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Facebook q&a session - November 26th

Click here to view details of our previous Q&A sessions.

Name: Brian Dempsey

Question: Question from me..... I love growing indoor Cyclamen but for the 2nd year running they have been seriously infected with what I suspect to be scale insect.... they leave a sticky residue. Unable to clear the problem last year I ended up throwing them out and starting afresh with new plants this year. Once again they were great and flowered all summer but the scale insect re-appeared. I took them outside on a warm day when it wasn't windy and sprayed them with a bug repellent that was designed to kill of scale insect but it didn't seem to help. They just seemed to multiply and spread and I've had to dispose of 3 of the 4 I had. The remaining one I've removed all the dead and dying leaves which just leaves the bulb...... is there anything else I can do? They sit on the kitchen windowsill facing west.

Answer: Hi Brian. Sounds like you have a battle on your hands! Scale insect is particularly tricky to eliminate as the adults form hard waxy shells that act as a protective armour. Worse still, on indoor plants the environment allows them to continue reproducing all year round.

The key thing to remember with scale insects is that they are relatively immobile, so infestations are normally brought in when new plants are introduced. This can be avoided by giving all new plants a thorough inspection, regardless of how reputable the supplier is! Use a magnifying glass and check every part of the plant. Scale insect occurs on all parts, so check the stems as well as the leaves. It would also be best to quarantine any new plants on a different windowsill for a month to check that they are not carrying scale insects. The moment that you suspect a problem you must remove the plant to prevent scale insects from spreading.

To combat the current problem on your cyclamen, you will need to use different methods for the adults and the juveniles. Scrape the adults off of the plant with your thumb nail and wipe the foliage and stems gently with a cloth dipped in soapy water. Chemicals are most effective on the crawlers (juvenile forms) as they are more vulnerable before they develop a hard shell. You will need to make a repeat application two weeks later in order to catch any that you missed first time. Make sure you spray the underside of the leaves and the stems too. It is worth knowing that the dead adults do not drop off of the plant which makes it difficult to spot new infestations.

Name: Lucy Garden

Question: question for Sue - I have two fruit trees, an apple and a quince, that are dying/rotting/being eaten from the inside and turning hollow. They are picturesque and gnarled and I don't mind leaving them, but will whatever is affecting them also spread to other fruit trees in the garden? The core wood seems powdery and turns to dust and there are holes that look like woodworm - do living trees get woodworm?
Answer: Hi Lucy. It is difficult (and dangerous) to diagnose a problem like this without seeing the damage at first hand. There are lots of reasons why a tree may become hollow. The process usually begins when the hardwood at the centre of the trunk is exposed as a result of a physical wound or attacks by fungal spores and bacterial diseases.

A hollow tree is not necessarily a dangerous tree. It is common for apples and other tree species to compartmentalize (seal off) live wood from dead or diseased wood in order to prevent problems spreading. The live part of the trunk is the cellular layer just beneath the bark. Therefore the tree can happily lose the heartwood without any serious adverse effects. Take a look in spring to see whether the canopy of the tree looks healthy. Do leaves appear on all branches? Does the foliage look healthy? Is the tree flowering more or less than usual? Look out for other signs of disease such as fungal bracts in the autumn. All of these factors will help to indicate any serious changes in the trees health.

Obviously if the tree appears unstable or is dropping branches then you will need to assess the likelihood of it causing damage or injury, as there may be legal implications for the tree owner should an accident occur.  If necessary, take remedial action and call in a reputable arboriculturalist.

Name: Karen Bowring

Question: hi guys - please help me. i had a fantastic lot of strawberries from you this year. I grew them in hanging baskets. What should I do for them now as they are looking very sad - will they grow again next year or do i just get the one year from them.

Answer: Don’t worry Karen. Strawberries do die back a bit in winter so this is perfectly normal. Just clean up and cut away any old foliage and plant debris that has accumulated around the plants. Strawberries are perennial so they will return year after year, although it is best to replace them after their third season as they tend to become diseased and lose vigour.

