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24 September 2014

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You are in: Lancashire > Nature > Features > Ask the gardener: Everything else!

in the garden

Ask the gardener: Everything else!

If you've not found the answer to your gardening problem, chances are you'll find the answer here!

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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BILL'S RECOMMENDATIONS

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Caroline Long asks...

Hi Bill, wonder if you could help please.  We've recently moved into a newly built housing development where at present there are very few established trees and shrubs and therefore not much wildlife.  Our garden is about 30ft square and is surrounded by neighbouring garage walls.  The soil has a high proportion of clay and the garden does get the sun for most of the day, although not directly south facing, I think it could be southwest - the sun is directly on the back of the house in the evenings.  As we are extremly amateaur at gardening (just starting off), I wonder if you could suggest a tree or two which would be safe to plant in our garden and which is not going to cause problems with regards to foundations and root systems.  People keep saying I'm worrying too much, but as the houses have only just been built, I don't want to make them fall down again.  I have noticed that many of the trees that have been planted are mainly Silver Birch  - I think, from books I've read - they do have white trunks!

Bill replies...

If your garden is surround by a perimeter garage wall Caroline you could train up the wall shrubs such as Cotoneaster Horizontalis which produces flowers early summer time and berries in the winter.  Also, another wall shrub Pyracantha, which is evergreen and produces flowers early summer time and again berries during the winter period.  Other shrubs which you could use are Buddleia Davidii the butterfly shrub, Viburnum Tinus, Weigela (variety Bristol Ruby). Hypercum Hidcote, Potentilla and also the Berberis species. If you require one or two trees I would suggest the Mountain Ash and other Sorbus varieties.

------

Andy Stores asks...

I'm removing 12 rose bushes from around the borders as kids are old enough to play in garden now. I could do with something really colourful but not prickly?

Bill replies...

I am going to recommend Andy some easy to grow shrubs which will withstand ball games and will quickly recover if one or two shoots get damaged.  Weigela variety Bristol Ruby which produces a mass of red flowers early summer time, Euonymus Fortunei varieties Emerald Gold which has golden variegated leaves, and Emerald Gaiety - striking green leaves.  Viburnum Tinus which produces white flowers proceeded by pink buds from October to April time and Duetzia which produces an abundance of creamy white flowers early summer time. And, last but not least Hypericum Hydcote which will produce a mass of yellow flowers throughout the summer months.

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Tracy Richards asks...

I am looking for cover of an unsightly chain fence at the bottom of my garden. It is about 12ft high and about 30ft wide with full direct sun in the afternoon. I would really prefer something that is evergreen and fast growing. Any suggestions?

Bill replies...

Two evergreen trees Tracy which are fast growing and would cover your unsightly chain fence are Cupressocyparis Leylandii which is quick to grow but you will need to ensure that you trim and keep it to a height of twelve feet. The other species would be the evergreen Laurel (Prunus Laurocerasus).  An alternative would be a climbing Ivy which, again, is reasonably quick growing.

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Carol Bateson asks...

I'm going to be keeping honey bees from this year and I have a whole border that needs planting for them!  It's south facing with full sun in summer, but windy and wet in winter. I need perennials and shrubs that will flower in the spring and autumn as well as the summer to keep their pollen and nectar stocks up to enable them to have stores for winter, any thoughts?

Bill replies...

When I was employed at the Field Study Centre at Lancaster University Carol there were one or two small gardens with spring and summer flowering heathers and when in flower there was always a mass of bees feeding on the nectar and pollen.  The bees belonged to the local Bee Keeper who had hives at the bottom of the field and he often commented that the finest honey produced was from heather plants.  Bearing this in mind you can have heathers in flower throughout the four seasons.  There is also a wide range of flowering shrubs and also Lavenders which you can use plus other plants such as the Lilies which produce masses of pollen and herbaceous plants such as Rudbeckia, Primulas, Astors and Penstemons, also a wide range of bedding plants which produce pollen and, not forgetting spring flowering bulbs.

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Alan Harrison asks...

I had 3 Erysimum Bowles Mauve in my garden which have all died off.  I know they are short lived but they were only in for 2 seasons.  Can you recommend something similar longer lived to replace them?  My soil is mainly clay and the garden is south facing.

Bill replies...

Erysimum Bowles Mauve Alan is a beautiful free flowering perennial plant but as you have stated it is short lived and seems to only survive for two to three years.  An alternative which you could try is Tradescantia Virginiana which is a lovely border plant and will produce an abundance of purple and blue flowers throughout the summer period.  There are also the hardy Geraniums which produce an abundance of flowers throughout the spring/summer time and will tolerate a wide range of soils. Penstemon which come in an abundance of colours and are becoming very popular again, Heucheras which again produce flowers throughout the summer and, you may also wish to try the autumn flowering Rudbeckia which produces masses of yellow flowers and are very easy to grow.

