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24 September 2014
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Ask The Experts

Bill Blackledge

Ask the Gardener

Pick the brains of one of the county's most popular and sought after gardeners...

Karen Begley asks...

Can you please tell me the difference between types of compost i.e peat based compost, soil based compost and loam based? When potting plants I have no idea which one to use so would opt for a multipurpose compost. I know that certain plants such as rhododendrons and heathers require acid soil.

Bill replies...

If I could start with peat based composts Karen - there are numerous peat based composts to cover varying plant needs.  For example there are composts for hanging baskets and containers and these usually contain water retaining swell gels and also slow realise fertiliser pellets. 

There are peat based composts for trees and shrubs - a peat ericaceous/acid compost for plants such as Rhododendrons/Heathers/Azalias and Camellias. 

And there is also a general peat based multi-based compost which can used for a wide variety of plants such as trees/shrubs/hanging baskets/house plants.  You will not go far wrong by using a multipurpose compost Karen.

The  soil based/loam based composts are usually sold as John Innes soil based compost and, the compost contains seven parts sterile loam/three parts peat and two parts sharp grit sand plus John Innes base fertiliser and ground limestone.  In the majority of Garden Centres you can well be confronted by three John Innes composts No 1/No 2/No 3.  The difference being the amount of fertiliser in the compost - there is double the amount in No 2 compared to No 1 and treble the amount in No 3 to No 1.  You can actually use the John Innes No 1 compost for repeating seedlings/house plants and a wide range of smaller plants.  You can also use a peat free compost which again can be used for a wide range of plants.

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Sylvia Parr asks...

I've got a small magnolia tree that has been in for about 10 years. The top third didn't get any leaves or flowers on this year, and now looks like it's dying. Some of the leaves have gone brown and are curling up, and there are things growing on the ends of some branches almost like a catkin. Please can you help?

Bill replies...

The die back of the top branches Sylvia could have been caused by drought conditions during the previous summer or, visa versa if your tree has been in very wet/water-logged conditions throughout the winter months. You will need to cut the dead branches back and I would also give your Magnolia a top dressing with an organic based fertiliser such as Fish Blood and Bone Meal.  Also, if at all possible, I would also mulch around the base of your tree with some well rotted manure.  The things growing at the end of your branches will probably be seed head/pods and it maybe well worth saving some of these when they have fully ripened.

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Rebecca Ross asks...

We have a cordyline australis which is about 3ft high.  It was in the ground until May, when we noticed that the crown was sopping wet, and the leaves were brown, and pulling out easily.  Thinking that the soil was not well drained, we transplanted it into a very large container, with added sand to improve drainage.  However, the crown is still wet inside, and the leaves are all brown.  We lifted the palm with the intention of throwing it away, but saw new root growth, so we have replanted it in the container again.  Will the plant recover, and could this be due to disease?  Should we remove all the leaves and hope for new growth?  We would be grateful for your advice, thanks.

Bill replies...

Cordyline love a well-drained compost Rebecca and they are also fine in a container.  I would use a soil based compost with added grit sand and when repeating your plant you will need to remove the dead leaves and it will be worth keeping your plant to see if it will produce new shoots.  You mentioned adding sand to your compost - it must be a sharp grit sand - do not use ordinary building sand as this will compact the compost.

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Cheryl asks...

Many years ago I made a sandbox for my son, I now want to turn that into a perennial garden, what is the best type of soil to use?

Bill replies...

I would use a fifty-fifty mix for your perennial plants in your sandbox Cheryl and the mixture would be a soil based John Innes compost plus a general peat based multipurpose compost.  I personally find that this mixture is ideal for perennial plants.  I would also ensure that your sandbox is adequately drained and I would avoid the use of very vigorous perennial plants.  I think this is a wonderful idea Cheryl and I would like to see a photograph when your sandbox is in full bloom.

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Mary Browne asks...

I have a willow in my small garden, which has doubled in size since we moved in three years ago.  It grows in an upward manner and doesn't seem to weep!  I like the tree and it acts as a screen, but it is also getting too big and making my flower/veg beds too shady.  Can I prune it?  And if so, when and how much?  Thanks Mary

Bill replies...

One of the problems with Willow Mary is they do grow very quickly and also produce a vigorous root system and the roots tend to make a 'beeline' for the moisture in the drains.  On the question of pruning the best time is early Spring when you can prune your Willow hard ie. pollarding or coppicing.  Or, you can lightly prune some of the main branches.  Spring is the ideal time Mary but, if your plants are suffering from heavy shading of the Willow there is no reason why you cannot prune back some of the branches now.

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Louise Toy asks...

We have a beautiful 7ft plus olive tree which until very recently looked very healthy. It is situation in a small walled garden in a sunny position. In the last few weeks a number of leaves have started turning yellow and are now begining to fall off.
Could this be through lack of watering or could it be the result of my husband pouring washing up water (complete with washing up liquid!) onto the plant?

Bill replies...

Your Olive Tree is ideally situated in a South facing garden Louise and also in a sheltered position but, if your tree has been suffering from drought conditions there will be a tendency for the leaves to yellow and drop off.  It may however be worthwhile to give your tree a boost by top dressing with a general based fertiliser such as Fish Blood and Bone Meal or Vitax Q4.  And, after a heavy rain fall - if at all possible - it would be  worthwhile to mulch around your tree with some well rotted manure.  This will not only add nutrients to your tree but will also retain the moisture.

