Facebook Q&A Session 19th August 2014

Diagnosing Common Problems in the Garden
- your horticultural questions answered.

View the answers to our previous sessions.

"Hi Sue, I'm a trustee of the charity Save Hemsby Coastline. As you are probably aware, we lost a large amount of sand dune (the village's only coastal defence) and several homes during the storm surge in December. We are looking to transplant marram grass onto the denuded dunes to try to build up sand defences. Any advice please?"

Sue - T&M
Horticultural Expert

"Hi Elaine, sorry to hear about the devastation to your village caused by the storms – I have taken a look at your very inspiring website. As you've found, any work to the coastline is quite specialist, requiring planning permission and an understanding of the local ecosystem. Marram grass is a great natural defence, having an extensive fibrous root system, which binds the sand together. However it can take several years before these benefits are realised, while the young grass establishes. I have limited knowledge of marram grass although I am aware that specialist nurseries can supply cell-raised young plants and should provide detailed planting advice. From what I have read seed is difficult to establish due to the ever-changing nature of the dunes and bare-root plants have limited success in comparison to module or cell-raised plants. The most important thing is to protect and nurture these young plants while they establish by preventing trampling, and perhaps even applying a slow-release fertiliser to help them get started. They will also grow most vigorously if sand can accumulate and bury the plants as they grow (as would happen in nature) – this helps them build up complex and deep root systems. Planting small bundles of dead reed or similar amongst the marram grass can help sand accumulate and these will naturally break down over time. It may also be a case of gradually planting the dunes over time, replacing any young plants which have failed and filling large gaps as the plants grow. There is some excellent information about planting on this grower's website: Cheviot Trees and the Scottish Natural Heritage website. I hope this helps Elaine – best of luck with the project."

"Please can you recommend a green manure for planting on the veg patch over winter - to cover the bare soil vacated by the onions and carrots."

Sue - T&M
Horticultural Expert

"Hello Sarah. There are a number of different Green Manures that you can use. Choosing the most beneficial one really depends on what you are trying to achieve.

If your soil is on the heavy side then a Grazing Rye might be useful. It has extensive roots that will improve the soil structure. Alternatively you might just have time for a crop of Buckwheat which can be dug in at the first frosts. This has a very deep root system that will break up heavier soils and sub soil.Crimson Clover is better on sandy soils to add water retentive humus.

On soils that are low in fertility thenPhacelia is particularly useful and not too troublesome to dig in. I hope this helps you to decide, Sarah "

"Hi Sue. I collect tomatoes seeds from tomatoes but when I grow the seed the next year, why are they not the same as the first?"

Sue - T&M
Horticultural Expert

"I suspect that you are saving seed from F1 Hybrid varieties but these will not come 'true' in the next generation. These tomato plants are produced from 2 parent plants both of 'pure' breeding lines, in order to create a hybrid with particular characteristics from those parents. When you grow plants in your garden they are cross pollinated by insects, thereby introducing different genes. In addition, F1 Hybrid will often revert back to the 'type' of the more dominant parent line and take on those characteristics.

I know that this sounds rather complicated - it can take years to develop an F1 hybrid which is why the seed is so expensive compared to open pollinated varieties. You can read more about F1 Hybrids in this article. You would probably have a bit more luck if you stuck to non hybrid, open pollinated varieties - many of the Heritage Tomatoes fall into this category. I hope that all makes sense for you Fall."

"I'd like to know what to do with a lot of my plants mainly fuchsias, they have all their new growth all the way up the top half of the plants when they usually sprout from the bottom. Should I still cut them right back as I usually do?"

Sue - T&M
Horticultural Expert

"Hi Yvonne, it has been a mild winter so your fuchsias probably haven't been knocked back by frosts as much as they normally would. Summer-flowering shrubs such as Fuchsia and Buddleja produce a better overall shape, and bigger and better flowers if pruned hard in the spring. I would prune all the stems back to the lowest healthy bud or shoot you can find, creating a low framework. Fuchsias are vigorous plants and you should soon start to see new growth. Apply a slow release fertiliser to the base of the plant and a mulch of manure or compost to help give your plants a boost. I hope this helps Yvonne, best of luck."

"I purchased a 5 ft Umbrella Pine last year. I wrapped it in burlap this winter to protect it from winter winds and the majority of it is now brown. The tips are green. The brown needles are not falling off as yet and they are still flexible. I live in Michigan so zone 5. I want to know if it will re-green" up. I done some research and can't find an answer. Any ideas?"

Sue - T&M
Horticultural Expert

"Hi Kimberley, if the branch tips are green your umbrella pine (Pinus pinea) may be ok – they are pretty tough trees. The brown needles will unfortunately never re-green themselves as the tissue is dead; you will have to rely on the branches sprouting new shoots. It's normal for stone pines to hold on to their brown needles for a while before dropping. Hopefully by late spring or early summer your pine tree will show new signs of growth. I hope this helps, best of luck."

Sue Sanderson T&M horticulturalist

About Sue Sanderson

Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.

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