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Caroline Proud asks...

We recently moved to this area and are South facing, about 20 metres from the sea (Firth of the Fourth) and very prone to windy conditions.  Our house dates back to the 1920's and has little or no top soil in the garden.  I would like to create an exotic garden comprising of Cordylines, Yuccas etc and would like your advice on the following points.

1. Can all these plants be successfully grown in containers to maturity?
2. What is the best soil mix?
3. How often should they be repotted?
4. With what and how often should I feed them?

Bill replies...

There are Caroline very large planters and containers available which would enable you to grow architectural plants such as Cordylines, Yuccas and I would also include Phormium Tenax (New Zealand Flax) which is very resistant to windy conditions.  For a soil mix I would use a soil base mixture and with the amount of compost which you will need rather than purchasing a brand compost you could mix your own medium using three parts good quality top soil, one part well rotted manure or peat, one part sharp grit sand and adding a base fertiliser such as Vitax Q4 which contains trace elements.  With regard to repotting if you are starting with small plants when these become pot bound they can then be repotted into larger containers and this should be carried out during spring/early summer and again, when the plants are large enough can be repotted into their final containers. Your plants will need regular feeding during the growing season and I would top dress with a base fertiliser such as Vitax Q4 or Fish Blood and Bone Meal.

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Carolyn West asks...

I was devastated to return from work and find that my immediate neighbours had cut down the weeping willow that hung beautifully over our pond and decking area (I was weeping more than the willow!) After reading your informative site I now understand their reasons for doing so (risk to their drainage). However I'm left with a gaping hole, a bare pond and an exposed decking area.

I'm now desperate to fill this gap. Please can you offer me some ideas of alternative trees to plant (preferably fast growing). We have the space for large varieties. Also am I right to assume all willows are a 'no-go'?

Bill replies...

The Weeping Willow which your neighbour cut down Carolyn was most probably the Golden Weeping Willow (Salix Chrysocoma or Salix Babylonica) and neither of these species are suitable for a modest sized garden and the roots are also very invasive.  There are however other varieties of Salix which you could grow - the American Weeping Willow will grow to a height of fifteen feet and the Kilmarnock Willow (Salix Caprea Pendula) will grow to a height of approximately ten feet.  Also there is also the Weeping Birch (Betula Pendula Yungii) which is a beautiful tree.  And, if you require something slightly larger there are Sorbus tree species which will grow from fifteen to twenty five feet.

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Jacqueline Snowball asks...

I am going to plant several 3 to 4ft hardy fuchsias in bare ground and am looking for something to fill in between them to show them off. They will be in half sun, sheltered, fairly light neutral to slightly acidic soil. I have had a good look through your Q&A's and have tried several plantfinder websites. One plant recommended by Dr Hessayon which is Stephanandra S. incisa (s.flexuosa) I can't find anywhere. Have you any ideas?

Bill replies...

Stephanandri Incisa Jacqueline which Dr Hessayon has recommended is a shrub which grows to approximately six foot in height with a similar spread and will produce tiny white flowers in the summer time but I am just wondering whether this shrub will be too large for your needs and if you just require plants to cover your bare soil the perennial Violas would be fine and also ground cover plants such as Saxifrages, Sedums and the Silenes (Campions).  Also, there is the Flowering Thymes which are ideal as ground cover plants.  If you require plants which are slightly larger you could try perennials such as Lupins, Geums and Heucheras of which there are numerous varieties and all these plants can be easily obtained for Garden Nurseries and Garden Centres.

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Sally & Jill ask...

My father recently passed away and my sister and I would like to put his ashes in a tub with a flowering shrub.  Please could you help us?  We would rather not have a rose.

Bill replies...

There are quite a number of dwarf flowering Azaleas and Rhododendrons which would be ideal for growing in a container Sally/Jill.   Also the shrub Deutzia which produces masses of small pinkish flowers early June time and there is also the yellow flowering Hypericum Hidcote which produces masses of flowers during the summer months.  In a large tub you could also plant Camellias and popular varieties are Donation, Apollo and a white flowering excellent variety is Alba Simplex.  If however you prefer a small tree there is the Japanese Maples such as Acer Palmaum Dissectum Atropurpureum and the yellow leafed Acer Japonica Aureum.

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April asks...