On the question of your husband pouring washing-up water onto your tree if the washing up liquid is highly concentrated it could cause problems and it is always advisable to use bio-friendly products!

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J Bowdler asks...

I have a damson tree about 12 feet tall it has slight leaf curl.  I noticed yesterday that most of the fruit seems shrivelled and looks like it is rotting with a white coating.  Is it due to the hot weather or is it because we cut it back in the spring and did not coat the branches after cutting?  It there anything we can do?

Bill replies...

The leaf curl on your Damson Tree could quite easily have been caused by aphids and it would be worth looking on the under side of the leaves to see if there are any present.  The white coating on the fruit sounds very much like powdery mildew which, if badly infected, can cause the fruit to shrivel.  In some respects the small fruit on your tree could have been quite easily caused by very dry conditions and during the fruiting period - if at all possible - it is well worthwhile to give your trees a good watering.  You mention pruning your tree in the Spring - this would not have caused your fruit to shrivel or the powdery mildew to appear but the best time to prune your Damsons is June/July time to avoid infection by Silver Lead Disease.

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Marie Blower asks...

My red robin, which is in a large pot, has lost most of its leaves and has green powder on the stem. Bone meal was added to the pot about a week before. Could this have caused the problems and can I save my tree? Thank you.

Bill replies...

It happens quite often with Photinias (Red Robin) that if the plant dries out or, they suffer a check in growth Marie they do tend to drop their leaves, and I feel it would be worthwhile to prune some of the shoots back - which will encourage new leaves and growth.  You mention green powder on the stems - I am sure this is algal growth which tends to be dominant if your plant is growing in a shaded spot.  I am sure the addition of Bone Meal is not the cause of the problems unless you have given your Red Robin 'bucketfulls'!

If the shoots on your plant are still green when pruning you will usually find that your Red Robin will start to shoot again.

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Jane Churchill asks...

Why can't I get my winter flowering jasmine to flower, it grows fine but no flowers yet.  It is two years old and I trim it occasionally.

Bill replies...

You need to give your Jasmine Shrub time Jane - what has happened since you planted your Jasmine numerous new shoots will have been produced and when these shoots have started to harden off your shrub will produce beautiful yellow flowers.  You mention trimming occasionally - the time to prune your Jasmine is early Spring as the flowers of the Jasmine are produced on the previous seasons growth.  I would however, refrain from carrying out excessive pruning until your Jasmine has flowered.

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Helen Everett asks...

I have recently bought a Phormium Rainbow Queen which is in a pot on my decking. I don't know why, but some of the leaves have begun to turn a bit brown and look like they are dying. Is this normal, or could there be a problem?

Bill replies...

It is important Helen that when you grow a Phormium in a pot that you keep it well watered and you will also have to feed on a regular basis.  I would use a slow release fertiliser such as Fish Blood and Bone Meal or a John Innes based fertiliser.  I do find that some of the variegated varieties such as Rainbow Queen can suffer quite easily from wind scorch damage and I feel these varieties do need to be situated in a sheltered area.

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Marie Nixon asks...

I live in North East Lincolnshire and have a large (about 12ft) Cordyline australis which at the moment it has three flower heads in bud. My question is when can I prune the brown leaves that surround the base of both of the heads that are making the tree look extremely tatty and what is the best method of doing this? Many thanks

Bill replies...

The best method I have found Marie for pruning the dead leaves is to use a sharp pair of garden shears and cut back as close to the main trunk as possible.  Do not try and pull the leaves off the tree as this could easily damage the main trunk and also the flower heads.

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Catherine Taylor asks...

I recently bought and planted an apple tree in my small sunny south facing garden. It now has lots of fruit but for some reason the smaller apples are falling off. The tree was planted in well rotted manure and fish blood and bonemeal and it gets two pans full of water a day. The leaves are green and healthy and there is no obvious sign of disease or stress. The tree has been in the ground about four weeks.  Also, as I live in the city, will I need to plant another apple tree for this one to fruit next year and in the  future. This one was already pollinated when I bought and planted it. Thanks.

Bill replies...

Your apple tree Catherine is suffering from the term known as 'June Drop' and it is nature's way of disposing of some of the apples so that the remaining can grow into normal size fruit.  There is nothing to worry about and you are doing a 'good job' of looking after your tree and keeping it healthy.

For pollination purposes - even though your fruit tree may be self fertile - you would be far better purchasing another tree of a different variety.  You will need a variety which will flower at approximately the same time as your original tree.  Good luck.

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Andrew Fisher asks...

I recently bought a quite expensive Cornus/Dogwood Rainbow tree (4ft) which looked extremely healthy with many varigated pale green/white leaves and in full blossom. After planting the tree is dying back after only three weeks the leaves are shrivelled and some of the lower branches are very dry despite plenty of moisture to the roots, is there anything I can do to save it?

Bill replies...

If you have kept your Dogwood well watered and maintained Andrew it seems rather strange that in short period of time the leaves on the tree have shrivelled and there is die back on the lower branches.  It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what the cause could be but it could be the spray drift from someone using a weed-killer however this would have also affected plants in the near vicinity.  It may be a soil borne pest which is causing the problem but again, I feel this would have caused wilting of the leaves rather than instant shrivelling.  I feel it would be worthwhile to explain the situation to the Garden Centre/Nursery where your purchased the tree from and as you have kept your Dogwood well watered and maintained the majority of reputable Garden Centres should replace your tree.

