rains. Or do the trees come in pots. Thank you.

Answer: Hello Ann. Yes your trees will be bareroot when they arrive. You can heel them in if there is a spot of your garden that isnt under water! Simply dig a temporary trench and place the roots inside. Cover the roots with soil, firm in and water to settle the soil. This will keep your plants alive until you are ready to plant them in their final position. Your trees can safely remain heeled-in outside for up to 3 months.

If there is absolutely nowhere that you can heel the plants in then you can temporarily plant them into pots or even old compost bags provided that they have drainage holes. Just use ordinary garden soil. You can stand these in a shed, a garage or outdoors against a wall to shelter them from being blown over by high winds.