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You are in: Lancashire > Nature > Features > Ask the gardener: Berries

Shenfield Strawberry Fair

Ask the gardener: Berries

Gardening advice for raspberries, gooseberries, strawberries...

Warton's Bill Blackledge is one of the county's most popular and sought after gardeners.   If it's green and needs watering, Bill can tell you about it.  He has been answering BBC Radio Lancashire listeners' queries for over thirty years, which means he's been there nearly as long as the transmitter!

His knowledge is encyclopedic. After training at the under the then Ministry of Agriculture, Bill spent over twenty years at the Department of Biological and Environmental Services at Lancaster University.  Now, he's a regular course tutor at Alston Hall, Longridge and Lancaster Adult College.

For three decades, Bill has travelled the county with fellow judges as a regional judge for North West in Bloom.

So, whatever the problem, we like to think Bill can sort it out... at least that's the theory!

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Wayne Sinclair asks...

I wish to change my strawberry patch. I intended to lift the plants and fertilise the ground and lay down a membrane and re-plant them again when is the best time to do this the area is only 3m square?

Bill replies...

Now Wayne (March) is a good time to transplant Strawberries but, it is important to thoroughly dig your plot over and if possible to apply some well rotted manure and a good general base fertiliser such as Fish Blood and Bone Meal or Grow More.  You ask about applying a membrane and I would recommend that you use one of the polypropylene interwoven ground cover membranes which are very tough, will restrict weeds but has also excellent water permeability.  You will need to make certain that you water your plants throughout the summer months and even though you have added a general base fertiliser to the soil I would also liquid feed occasionally when watering.  Do make certain that your plants are healthy, strawberries can suffer from virus diseases and, although it is advisable to use a new plot of ground when transplanting to cut down the risk of virus infection I know quite a number of gardeners who replant in the same patch of ground.

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Claire Victory asks...

I have ordered some Goji berry bushes, what can I expect from them? Are they difficult to grow?

Bill replies...

I am afraid Claire that I am no expert on the cultivation of Goji Berries but I have found some information on growing techniques which I hope will be of help.  The two species of Goji grown are Lycium Barbarum and Lycium Chinense and they are perennial plants and will grow to a height of between one and three metres.  They require a sunny position and a well drained soil and apparently they are quite easy to grow, are self polinating, drought tolerant and are hardy plants.  The red berries which are small and plum shaped are very high in nutrients and more information on the benefits of the berries can be obtained from the following web site http://www.health-report.co.uk/goji-berry.html

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John Gray asks...

Can you please tell me what would completely strip a gooseberry bush of the fruit? No sign of human activity, no sign of bird or rodent activity. I'm puzzled and missing my gooseberry fool. This done over a 36 hour period approximately.

Bill replies...

I am inclined John to think the main suspects for your missing gooseberries would be the human species or squirrels which often store food at this time of year. But, to be quite honest I am as much in the dark as you are and I am sorry that I can't be more helpful.

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Helen asks...

I plan to grow dessert gooseberries in tubs - what size tub will I need and what compost should I use?  After that what feed should I use and how often should it be applied?

Bill replies...

Gooseberries can be grown successfully in tubs Helen but as with all container grown plants you will need to feed regularly and keep well watered during the growing season.  The compost I would use would be soil based John Innes No2/3 and, it is also important that your tubs/containers have plenty of drainage holes and the size of containers should be approximately 15/18 diameter.  The most popular dessert variety to grow is Whinhams Industry but there is a new variety Remarka which is also proving popular and is resistant to American Gooseberry Mildew. 

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Heather McNiven asks...

My raspberries have been smothered with Shield bugs this year and apparently they are due to hibernate soon. Can I erradicate them before they go to roost! What will kill them as they do spoil the crop and I had about 10 per fruit stem.

Bill replies...

There are quite a number of different species of Shield Bugs Heather.  The main common garden species is the plain green Shield Bug and although they are not renowned for causing a great deal of damage they do suck sap from the leaves. They are however beneficial to the gardener as they also eat aphids and other garden pests but, in your case, with there being substantial amounts of the Shield Bugs on your Raspberries they will do damage to the leaves by sucking the sap.  I do not think they will harm the fruit but if you have any damage to the fruit this could quite easily have been caused by the larvae of the Raspberry Beetle.  If you need to use an insecticide spray to kill the Shield Bugs I would recommend Spray Day.

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Sam asks...

Last spring I bought some Strawberry plants, in mistake for flowers. I planted them in hanging baskets and got a very good crop from them. Will they come again next year if I leave them? or should I just buy new ones next year?

Bill replies...

Your Strawberries are perennial plants Sam which means that they will come again next year.  What you do need to do however is to 'tidy up' your plants - remove any old leaves and debris surrounding your plants and, next Spring you will need to feed the plants with a slow release fertiliser similar to the type that you would use for any ordinary summer hanging basket.  The type I prefer is the small cubed slow release fertiliser pellets which can be obtained from Garden Centres and Super Markets.  Insert four of these cubed pellets into the soil and they will provide nutrients for the summer months.  Because your hanging basket will be full of roots I would also feed your basket once a week with a general liquid fertiliser and you should have another good crop of strawberries.

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Dave Armstrong asks...

I have a number of gooseberry bushes and the leaves have been eaten away from the edge to the stem  - what is responsible for this? Can't be slugs or snail, the stems are too prickly.

Bill replies...

The main pest of Gooseberries Dave is Gooseberry Saw Fly and the caterpillars of the Saw Fly can devastate the leaves of the Gooseberry Tree in a very short period of time.  The first group of caterpillars will appear on your Gooseberries early May time but with this year's very hot summer the Saw Fly has produced three to four batches and I am sure it is the Saw Fly Caterpillars which are now damaging you Bushes.  To keep the caterpillars under control you need to spray your bushes with an insecticide such as Spray Day - which will kill aphids, black fly and also caterpillars.

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Dave Armstrong asks...

My strawberry patch (about 200 plants) is overrun with purple loosestrife and silverweed. I have dug out the strawberry plants individually, checked the soil around them for weed roots and set them aside, and dug out all the weeds and roots I can see. However, I will obviously have broken off some of the pernicious roots of the perennial weeds. How long should I leave the bed before spraying with Round-Up? i.e. when can I be reasonably certain that all the root bits have sprouted enough for the product to take effect? And then how long should I leave it before planting again? Do you think I’ll have to wait until the Spring? There's obviously no point in putting the plants back until the bed is clear! 

Bill replies...

I would wait Chris until the loosestrife and the other perennial weeds have reached a height of six to eight inches before spraying with RoundUp.  You will need to spray on a sunny day and it is important - if it is possible - that it does not rain within the following twenty four hours.  Autumn time is a good time to spray with RoundUp as the majority of the weedkiller at this time of year is transferred through the leaves and shoots and into the roots.  With regard as to when you should replant your strawberries I would wait until the springtime because I am sure that there will be more weeds and shoots of loosestrife and these will need to be sprayed again.

last updated: 01/05/2008 at 08:56
created: 20/10/2006

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