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David asks...

I have purchased a small olive tree and would like to plant it in my south facing garden could you please give me some advice on planting and caring for olly? Many thanks

Bill replies...

Your Olive tree David needs to be planted in a rich loamy but well-drained soil.  They cannot tolerate waterlogged conditions, especially during the winter months.  A south facing garden is ideal but, you may still need to protect your tree during severe winters.  This can be done by using white fleece.  If you feel that you do not want to take this risk Olive Trees are quite happy growing in large containers which can be moved to a sheltered spot during severe weather conditions.   If grown in containers you will need to water and feed on a regular basis.

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Julie Whewall asks...

Julie's lovely Mimulas
Julie's Mimulas

Hi Bill, I have recently found a flowering plant growing in one of my planters outside. I don't know where it came from.. and no-one can identify it. I was wondering if you could please Bill?

Bill replies...

The plant in question Julie is Mimulas - sometimes called the Musk or Monkey Flower.  It is used quite frequently as a bedding-out plant - they come in a wide range of colours and flower profusely throughout the summer months.  They are ideal for window boxes and plant containers

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Edna Kenny asks...

Our new garden has been reseeded with lawn seed twice since April. It is growing very patchy and is predominantly full of weeds and thistles! Is it ok to spray with weed killer, as the grass is still growing? What do you suggest?

Bill replies...

I would Edna wait a few more weeks before spraying with a lawn weed killer - your new grass needs to be more established.  I would however be inclined to gently fork out the large weeds - such as the thistles before they have chance to flower and seed.

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Cheryl King asks...

I'm wanting to retain my borders and create a raised bed effect, I thought about using reclaimed railway sleepers but am concerned about the tar and oil on them as I have a young daughter. I don't want a brick or stone wall, could you suggest some alternatives?

Bill replies...

You can buy new sleepers and new pieces of timber Cheryl which have been specially treated )tanalised) to stop them from rotting.  They are not covered in tar or oil and these would be ideal for your raised beds.  The timber is available from any large timber merchants.  For some of the raised beds in my own garden I have used the ridged tantalised decking which raises the bed by approximately six inches and looks quite effective.

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Ian Lever asks...

I've got white fluffy growths on my apple tree, what are they?

Bill replies...

I am quite sure that the growths on your apple tree have been caused by woolly aphids.  What happens Ian is the numerous aphids secrete a white waxy coating to protect them from predators.  They do not cause a tremendous amount of damage to the tree but if you are worried you can spray with a general contact insecticide. I find the easiest method is to wash the growths off with a hose pipe.

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Jane Hook asks...

What can I do about rose chafer beetles? My white iceberg roses are infested although the red flowered climber next to it hasn't any sign of infestation.

Bill replies...

The two types of Chafer Beetle which could be infecting your Iceberg Jane - one is the Cock Chafer which is a large reddish beetle and this beetle will eat the leaves of your rose and the other is the smaller Rose Chafer Beetle which tends to eat the petals of the rose.  The most affective control method is to go out once or twice a day and pick off the beetles and destroy them.  You could spray with a general contacting insecticide but there is always a chance that spraying will damage the flowers.  If you do spray - spray early morning or in the evening and not in direct sunlight.

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Mary Howarth asks...

Why cant you grow a Rose where another one has been?

Bill replies...

If you have been growing roses on a piece of land for approximately eight years or over Mary it is inadvisable to plant new roses.  The soil could be suffering from the common term 'rose soil sickness'.  Basically it is tired of roses!  Some people say the reason for this is due to eel worm others say it is a soil deficiency and even if you apply a liberal dressing of fertiliser and manure on many occasions new roses are never as vigorous as they should be. It is always advisable to plant in new soil.

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Chris asks...

Can you tell me the best time and method of pruning a myrtle bush? Thanks for your help.

Bill replies...

Your Myrtle Bush Chris does not need regular pruning - all you will need to do is remove any frost damaged shoots and any straggly pieces  Your plant will produce white flowers during July/August and they like the leaves are fragrant.  In the olden days it was often propagated from a sprig from a Brides Bouquet.  In the winter months you will need to protect your plant from extreme frost and bad weather conditions and it is often wise to place your plant in a greenhouse or porch.

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Lai Chee Woon asks...

I have purchase a small Olive tree (12 ins tall)a few weeks ago.  It needs repotting. It is currently in a 6 ins pot.  What type of compost does it require and what size pot is best for repotting.  It has lost quite a lot of leaves since I bought it cos my balcony gets a lot of sun and it did dry ouy completely.  It has a lot of flowers on it.

Bill replies...

I would re-pot your Olive Tree La into a ten to twelve inch pot and I would use a soil based compost such as John Innes No 2 or No 3.  Olive tree love a well drained compost and to the John Innes compost I would also add approximately 10-15% sharp grit sand.  Keep your plant well watered especially during the summer months and I am sure your Olive Tree will recover from drying out.

NB: During the winter months Lai it is important that you do not over-water your Olive Tree - they need to be kept slightly on the dry side.

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Simon Fallon asks...

I have got a Cordyline australis is my back garden and we are due to start an extension. Its about 8 years old and quite big now. Can you advise would it be possible to move, and maybe plant in a large container?

Bill replies...

The chances of success of moving your Cordyline is very slim Simon especially now during the summer months.  But, if you have to move your plant try and get as much root ball as possible when you are lifting it and, as you suggested, it needs to be placed in a very large container.  I would place your plant in a shaded spot in the garden to cut down transpiration loss from the leaves and spraying the leaves with water during the hot summer months with help prevent transpiration loss.  I hope you are successful.