At the bottom of our garden there is a low stone wall, beyond that a pavement and road.  I would like to plant a small tree about 1.5m from the wall, but I am worried about whether this will cause cracks in the wall and/or pavement.  Please could you advise me?  My husband would like to plant a Rowan tree – are there any varieties which are small enough?  I think we have quite wet soil because there’s lots of moss on the lawn.  It’s a thin layer of topsoil with lots of rubble underneath.

Bill replies...

The common Rowan tree  (Sorbus Aucuparia) will grow to a height of twenty five feet April and will be too large for where you intend planting.  There is a smaller variety - Sorbus Fastigiata - which has a column like growth and will grow to approximately fifteen feet.  Other trees which you could use are the ornamental flowering Crab Apples and the named varieties are grown onto a half standard root stock and popular varieties are John Downy and also Golden Hornet which produces white flowers and golden fruit and is ideal for small gardens.  If you have poor quality soil you may be better growing flowering shrubs and the one which I would recommend is the Mock Orange (Philadelphus) which produces wonderful scented flowers in the summer and will reach a height of ten feet.

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Heather Hall asks...

I have a north east facing front garden part laid to lawn with very deep flower beds accommodating three large and very mature shrubs, which I am told are Hypericum, Burberis and another that has flowers that resemble hanging raspberries. I would like to make the garden low maintenance and preferably replace the lawn with gravel. Can you please recommend plants that will survive in this north facing site that will sit with the existing plants. The soil is heavy clay and I would like the garden to have a contemporary feel.

Bill replies...

If you are going to replace your lawn with a gravel I would firstly cover your soil with a polypropylene ground cover product which will ensure that no weeds protrude through your gravelled area and, you can cut through the ground cover to plant your trees and shrubs.  You say that you would like a contemporary feel to your garden and, this can be achieved by using architectural plants such as: Mahonia Aquifolium and the variety Charity is an excellent species - Acanthus Spinosus (Bears Breeches) - Phormium Tenax (New Zealand Flax) - also variety of Ferns would be ideal for your north facing garden and I would also recommend some Hostas species in containers.  To bring colour to the garden during the winter months you could plant variegated Hollies such as Golden King and Golden Queen and again, to keep the contemporary feel you could plant Corrylus Contorta.  It would also be worthwhile incorporating artefacts such as driftwood and large stones.

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Louise asks...

I am a beginner to gardening and would like to plant some trees in my garden for some shade and some privacy from the windows that overlook from either side.  I love blossom and would like to know if I could plant a dwarf cherry blossom near a fence.  Alternatively could you suggest some other trees to plant?

Bill replies...

If you only require a dwarf Cherry Tree near your fence Louise I would suggest the dwarf flowering Almond which will grow to approximately three to four feet.  There are also the Weeping Cherries which would be ideal for a small garden and if you prefer flowering trees I would suggest the flowering Crab Apples, varieties such as John Downey produces beautiful white flowers and large conical fruits and the variety Golden Hornet which again produces white flowers and golden fruits.  There is also the Laburnum Tree and the ornamental Weeping Pear (Pyrus Salicifolia Pendula).  You could also intermingle with evergreen shrubs such as Camellias and Rhododendrons.

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Mac Daniels asks...

We have a small piece of land alongside a brook which tends to be soft underfoot and in places it can get waterlogged (fed by natural streams). The land is already outlined by Ash trees and we'd like to plant some other trees to give colour, food for wildlife, ground cover, interest etc. What would you recommend and could it include Golden Alder?

Bill replies...

Alders are useful trees Mac for growing in boggy and water logged conditions and are often seen growing along river sides.  I would grow the common Alder (Alnus Glutinosa) but you can also grow the golden leaf Alder (Alnus Glutinosa Aurea).  There are also the White Willows (Salix Alba, Vitellina and Salix Lanata).  I would also try some established bog plants such as the Astilbes, Aruncus, the large leafed Gunnera, Candelabra Primroses, Trollius and the large leafed ornamental Rhubarb (Rheum).

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Karen Gillett asks...

I am not an experienced gardener.  We have recently taken down some rotting trees and have discovered a small area at the front of our house that is basically unsightly rocks.  Our plan is to turn it into a rockery but we are clueless as to how to do this.  There is very little actual soil but what there is in our area tends to be clay.  How should we go about transforming this area and what low-maintenance plants would work well?

Bill replies...

What I would suggest you do Karen is to buy two/three bags of a soil based compost (John Innes No 1 or 2 would be ideal) and I would mix with the compost approximately 20% sharpe grit sand.  Then place small amounts of the compost into the crevices where you wish to plant your rockery plants.  There are numerous rockery plants that can be used and listed below is a selection of the species which are easy to grow.
       Sempervivum (House Leek)        Saxifrage Species        Sedum Species        Lithospermum (Heavenly Blue)        Campanula Species        Veronica (Alpine Species)

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Michael Dearnley asks...