The main thing to look out for is that they don’t get too wet. Check that the baskets and compost are draining properly to prevent the plants from rotting. If you can put them in a cold greenhouse then this would keep the worst of the wet weather off. You will only need to water them very sparingly until the spring when you can return them outdoors.
If you don’t have a greenhouse, then move the basket to a sheltered position to prevent them becoming too wet. Your strawberry plants are hardy and a bit of cold weather will probably do them good, as it can kill off any overwintering pests and diseases!

Name: Lotte Riber

Question: I'm looking for seeds from the South American flower eucharis, but I can't find them anywhere. Would T&M consider carrying them?

Answer: Hi Lotte. I’m afraid we don’t currently have plans to carry Eucharis. We have done in the past, but unfortunately they were not very popular so we stopped selling them. Hope you manage to track some down.

Name: Claire Orwin

Question: Hi, I have a long row of conifers and it seems a redundant space. It’s at the back of my allotment so doesn't get a lot of light and it seems a shame to just let it sit there and grow weeds. Is there anything I can sow there, like veggies that don’t mind it being a bit dark and dryer or any flowers that can attract wildlife? It is about 3ft deep and about 30ft if not longer and can grow to about 1m high that’s when the conifers start.

Answer: Hi Claire. It’s always frustrating to have an unusable area on the allotment. The problem with conifers is that they tend to have rapid growth which over time can exhaust the soil. The dense canopy also prevents rainfall reaching the ground leaving the soil parched, dry and shaded. There are few plants that will grow in these conditions. You will notice that even weeds do not thrive in the shadow of a conifer hedge.

Personally I would use this area for storage, thereby freeing up more productive land elsewhere on the allotment. Build a pot store for your pots, garden canes and other equipment, and stack your bags of compost there to keep the worst of the weather off of them. Unless this area gets some sun then this is not the ideal place for your compost heap, but you could start some wormeries to make your own compost. If you want to encourage wildlife try building a pile of decomposing logs to shelter toads and insects. With a bit of creative thought you can turn this area into a useful part of your allotment.

Name: Matthew Eddy

Question: How do you prune apple and quince trees that are 1-2 years old so that grow sideways instead of up.

Answer: Hi Matthew, I’m going to assume you mean training your trees as an espalier (a main trunk with neatly pruned horizontal branches on either side). This is fine for apple trees but quinces are better trained in a fan shape as they don’t respond well to such restrictive pruning. It’s also worth checking that your apple tree is spur-bearing (bears fruit all along the branches) rather than tip-bearing as you wouldn’t get very many apples on an espaliered tip-bearing tree!
1.    Firstly you’ll need to put in a sturdy support framework. To train the apple tree, place wire or bamboo poles horizontally between two posts, spacing the wires or poles 45-60cm apart.
2.    This winter, you’ll need to cut the leading shoot of your apple tree back to a bud about 5cm above the first wire. Make the cut just above the bud.
3.    In the summer, a new leading shoot will grow which you need to tie in. Also choose two strong side shoots to tie in either side of the trunk, along your first set of wires. Prune back any other side branches to two or three leaves.
4.    Once the tree has become dormant again next year, cut the new leader back to a bud about 5cm above the second wire and completely remove all the side shoots that you shortened in the summer (leave your two selected side shoots on the first wire).
5.    Again in the summer tie in the new leader that will be produced, and two more side shoots along the second wire. Remember to shorten any other shoots.
6.    Continue the process until you have three or four tiers. The branches on the first wire will start fruiting before the topmost ones have finished developing. During the summer, prune new shoots on the lower branches back to three or four leaves to maintain a neat shape and help develop fruiting spurs.
7.    Remove the leading shoot once you have enough tiers on your espalier. Only winter prune your espalier when you need to remove congested fruit buds (spurs).

For your Quince tree it would be better trained as a fan as this is not so restrictive on growth:
1.    Prepare a support framework as for apples. Select two side shoots, one on either side of the trunk and growing about 30cm from the ground. Cut out the leader just above the two side shoots.
2.    Shorten the two side shoots to about 40cm length and tie them to bamboo poles at a 40? angle (so that you have a shallow V shape). Cut off any other side shoots on the main trunk.
3.    In the summer tie in any well placed shoots that develop, aiming to create a fan shape spreading across the framework. The aim is to fill in the centre of the fan last. Only remove any crossing, badly placed or excessively vigorous shoots.
4.    As for apple espaliers, in the summer prune new shoots on the established branches back to three leaves
5.    As the quince matures, older or congested fruiting spurs can be pruned out during the winter.