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Sharon asks...

I have ivy growing through an old boundary wall between myself and my neighbour. She's happy for me to kill it off, but what is the best thing to use? We can't just cut it off as it is well established through the wall, which is natural stone with lime mortar (150 yrs old).

Bill replies...

One of the problems with Ivy growing through walls and into the lime mortar is that the roots of the Ivy takes the moisture out of the mortar which in time could cause cracks to appear in the wall.  I agree with you Sharon that it is going to be difficult to pull the Ivy off the wall with the roots being embedded in the mortar.  I do however feel it would be worthwhile to spray the Ivy with a glyphosate weed killer - such as Round Up - which will be absorbed through the leaves and some of the weed killer will be transferred down into the roots.  You may have to spray your Ivy two/three times during the summer/autumn months for it to be affective.  Then, you will gently have to pull the dead shoots and leaves off your wall.

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Ann Robson asks...

I have a Cordyline australis (Cabbage Tree) which has been in my garden for four years - though it is older than that (purchased from a garden centre at about 4ft high, but now about 6ft high). This year, for the first time, it has 'flowered' but the leaves have, in the past week or so, begun to yellow seriously; in fact, about 45% of the leaves are presently yellow and the plant looks decidedly 'sick'. It has a smaller (about 3ft high) side shoot which is equally affected. During the winter its leaves were wrapped and the plant covered in fleece for protection, though we do get mild winters here on the south coast. The plant was moved about three months ago, just a few feet to accommodate a pergola, but appeared to suffer no ill effects until now. The whole garden was recently (about 18 days ago) given a dressing of Growmore and an application of Phosphate liquid watering. Can you help please?

Bill replies...

I am sure that it is the shock of moving the plant which has caused the leaves to yellow Ann.  Even though you have only moved it a few feet you will have had to lift the plant completely out of the ground and from past experience I find the Cordylines do not like having the roots disturbed.  It is important though that to ensure that the roots are kept moist and in very hot weather it is going to be beneficial to spray the leaves over with water to cut down transpiration loss.  You do not need to feed your plant and hopefully it will recover.

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Bob Whiting asks...

Two plums, one pear, one apple tree all stand about 5ft high. The Pear loads of blossom result:loads of Pears. Apple [mini ones] loads of blossom, fruit not yet showing. 1st Plum not much blossom or show of fruit. Second Plum Loads of blossom and about eight plums showing. Have the birds eaten the young plums or can I expect more to show later on?

Because of wildlife I'm loath to use slug pellets around my beans. I have lost 15 to slugs and snails. Some say copper strip/pipe placed around the plants as a barrier will stop the slugs/snails from getting at the plants is there any truth in that?.

Is there a gardening book that shows flower, root and leaf structure? I'm having no luck in identifying the shrubs and some of the flowers? Many thanks.

Bill replies...

Hi Bob on the question of your fruit trees your plum trees will be the first to flower and could have quite easily been affected by the late frost. If your apple tree if not self-fertile it will require another tree of a different variety for pollination purposes but I am pleased to hear that your pear tree is 'doing the business'.  I am almost certain that the variety of your pear  is Conference which is self pollinating. 

You are correct about the copper strip - it will stop the slugs eating your plants.  What happens is the slugs try to slide over the copper and get a shock.  The copper strips - mats and tape are available in most Garden Centres and DIY Stores. 

On the question of gardening books the Royal Horticulture Society produce a wide range of books but one of my favourite reference books is 'The Complete Book of Gardening' edited by Michael Wright and is a Mermaid Book.

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Diane Taylor asks...

I have a large pampas grass between me and my neighbour's bungalow. We are both in agreement that it is taking a lot of room up and would like to pull it up. We would like to know what sort of root it has got and if it will be easy to lift. My daughter said that she would have it in her garden but we need to know if our task will be an easy one.

We planted a laurel hedge last year but now some of them have got yellow leaves that are falling off. What could this mean? Please can you advise us on what we can do to keep them healthy

Bill replies...

Pampas Grass

The operation is not going to be easy Diane - the Pampas Grass has a very tight spongy and tough root system and, you are going to need at least a pick and very sharp spade.  What I would suggest you do is to commandeer a couple of strong volunteers to give you a hand - but I would delay the operation until the Autumn.  Good Luck!

Laurel Hedge

With a newly planted Laurel Hedge it is important that you ensure that the plants are well watered and, it could well be that this could be the problem of the leaves yellowing and falling off.  The opposite end of the spectrum Dianne is if your hedge has been planted in poorly drained soil and over the winter months and early spring the roots have been in waterlogged conditions again, the symptoms are leaves yellowing and falling off.  I feel though you will need to keep and eye on the hedge ensuring that the roots do not dry out and I am sure the hedge will recover.

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Louise Beaumont asks...

I have a mock cherry tree which is losing its leaves in June they have a speckled appearance do you know what this might be?

Bill replies...

It could well be that the extreme hot and dry conditions that we have had recently Louise has the main cause for the leaves to drop on your tree.  Without actually seeing the leaves on your tree it will be difficult to assess what is causing the speckling.  It could be a mineral deficiency and it would be worthwhile to give your tree a feed with a general base fertiliser such as fish blood and bone meal or Grower More  If it is at all possible for you to send a photograph on one/two leaves of your Cherry to BBC Radio Lancashire it would help me to identify the problem.