I have a laburnum in my front garden which has done nothing very much this year - very little blossom or foliage - I've been told that laburnum's have a comparatively short life-span compared to many other trees.  Can you tell me how I might know when the tree is ready for replacement or whether it's just been a bad year and I should stick with it?

I live in St Annes on what would have been sand-dune until it was levelled a hundred or so years ago for housing development.  As you can imagine my soild is well-drained with all the problems that this brings with it.  I wonder if you would be able to suggest trees (and other plants) which might suit this thin, dry, inhospitable soil?

Bill replies...

On the question of your Laburnum Tree producing very little flowers this year Michael - this does happen from time to time - and the main reason being a check in growing conditions For example adverse weather conditions such as a very dry summer and vice versa during a very wet summer: the shoots may not have ripened causing fewer flower bud formation.  On the question regarding the life span of your Laburnum  I have had a Laburnum in my back garden for  40 years and although the amount of blossom varies from year to year it is still looking healthy and actively growing.

In answer to your question regarding your very sandy soil I would recommend incorporating as much organic material (farmyard manure) into your soil  This will not only improve the texture of the soil but will also help to retain the moisture.  On the question of plants for your garden I am listing below  trees/shrubs/perennials and bedding plants which will tolerate dry soil conditions.

Trees/Shrubs:    Senecio, Tamarix, Deutzia, Euronymus and Buddleia

Perennials:          Eryngium, Stipa, Rudbeckia and Nepeta

Alpines/Bedding  Sedum, Arabis, Achillea, Pelargonium, Portulaca and Scabiosa
Plants:

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R. Smith asks...

I'm after some shrubs for very boggy soil, have you any suggestions?

Bill replies...

There are numerous plants which love wet conditions.  The tallest species I would recommend are the Phormiums (New Zealand Flax) the magnificant Gunnera Manicata - Flag Iris - and the bronzed leafed Rodgersia Podophylla.  I would also plant some Primula Candelabra - Astilbes - the small Primula Rosea - Bull Rushes - Ajuga - Lobelia Fungens - to name but a few.

The majority of bog plants are better planted during spring and the plants mentioned above will encourage insects, birds and wildlife to your garden.

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Mrs Birt asks...

I need a fast growing wall plant, could you please give me some idea?

Bill replies...

There are numerous plants you can choose from Mrs Birt and I will suggest some which are self clinging - a couple of vigorous Clematis - and some climbers which will need fastening to the wall.

Self Clinging:      Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus Tricuspidata) Decidous .
                         The leaves are green in the summer and turn to crimson
                         in the autumn.

                         Hydrangea Petiolaris - Decidous.
                         Produces beautiful white flower heads through the summer
                         months and is happy in sun or shade.

                         Hedera Helix (Ivy) - Evergreen - Variety Goldheart
                         It has rich green edged leaves which are enhanced by a splash
                         of gold in the centre.

Clematis:           Clematis Montana Rubra
                         Produces beautiful pink flowers early spring/summer.
                         Very vigorous.

                         Clematis The President
                         A very old variety produces violet flowers early summer.

Climbers:           Jasminum Nudiflorum
                         Poduces yellow flowers on green stems through the winter
                         months

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Michelle asks...

I would like to grow some plants on my yacht which is kept in coastal waters.  Do you have any suggestions?

Bill replies...

Many thanks for your question Michelle and although I have no experience of growing plants on Yachts I am going to suggest for you species which grow in coastal areas.  I feel it would be worthwhile to try a trough or shallow container with a selection of Alpine plants.  The plants I would try are:  Sempervivum (House Leak); Sedum Spathulifolium; Viola Carnuta; Achillea; Pulsatilla Vulgaris and Draba Aizaides. These Alpines will need an open gritty compost.  I would also suggest trying herbs in another container and there are quite a number of different types of Mints, plus Thyme and, also by itself in a small pot I would suggest Rosemary.  If you wish to try one/two architectural plants I would suggest the dwarf variegated Yucca Filimontosa and the variegated Phormium Tenax (New Zealand Flax).  Also to add colour during the summer months I would try one/two containers with bedding plants - Portulaca Grandiflora is a tough annual and grows well near the coast and I would also try Begonias and one or two Pelargoniums.

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Karen Blackburn asks...

We are novice gardeners with a south facing garden, please could you recommend some evergreen perennials?

Bill replies...

With your garden facing South Karen there is such a wide choice of plants for you to use and I would try and balance your garden by using a range of evergreen and deciduous shrubs - climbing plants and also your perennials.  For climbing plants I would suggest Clematis Armandi which loves a south facing aspect and the flowers are highly scented.  If you wish colour in the winter months I would use the evergreen wall shrub Jasmine Uniflorum which produces a mass of yellow flowers.  There is also a wide range of climbing roses which will love the southerly aspect.