Name: Paul Broadwith

Question: Anything I can do with a Betulia Begonia that has gone black on the stems, is drooping and gone squidgy? Part of it so far is still alive, however most of it has gone. It's an indoor houseplant.

Answer: Hi Paul, it sounds like your Betulia Begonia may be suffering from frost damage and/or over watering. They ideally like temperatures of 10-15?C during the winter so if you’re keeping it on a windowsill the temperature may be too low, especially with the recent frosts we’ve had overnight. They also suffer if the soil is too wet and are prone to rotting. Now that it’s cooler, the plant’s growth will slow and it will need less water. Only water as the compost becomes dry and water from the bottom. Hold back on the watering for now and keep it off the windowsill if possible and it may just recover!

Name: Sue Boniface

Question: how do you know when cranberries are ready for picking - they've looked red for months.

Answer: Hi Sue, I suspect your cranberries have been ready to pick for a while - they normally ripen in September and October but will remain quite happily on the plant until December. Feel free to harvest them now or you can leave them a bit longer to accompany your Christmas turkey!

Name: Marian Reader

Question: We bought a(n?) hibiscus plant last year and planted it in a very large pot in ericaceous soil. It grew beautifully - lots of leaves, but not a flower in sight. Did we do anything wrong? Should we prune it now? We're not sure what’s going on with it. Thanks Sue.

Answer: Hi Marian. It may just be that the plant is still young and settling in to its new home - it sounds very healthy. Often when a plant is put in a large pot of new compost it puts all its energy into growing roots and leaves. You don’t need to prune Hibiscus, only to tidy up any wayward shoots as the plants flowers on old and new growth. Next year keep your Hibiscus well watered during dry weather and hopefully it will produce some flowers for you.

Name: Alison Montgomery

Quesion: Which juniper produces edible berries and do you need more than one species for fruit? Thanks

Answer: Hi Alison. I can only safely say that the berries of Juniperis communis are safe to eat. Most other species reportedly produce berries that are bitter and inedible. You will need more than one plant for pollination as male and female cones are produced on separate plants (Junipers are dioecious). Berries are produced on the female plant and you’ll need to see the cones (berries) being produced on the plant to tell if it’s female. If anybody else in the neighbourhood has a Juniper tree of any species then you shouldn’t need to plant a male plant as the wind will carry pollen over quite a distance. They do make lovely specimen trees.

Name: Lisa Jagger

Question: Hi i bought 4 patio fruit trees this year, do I need to prune them? thanks

Answer: Hi Lisa. The answer is ‘yes’. You should prune your patio fruit in exactly the same way as you would prune larger fruit trees. You have not mentioned what sort or patio fruit trees you bought but if they are apples and pears then you can spur prune them now. You should wait until late spring to prune apricots or nectarines, and leave cherries until summer to prevent bacterial disease silver leaf from occurring.

Name: Darren StAlbans

Question: I've just moved into a new place and found loads of old builder’s rubble inc broken bricks and tiles plus stones etc.... could I use them for the garden? any ideas?

Answer: Hi Darren. There’s no reason why you can’t use the better bits of the rubble! I find old bricks useful for informal edging around beds and borders - they often have an ‘aged’ look and blend in with the garden quicker than new bricks. Larger chunks might be put to use in a rock garden to improve drainage. The tiles could be useful for standing containers on, or used as stepping stones within large borders. If you have lots of smaller stones, these would be ideal for placing in the bottom of containers as crocks to improve drainage and stability.

If there is a lot of rubble in your soil then it is well worth digging through it thoroughly to ease compaction and to remove the rubble. Once you have done this I would recommend the addition of plenty of well rotted manure or other organic matter to improve its condition before you start planting. If you get the ground work done from the start then you will have much better results.