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Rita Clark asks...

My holly bush that was brought from my previous garden is losing leaves that have turned brown, I have fed it with growmore and kept it well watered. Please can you help?

Bill replies...

It could be the shock of transplanting your Holly Bush which has caused the leaves to brown Rita.  It could also be the very hard and prolonged frost that we had this winter and, what usually happens is the leaves on the Holly will start to drop during the summer months.  There is not much you can do at the moment except to ensure that your Holly Bush is kept well watered and there is no need to apply any further fertiliser.

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Susan Freeston  asks...

We are currently making a pond and are not sure if we need a pump. We intend to use oxygenating plants and would like to have fish. Thank you.

Bill replies...

If you have plenty of oxygenating plants and also plant cover in your pond Susan you will 'get away' without having to use a pump and, your fish will not suffer.  It is important for you to ensure your pond is deep enough for the fish to survive during the winter months and, one of the most popular oxygenating plants I would recommend is the Canadian Pond Weed (Elodea Cananadensis).

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Jean Hull asks...

I have a contorted willow tree which appears to be dying off, it seemed ok last Sunday  but by Wednesday it has mostly shrivelled brown leaves and some dead branches. It is approxomately 4-5 years old and has been perfectly ok till now.

Bill replies...

It could well be Jean that the very hot weather and the dry soil conditions has been the main cause for your leaves to shrivel and dry up.  I feel though that if you give your tree a good watering you will usually find that new shoots and leaves will appear.

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Pam asks...

I have an Acer Palmatum for approx 6 years which has been really beautiful.  I have noticed this year that a stickly white/grey substance is oozing from the trunk and there are little spots of it on some of the branches.  Have you any idea what this may be and is it harmful?

Bill replies...

Without actually seeing your tree Pam it is difficult for me to give an accurate answer.  I am concerned about the substance oozing from the trunk which could be canker but, the colour of the bacterial canker is usually orange.  You mention spots on the branches - again this could be coral spot which can cause die back of the branches.  On many occasions during a very wet winter - and if your Acer is planted in poorly drained soil - it again can cause die back of the branches.  I feel it would be worthwhile to contact your Local Authority/Local Parks Department and I am sure one of the tree experts will come along to give you on the spot advice.

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Mary Lewis asks...

When is the best time to prune a ceanothus and how much can be cut off? It is about six feet tall and I would like to reduce the size.

Bill replies...

If your Ceanothus California Lilac is the evergreen type very little pruning is required.  If your plant is the decidous type Mary the previous seasons growth can be cut back each year by approximately four to six inches every Spring.  You mention reducing the size of your Ceanothus and from my personal experience Ceanothus do not like hard pruning but, if you do need to reduce the size I would prune your plant now while it is actively growing.

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Juliet asks...

Hi there, I have a Cordyline Australis, and a friend also wants one.  I sometimes make up cuttings, but I'm fairly sure its impossible to take a cutting from this one-stemmed tree, but can you just confirm that it "isn't" possible.

Bill replies...

It is not feasable to take a cutting from your Cordyline Juliet but what sometimes happens is you will find a new shoot appearing from soil level and if this occurs you can remove the shoot along with some of the roots and re-pot it and give it to your friend.  Cordyines can also be grown from seed - they are quite easy to germinate and what you could do is germinate some of the seeds during the spring/summer months re-pot them into small pots and then you can supply all of your friends with a Cordyline.

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Peter Hardy asks...

What a great site, you have converted me from an tv gardener to a physical gardener! I have had a yucca outside for about 10 years, bought as a 2 foot plant  it is now 6 foot and loves its place. However this year I have noticed that its leaves have split ends any suggestions?

Bill replies...

Many thanks for the kind words Pete and if our paths ever cross I will buy you a drink! On the question of your Yucca I would not worry too much about the splitting of the leaf ends this, could have quite easily been caused by the adverse winter weather and you usually find that the new leaves are fine.

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Aileen asks...

I have been given pepper plants, and they seem to be growing well, but I don't know how to look after them. Do they need pinched out just like tomatoes?

Bill replies...

There are two types of Peppers you can grow Aileen - the Chilli Peppers which are very hot and used for cooking and the Salad Peppers which as the names suggest are used in salads but can also be used for cooking.  The Peppers belong to the same family as the Tomato but they do not need pinching out - just let them bush out - flower and produce Peppers but they will need plenty of feeding and watering.

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M Birtles asks...

The bottom of my garden is almost always in the shade, can you recommend any suitable plants to provide ground cover that will spread and last every year?

Bill replies...

If the bottom of your garden is in damp shade there are quite a range of hardy Ferns which would be ideal and another plant which is excellent for ground cover would the Periwinkle Vincaminor which has light blue flowers - but be warned it can become quite invasive. I would also consider the perennial Geraniums and, the varieties I would use are Geranium Maculatum and Geranium Endressii.  You could also consider shrubs such as Rhododendrons, Azaleas and Camellias all, of which will tolerate dappled shade.

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Carolyne asks...

I have a large vegetable garden which is thoroughly organic, apart from the occasional use of a mild slug pellet (!) However, this year I am at my wits end because between the newly planted french beans, lettuces, tomatoes, courgettes and herbs is an absolute carpet of weeds, just 1 cm high right now but what is to come!?  I have never had it this bad! I have hoed the whole area but cannot believe this is really going to help. Why is it that the weeds come back year after year despite such hard work to clear them? What can I do? Please help!