If you like Architectural Plants and you have a large garden I would plant Yucca Gloriosa and the Pampas Grass.  There are numerous shrubs and perennials that you can use  and I am listing just a few below:

Euonymus Fortunei      
Artemesia (Variety Limelight)      
Thuya Rheingold      
Fuchsia Magnellica      
Lavender Species      
Cape Daisy      
Pentstenom Species      
Lupins      
Sedum Autumnalis      
Delphinium Species      
Red Hot Poker

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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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Julie Brown asks...

I would like a bright pretty coloured plant to live in my sunny bathroom, that my two young daughters would like. Any suggestions please?

Bill replies...

You will need to choose a plant which tolerate high humid conditions Julie and there are plants such as the indoor Kentia and Parlour Palm - the Maranta and also Calthea.  But, I would take a chance with the Codium - this plant has lovely multicoloured leaves and whilst it can be temperamental and fickle at times - it does enjoy humid conditions and once established would 'love' the bathroom.

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Claire asks...

We have just moved into a new house with a smallish (about 10m wide by about 8m deep) garden which we have laid to lawn for the children and plan to put a large climbing frame in the middle. I'd like to plant a tree in the top right hand corner, but it can't be too big or too spreading or it will get in the way of the climbing frame! The garden is fairly boggy and gets quite a bit of wind. I don't like acers, and don't want a cherry in case it attracts wasps: I was wondering about a silver birch but am concerned that it might get too big and unmanageable. Would a silver birch do in my garden and, if not, what else could you recommend?

Bill replies...

The Silver Birch Claire is quite a shallow rooted tree and would not be the ideal plant for a boggy garden.  There are however trees which you could plant such as the Alder - which loves a wet garden.  There is the Common Alder (Alnus Glutinosa) and there is the Golden Alder (Alnus Glutinosa Aurea) which as the name suggests has a beautiful golden leaf and will grow to approximately twelve feet.  You could also plant the Mountain Ash (Surbus Aucaparia) which will tolerate a wide range of soils.  And there is also the Laburnum Tree which again will tolerate a wide range of soils - but beware if you have children the seeds are poisonous.  Of the three trees named my personal choice would be the Golden Alder.

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Mary Dewhurst asks...

Can you suggest the best plants for all year colour to include in a small terrace garden facing east approx three miles west of Pendle Hill?

Bill replies...

There are quite a range of plants you can use Mary for all year round colour.  One of my favourites are the hardy Fuchsias which will give you masses of colour through the late summer months  - others shrubs which will give you colour early spring/summer are Weigela (Bristol Ruby) - Deutiza - Dwarf Cistus - Hypericum (Hidcote) and Viburnum Tinus.  For the winter period Viburnum Bodnatence (Charles Lamont) and Dawn are excellent varieties.

You can also use the spring flowering bulbs, herbaceous perennials such as Red Hot Porker - Pentstenoms - Lupins - Golden Rod and Coroepsis Varieties and there is also an abundance of bedding plants which will tolerate east facing conditions.

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Emma asks...

I have a small terrace on my roof.  It is small and narrow yet I have a few pots, which I enjoy greatly.  I would really appreciate some suggestions for striking wind-tolerant plants as many of the plants I have bought have died or are not doing well (I am also a novice gardener).  The spot is really windy and enjoys sun/partial shade.

Bill replies...

My immediate reaction to your question Emma is Alpine Plants - they love an open aspect and quite a number will tolerate harsh conditions - and you could plant quite a few in one of the alpine troughs which can be purchased from Garden Centres/DIY Stores - or better still it may be worthwhile looking around Builders Merchants for an old kitchen sink which make ideal alpine troughs.  Alpines need to be planted in a well drained soil with added sharp grit and you will also need to place at the bottom of the trough at least two to three inches of gravel or broken crocks for drainage.  Listed below are some alpine suitable for your trough:

             Chamaecyparis Obtusa Nana
             Juniperus Communis
             Saxifrage Species
             Sempervivum
             Armeria
             Sedum Spathulifolium

I would also plant a small container of dwarf Narcissus and the winter/spring flowering Viola.  Perhaps you could also try the hardy Fuschia (Magnellica) and the architectural plants Yucca Glauca and Yucca Gloriosa Variegata.

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Bill Lloyd asks...

Last year I planted a golden green fir tree next to a Juniper and unfortunately it died, I thought at first that it was wind burn. This year I grubbed it out including the soil around it and planted a Thuja Occidentalis, but unfortunately the same thing has happened and it has died. I also planted another Thuja at the side of that one and it has thrived very well. The trees form a natural screen along a section of boundary wall, and I would like to put something their that would survive. If you can suggest anything I would be most grateful.