Bill replies...

Weeds fall into two main categories - the perennial and annual weeds.  The perennial weeds such as Docks and Dandelions not only produce seed but also have a large tap root which they use as a food reserve and, even when you have hoed these weeds off new shoots will appear quite quickly from the submerged tap root and, with perennial weeds you will need to try and fork/dig out the large tap roots to control the growth.  The annual weeds do not have tap roots but they do produce masses of seed and if you allow these seeds to settle on the soil they will start to germinate over a sustained period of time ie: some will germinate immediately - others over the next six to twelve months and, some of the seeds can lay dormant for a number of years before germinating.  Hence the old saying 'if you allow annual weeds to set seed they will produce weed seeds for the next seven years' and, it is vitally important that you hoe these weeds off before they have chance to flower and seed.  On the question of controlling the weeds once you have hoed the weeds off it would be worthwhile to mulch around your plants will some well rotted manure or any organic material to suppress the weed growth.

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Yvonne Wilkinson asks...

Hi Bill, the conker tree my daughter planted about 18 years ago from a conker (now about 30 feet high at a guess) seems to have died! Winter 2004/5 it produced HEAPS of conkers, but nothing this winter, but now it has a yellowish hue in patches on the trunk and a few dead leaves and conkers still attached, but the small branches just snap off. Can I save it do you think? Or should I just have it cut down?

Bill replies...

It sounds very much like your daughter's Conker Tree Yvonne has been infected with bacterial canker.  The telltale symptoms is a yellowish hue which is appearing out of
the trunk.  The question whether the tree can be saved will depend on how badly the tree is infected - I would definitely recommend that you contact a Tree Specialist for on the spot advice and I would also contact your Local Authority - they will have Tree Specialists and I am sure they will give you their expert advice.

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Imran Akhtar asks...

I have an indoor yucca which is now getting too tall for the room. Is there any way of reducing its height, noting that the bottom half has no leaves?

Bill replies...

You can cut your Yucca back Imran into the bottom half of the trunk where there are no leaves and it will produce a new shoot and now is a good time to cut your Yucca back - when the sap is rising and and the plant is actively growing.  It usually takes approximately four weeks for the new shoot to appear.  The shoot usually appears just below where you have cut the trunk ie if you have the trunk three feet from the bottom the new shoot usually appears just below the three foot mark.

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Mary Boyle asks...

I have purple Cordyline Australis whose leaves are discoloured or rusted all over - why is this and how do I prevent it?  I have even notice the same plants in a local garden centre discoloured in the same way - if it is something that is difficult to get rid of - perhaps I should replace the plant

Bill replies...

I find the Purple Cordyline more prone to discoloration - wind scorch damage and rust more than the plain Green Cordyline. And, Mary if you are going to buy another plant I would recommend the plain Green one which I also find far more hardy.  However, all is not lost with your Purple Cordyline - I would cut back the damaged leaves to the main stem and then you will need to spray with a fungicide to control rust.  I also find the Purple species is far better grown in a large container which allows the plant to be moved to a sheltered position during the winter months

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Ruth Wauh asks...

Last year I purchased a Kilmarnock Willow, it appeared healthy enough up until it developed rust. I treated with fungus treatment as was recommended and all was well. This year there appeared to be growth which has now come to a sudden halt with no further growth. Had a lot of dead branches which I removed. Will it come back or should I just get rid of it?

Bill replies...

One of the problems with the Kilmarnck Willow is that quite a number are prone to being infected with rust and I find the best fungicide to use is Dithane.  Again Ruth when spraying this should be carried out early morning/late evening not in direct sunlight.  On the question of the die-back of the dead branches it could be that the root system is not vigorous enough to sustain the new shoots and, this could have quite easily caused dieback of quite a number of the branches.  If you have removed all of the dead branches it maybe worthwhile waiting to see if any new shoots appear from the crown of the tree. 

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Margaret Bostok asks...

My daughter has found her containers and baskets from winter time are infested with cockchafers. How can she destroy them so she plant summer plants now? She has no grass at all.

Bill replies...

The cockchafer grubs in your daughter's hanging baskets and containers Margaret will eat the roots of a wide range of plants - the grubs can grow up to two and a half inches long - they are white in colour with three pairs of legs and a brown head - the bodies are shaped like the letter C.  If your daughter does not want to kill the grubs I feel the best method for disposal would be to place all the grubs from the baskets and containers into a large bin bag and dispense of it.

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Jim Halliday asks...

The last few flowers are dropping of my clematis, is it time to give it a prune? It has been in for about 20 years. Thank you.

Bill replies...

The early flowering Clematis Jim - such as Clematis Montana and Alpine flower on the older wood and for this reason the correct time to prune the early flowering species is after they have finished flowering and this will apply to your Clematis.

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James Snow asks...

I live in a mid terrace house. The next door neighbour has a climbing plant, not controlled it is growing up the walls of my house and new kitchen extension, will it do any harm to the brickwork? I know that I have to cut it back to stop it coming through to the inside of my shed, thanking you for your time.

Bill replies...

If the plant in question James is the common Ivy it can be a problem, especially on old brick work.  The roots can penetrate the old mortar taking out the moisture which can, in severe cases cause cracking of the brick work although it does not have the same affect on new brick work and should not affect your new kitchen extension.  There are a number of climbing plants to choose from and if you could find out the name of the climbing plant and give the information to Radio Lancashire I will advise you further.