Bill replies...

I would be inclined to plant another Juniper Bill - they are extremely hardy and will stand up to salt spray/adverse weather conditions. The two species I would recommend are Juniper Chinensis Pyramidalis which is a slow growing Conifer and will reach the height of approximately five to six feet.  The second species is Juniper Virginiana Sky Rocket which is a narrow erect Conifer wit blue foliage.  I would not replant this time of year but wait until early Spring - let the Garden Centres look after them during the winter months!

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Carol Riddoch asks...

I have just lost a beautiful blue hanging shrub. Could you recommend one to take its place. And when should I plant it?

Bill replies...

If you have quite a large garden Carol I would recommend the ever popular butterfly bush Buddleia Davidii which has beautiful spiked flowers and includes the Empire Blue and also the very deep purple Black Knight varieties.  Another large flowering shrub which produces an abundance of yellow flowers throughout the summer and autumn is Hypericum Hidcote.  And, there is also the hardy Fuchsia variety Magellanica.

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Nicola Mills asks...

I have a large Eucalyptus Tree in my garden, and it's difficult to get anything to survive for long planted in the same area. I was wondering if it has an adverse effect on other plants, and if there were any that might thrive underneath it?

Bill replies...

It is very difficult to establish any plants under tree canopies and the Eucalyptus Tree with its vigorous root system is no exception.  Therefore, you have to choose plant species which can survive in shade and also very dry conditions and I have listed below some plant species Nicola which hopefully will survive, but you should ensure that these plants are grown in containers or pots and well established before transplanting under your Eucalyptus and you will also need to ensure that they are keep well watered until well established.

If you require ground cover plants I would recommend Vinca Minor, Vinca Major (Periwinckle) and Hedra Caneriansis (Ivy).  Shrubs:  Eleagnus Ebbingei, Hypericum, Alchimilla Mollis, Osmanthus and Gaultheria.

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Quentin Smallpage asks...

This year I planted an area with perennials and shrubs such as geraniums (Johnsons Blue) and cistus. After a promising start I was disappointed at the lack of flowering.
Would this be due to a nearby sycamore tree producing a large shadow, or other factors such as feeding and watering?

Bill replies...

As well as shading your garden Quentin the Sycamore Trees will also be taking nutrients and water from the soil and during the spring and summer months you will need to regularly feed and water your perennial plants.  If your plants are growing in deep shade this will also be a factor for your perennials/shrubs not producing many blooms and I have listed below a few species which tolerate shaded conditions.

       Hellaborus Nigra
       Digitalis Lutea
       Geranium Maculatum
       Campanula Latifolio
       Geranium Endressi.

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Iola asks...

I would like to plant a Laburnum arch in my small garden, consisting of two trees, making a narrow arch giving height and depth to the garden. I have had metal arches so far but they have a very short lifespan, so I am contemplating a live one, Is this a possibility?; Would it need an arch for support?; and how long would it take before they flowered?

Bill replies...

Laburnum Trees are ideal for archways Iola and Laburnum Vossi is a very good variety to use.  I feel that you are going to need to use an archway to support your Laburnums as it will be far easier to train your trees this way.  You mention metal archways but you can now buy plastic archways which will last longer.  Regarding flowering, if you buy two reasonable sized trees they will produce flowers the following year if not in the same year.

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Paul Bentley asks...

Can you recommend a good climbing plant which will spread along my fence panels but can withstand the strong sea gales I get regularly by the coast (Blackpool). I have tried a Russian vine and clematis but these haven't survived. 

Bill replies...

There are a number of shrubs which will tolerate seaside conditions Paul but I am afraid not many climbers.  You mention Clematis which did not survive but, in some respects this will depend on what variety you planted.  I would have thought that the tough Clematis Montana would have survived the Blackpool Gales but if this was the variety which you planted I would suggest that you try Rosa Ragusa which is a vigorous rose which can be trained along your fence.  I still feel that it would be worthwhile to plant shrubs which will tolerate seaside conditions and the shrubs I would recommend are:  Tamarix (varieties Gallica or Tetrandra) Fuchsia Magellanica and Hippophae (the sea buck thorn).

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Dianne Pearce asks...

My neighbour has erected a double garage on our boundary, made of cedar.  I would like to grow an evergreen climbing plant to disguise it.  It would be in the shade do you have any bright ideas?  I have dismissed leylandi suggested by my husband!

Bill replies...

With your garden being in the shade Dianne the hedging evergreen shrub I would recommend to conceal the garage is the common Laurel which is Prunus Laurocerasus, this is a more vigorous grower than the Portuguese Laurel.  You could also plant in the shaded area one or two Holly Trees, a male and female will ensure you have berries during the winter.  If you intend to use a self climber to grow up the side of the garage I would use Ivy and the varieties I would suggest are the vigorous species Hedera Hibernica or the varigated Ivy Hedera Helix Goldheart.

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Tom Parrington asks...

What plants will survive and flourish in a shady position beneath broad leafed trees and close to an east facing wall? The soil is light and sandy.

Bill replies...

It is not easy for plants to survive under trees Tom especially in very light sandy soils and also living in St Anne's there will be the added problem of salt spray.  To stand any chance of success you will need to plant established container grown plants and before planting - with your soil being very sandy - I would incorporate plenty of organic materials/manure which will assist in retaining the moisture.  Listed below are plants which, hopefully, will survive the arid conditions:

Cotoneaster Horizontalis, Periwinkle (Vincamajor and Vincaminor), Ajuga (Bugle Plant) Hedra Species, Pachysandra and Pernettya Mucronata.

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Thelma Brown asks...

I have a graveled front garden and would like a reasonable sized plant in a pot. It is open to all the wind rain and in summer gets the sun for most of the day. I have tried a yucca with moderate success and an acer but had to move it to the back in more sheltered place.

Bill replies...

One shrub which I have in my garden in a container Thelma which is situated in a very exposed area is Hypericum Hidcote which produces every year a mass of yellow flowers and if grows too large can be pruned back.  Other shrubs which are very hardy and will grow in containers are Fuchsia Magnellica, Viburnum Tinus and Viburnum Daviddi.  Berberis species also grow well in containers.

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Pat asks...

I need to cover an extremely large ugly grey concrete wall .. about 25ft x 25ft. Please can you help?! Love your site. Many thanks. Also what is the fastest growing conifer?

Bill replies...

You are going to need an evergreen climbing plant Pat and I am going to recommend two varieties of Ivy which are very vigorous and also self clinging.  Hedera Colchica (Sulphur Heart) the coloured leafed Persian Ivy - Hedera Colchica (Dentata) the greened leafed Persian Ivy.  Also, I am going to recommend two deciduous self climbers - Hydrangea Petiolaris which produces an abundance of white flowers throughout the summer months.  Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus Tricuspidata) a vigorous climbing plant which produces wonderful red tinted leaves in the Autumn.

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Julie Stulemeyer asks...

I am looking for a conifer for screening, but not very bushy. I fancy the Juniper sky rocket conifer. 1. Would these be okay planted into tubs, or do they do better in the ground? 2. We get very windy weather and quite a bit of snow, would these be affected by these conditions? 3. How fast and tall do they grow? Thanks

Bill replies...

Juniper Sky Rocket is a beautiful conifer Julie, its blue grey foliage and pencil like form makes it an ideal specimen.  Junipers are hardier than most conifers and will tolerate harsh conditions but, like most conifers they do suffer from wind scorch but I am sure that they will tolerate snow conditions.  Sky Rocket is a slow growing Juniper and will be fine in tubs providing you keep them well watered in the summer months and apply fertiliser regularly.  However, if your soil is in quite good condition you would be far better planting in the ground.  Regarding how fast and tall they will grow it should take approximately 8 to 10 years to reach a height of 6 to 7 feet and, they will grow approximately to 15 feet tall.

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Jeanette asks...

I live in the north east of Scotland and I want to plant a line of shrubs to act as a wind barrier, not too tall as there is a beautifull view, which will give me year long intrest but be hardy enough to survive very strong winds.   

Bill replies...

It is not going to be easy to establish the shrubs Jeanette and I would start March/April time when the worst of the winter weather should be behind us.  I have listed below some shrubs which will tolerate very windy conditions and help to create a barrier.

Hypophae Rhamnoides (Sea Buckthorn), Ulex Europas (Gorse), Olearia Haasti, Eleagnus Ebbingii, Tamarix Tetrada and Viburnum Opulus.

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Nicola Herbert asks...

What would be a good climber or tall shrub to cover some trellis which is close to a tree so is dry and in deep shade?

Bill replies...

If you want an evergreen shrub Nicola which will climb I would choose Euonymus Fortunei Radicans.  Two other shrubs which will tolerate shady conditions are the Holly Ilex Aquifolium and the Laurel Prunus Laurocerasus.

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Susan Shorter asks...

We have a small front garden, and I would like to grow a tree in a container to keep it small, it is fairly open to the weather but gets lots of sunshine?

Bill replies...