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Shirley Carella asks...

How do you care for coleus canina and when is its flowering time, is this a shrub that will come up year after year?

Bill replies...

The plant in question Shirley Coleus Canina is used to keep cats out of gardens.  The common name being 'Scatter Cat' and it is the smell given off by the plant which keeps the cats away.  It is a perennial  plant but alas is frost sensitive which, means you will have to bring the plant inside during the winter months.  It is however easy to propagate from cuttings and these cuttings can be taken late summer/autumn time - they are quite easy to root but again, these will have to be kept indoors during the winter/early spring months.

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Lucy Burton asks...

I would like to plant lavender to grow alongside my new lawn.  I have a very young hawthorn/blackthorn hedge, running along the lawn, and about a foot and a half gap between it and the lawn, and I would like to fill it with lavender.  Is there a miniature lavender? as I would like to keep it low, bushy and with lots of flowers.  Any suggestions?  Many thanks

Bill replies...

I am slightly worried about your Lavender being planted so near your Hawthorne Hedge Lucy.  Lavenders love a sunny position and I feel the hedge will not only shade your Lavenders but will be both competing for water and nutrients during the dry summer periods.  If you feel there is enough distance and light to plant Lavenders the variety I would recommend is Lavendula Munstead Dwarf which grow to approximately 18 to 24 inches.

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Shirley Jones asks...

We have just recently taken on two adjoining allotments which haven't been worked for over 10 years. The brambles were over 6 foot high. We have had to roll a barrel around on them so as we can assess what we have! My questions to you are, being strictly environmentally friendly and organic, do you have any suggestions, apart from what we are doing at present.. hard labour! to get rid of these brambles? We also have a secondary problem of bindweed rapidly appearing now that the brambles have been flattened. Also, within the plot there are several plum/damson trees which vary from 30 foot high to young saplings. Most have flowered and set fruit, but most of the leaves are "gummed" and when you open these up, there are caterpillars in them all. What would be the best course of action for this problem, organically? Finally, our perimeter privet hedge was over 20 foot high and totally unloved. I have cut this back into a tidy 15 foot hedge. The problem I found was at the lower part of the hedge, where the sunlight was lacking. There were no leaves, just spindly wood. How, if possible, can I encourage regrowth of the leaves? Would chicken and horse manure be suitable for privet? I do like privet hedging as I always associate it with proud senior members of the community, so I would be very upset if I lost my hedging. Please can you help?

Bill replies...

I congratulate you Shirley on the hard work you are doing on your allotment but do not envy you the task. On the problems you have listed there is no easy answer to the brambles and bindweed except cutting the brambles back and forking out the roots and those of the bindweed.

On your question re damson trees - unless you are addicted to damsons(!)  I would be inclined to thin some of these out and, I would try curing the problem with the caterpillars by spraying your trees with a powerful hose-pipe.  This will force some of the caterpillars out of their cocoon and make them more accessible for the birds to eat.

On the question of your privet hedge you can cut privet hardback into the old wood and they will shoot again. 

Regarding your chicken and horse manure it will be ideal as a mulch and a feed providing it is well rotted down.  Fresh manure will scorch the roots of your plants.

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Paul Whitehouse asks...

In February we moved house and took a lot of plants and resited them in the new garden. All of the plants took except the three palms which are now dying one at a time. Is there anything I can do to keep them alive. Almost all of the leaves are brown in one of the big plants and the other is going browner by the day.

Bill replies...

Quite a number of Palms have died this year Paul due to the very cold temperatures we have experienced and also the piercing the cold Westerly winds.  I also feel your problem could have stemmed from lifting your Palms in February - the 'shock' of transplanting your Palms coupled with the cold weather I am sure will have caused the leaves to start to yellow and die back.  My only suggestion is to ensure your plants do not dry out and to spray the remaining leaves during hot weather to cut down transpiration loss.

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Alan Garder asks...

Hi Bill, can you take a cutting from Forest Flame and will it grow or have you got to re-plant the whole bush?

Bill replies...

You can quite easily propagate the shrub Forest Flame from cuttings Alan.  The best time for this is late July/August using semi-ripe shoots.  The cuttings need to be approximately three to four inches long - cut just below a leaf joint and remove the lower leaves.  The cuttings need to be inserted in a mixture of peat and coarse grit or perlite around the edge of a four to five inch pot - keep the cuttings well watered and placed in a dapple shade in the garden.  They should be rooted within four/five weeks.  They will however need some protection during the winter months.

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Brian Neal asks...

How do I remove dandelions from my lawn and prevent them coming back?

Bill replies...

If you have numerous Dandelions on your lawn Brian I would use a selective lawn weed killer which, will kill weeds such Dandelions, Docks, Plantain and Buttercups but will not damage your grass providing your soil is quite moist at the time of treatment - it is very important that you do not use the weed killer during drought conditions.  You can also use a general weed and feed, the weed killer will keep your Dandelions under control and the feed will give an added boost to your grass.  There are numerous brands available in Garden Centres and DIY Stores.  It is also wise to read the instructions thoroughly before applying the weed killer.

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Mary Heasman asks...

Dear Bill, when in Tenerife we got a small box which contained a small cutting of a trunk covered in wax, Shoots come out from the side with long leaves we were told it was yucca ... but seems it's not can you identify with a correct name, buy the way it's growing in water with occasional Miracle-Gro food.

Bill replies...

Hello Mary there are other plants which come to mind but the easiest method of answering your question is if at all possible for you to forward a photograph to Radio Lancashire.

On the question of the plant which you have growing in water if the trunk has produced roots and leaves I would repot it into a multi purpose compost and keep the plant in dappled shade until established.

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John Janowitz asks...

My father recently died and I'm getting ready to sell the house. On the south side of the garage is a yellow climbing rose bush that goes up to the top of the garage then climbs both ways along the gutter.  Coming from the ground are 4 or 5 central shoots that all come out of the same root ball.  I only have another month or two of owning the home. Is there any way to split off any of this rose to be able to transplant part of it here?

Bill replies...

John it is the worst time of the year to remove any shoots from climbing roses but, I realize the problem you have with the rose being the favourite of your late father.  The chances of success by taking one or two shoots from the cluster is very slim, it is however possible to take cuttings off the rose during later summer/autumn and, I am sure if you could come to some agreement with the new owners this will be the best solution and successful method.

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Susie Rowbotham asks...

We moved two years ago to a house with an empty garden. It had been totally neglected for years. It was completely replanted then and is doing very well but it is becoming rather crowded as all the plants grow and we would like to move one or two plants.  Is it possible to move a smallish white lilac tree without doing too much damage?

Bill replies...

I would be inclined to wait until the Autumn time before moving any of your plants Susie - if you lift and transplant plants during the summer months when they are in full leaf they will receive a tremendous set-back, and the increased transpiration loss from the leaves will cause die-back of the shoots.  I am slightly worried that by lifting some of the plants you will also damage the roots of nearby plants. If at all possible I would wait until Autumn when plants such as your Dwarf Lilac will have shed its leaves and be dormant.

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Lynne Hanrahan asks...

Hi Bill, I planted two Dwarf Rhododendrons last year one pink one yellow. The yellow one has died off completely the pink is trying hard but only has a few shoots can you advise please. Great hanging basket course on Friday thank you

Bill replies...

Hi Lynne lovely to hear from you and I am pleased that you enjoyed the Hanging Basket Course.  On the question of your Rhododendrons there are a number of reasons why your plants could be suffering.  Rhododendrons love an ericaceous soil and any free lime in the soil will cause the leaves of your plants to yellow.  They also like a soil which contains plenty of organic humus - but the soil must be free draining and again Lynne if your Rhododendrons have been water-logged during the winter months this will have caused the leaves to start to yellow.  If your pink plant is still suffering I would be inclined to gently lift it from the soil and repot it into a container using an ericaceous compost.

I trust your hanging baskets are thriving - don't forget to keep them well watered and plenty of feed.

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Anthony Matthews asks...

Bill, I moved into a house with a wide range of established plants two years ago. One particular plant concerns me... it has striking red coloured branches and during the spring produces green leaves very similar to an acer..Sorry I dont know what it is called! My issue is that this year there are only a few red branches on it which have produced leaves but the bulk of the branches and main stem appear almost dead!....It is in a sorry state.... Could you advise me if there is anything I can do to recover the situation?

Bill replies...

My immediate reaction when reading your question Anthony was to assume your plant belonged to the Dogwood Family and the one which has striking red branches and shoots is Cornus Alba Sibirica.  It is however difficult to ascertain actually what you plant could be without knowing whether it is a tree or a shrub and if you could possibly forward a photograph to Radio Lancashire it would be very helpful.

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Bob Whiting asks...

Two weeks ago I planted tomato plants in a prepared plot and some of the leaves at the top are begining to turn white. What is the cause? Someone said it might be blight. Would the replacements be better grown in large tubs or is blight an airborne fungus? If it is I'll make up a cover for them.

Bill replies...

The white powder on your leaves is mildew and it is not often you see mildew on the leaves of tomatoes so early in the year.  I would dispose of the plants and start afresh. I would also personally grow tomatoes in tubs in a multipurpose compost but I would be inclined to leave planting for a couple of weeks until the weather gets warmer - especially if you're planting outdoors.

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Caroline Graham asks...

I have two Buxus bushes in pots. They only seem to last about a year before thet start to go brown and die off. I have now had five bushes that have all gone the same way. I do water regularly. Should I be feeding them?

Bill replies...

There is a fungal disease which does attack Buxus and causes die-back of the shoots and leaves and it maybe this fungal disease which is causing the problems with your two Buxus Bushes.  You could try spraying with a fungicide but, there is no easy solution to the problems and, it maybe worthwhile to try other plants in your pots.  There are dwarf Conifers that you could try - such as Chamaecyparis Minima Glauca or Minima Aurea or if you like a more slender conifer I would recommend Juniper Communis.

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Mr T F Wright asks...

I have a problem with numerous holly shoots over extensive areas can you recommend a systemic weed killer or any other method to get rid of them? I am not capable of digging them out and they are very difficult to pull out.

Bill replies...

It maybe worth spraying your Holly seedlings with the SBK Brushwood Killer - which is not only used for irradicating weeds but also bracken, gorse and tree saplings such as Ash and Sycamore.  It does not list Holly seedlings but I feel it would be worthwhile trying this product.  The other option would be to use a Glyphosate weed killer such as RoundUp or Tumble Weed and although I personally have never used these weed killers on Holly seedlings I feel it may be worthwhile.  Whichever weed killer you use it is important that you do not spray any other nearby plants and always use the recommended protective clothing.

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last updated: 09/10/06
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