There are a number of trees and shrubs Susan which are quite happy growing in containers and in a sunny position providing, that they receive an adequate supply of water and nutrients throughout the summer months.  Listed below species which are happy growing in containers:

Betula Pendula variety Youngii (Weeping Birch), Juniper (variety Sky Rocket), Standard Cotoneaster Salicifolia, Forsythia Lynwood Gold Standard and Standard Buddleia Alternifolia.

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Carole Hampton asks...

I am looking for a cotoneaster that would grow against a wall, I have seen one with yellow berries but cannot find its name or alternatively an evergreen cotoneaster with very small glossy leaves and red berries.

Bill replies...

The most popular Cotoneaster which clings to the wall and produces masses of berries is Conteneaster Horizontalis but unfortunately Carole this variety is deciduous.  You mention a yellow berried Conteneaster and the variety is Contoneaster Rothschildianus but is not an ideal variety for growing against a wall and you may be better choosing Pyracantha rather than Cononeaster.  The varieties I would recommend are Orange Glow and Atalantioides Aurea which produces yellow berries.

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Matthew Green asks...

I am looking for a tree with the shape of a golden willow but only half the size, suitable for a garden. Can you help me to identify one please?

Bill replies...

One of my favourite weeping trees Matthew is the Silver Birch and the variety I would recommend is Betula Youngii and another beautiful tree is the Falca Acacia (Robinia) but the variety I would choose is Frisia which has beautiful yellow golden foliage and will grow to approximately 25 feet.  There is also the range of Sorbus (Mountain Ash) and Sorbus Aucuparia which again will grow to approximately 25 feet and for a small garden I would choose Sorbus Hostii which will grow to approximately 12 to 15 feet.

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Alan James asks...

Friend of mine was assured that the stone delivered for his garden was white stone I say it is limestone.   What plants/bushes can he plant with it being limestone?

Bill replies...

There are quite a number of Alpines which will grow in a limey soil Alan and there are also popular shrubs such as Deutzia, Ceanothus, Viburnum Tinus and Berberis Darwinii. Trees which will also grow in a limey soil include Acer Negunda, Crateguas and Robinia Pseudoacia Frisia and, if you require climbing plants I would suggest the Passion Flower or Wisteria Sinensis.

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Gek Starkey asks...

Can you please suggest evergreen container plants that are suitable for screening purposes?  I currently have bamboos but it looks like they are in bloom and therefore, might lose them.

Bill replies...

One of my favourite evergreen shrubs Gek is Berberis Darwinii which has a beautiful shinny foliage and produces a mass of orange/yellow flowers early Spring time.  Another evergreen shrub is the varigated Euonymus Fortunei and there is also the Phormiums which are beautiful architectural plants and grow well in containers. Bay Tree (Lauris Noblis), Buxus Sempervirens and Juniper Sky Rocket will also provide contrasting plants for your screen.

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Margaret Thompson asks...

I have a north facing, sheltered, light but sunless border. What flowering plants will grow well there?

Bill replies...

I have listed below flowering plants which will tolerate a north facing aspect Margaret and I hope you will find these useful. 

Summer Bedding Plants: Begonias non stop series - Impatiens (Busy Lizzies) - Ageratum

Flowering Shrubs: Camellias - Rhododendron - Pieris Japonica - Hardy Fuchsia

A number of roses will tolerate a north facing aspect also Primroses and Peony Lutea.

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Susan Marcer asks...

We have just replaced a very long hedge with a fence. Our garden soil is dry and sandy. l have dug some well rotted manure in. Could you suggest some climbers and shrubs that would thrive? The fence faces North East, is slatted and we are 850ft above sea level. The garden is quite sheltered. Thank you.

Bill replies...

It is not going to be easy Susan for you to establish shrubs and climbers at such a high altitude and also with your garden being North facing but, with the garden being sheltered this will help immensely to establish your shrubs.  Digging in plenty of well rotted manure into your sandy soil will not only supply nutrients but will also help to retain moisture and, I have listed below some species which I hope you will find beneficial:

Shrubs:  Potentilla Fruticosa - Santolina - Tamarix - Hypericum - Buddlea Davidii - Hippophae Rhamnoides -
              Hardy Fuchsias - Sambucus Nigra

Climbing Plants:  Hydrangea Petiolaris - Lonicera Hallina

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Gerry asks...

I would like some ideas for a container plant that is quite fast growing, evergreen and likes windy conditions also to use as a hedge or screen, as I am quite overlooked by neighbours. Thanks

Bill replies...

Quite a number of Conifers such as Leylandii are quick growing Gerry but, they do suffer from wind scorch damage and I am going to recommend some shrubs which can be used as a screen but will tolerate exposed sites.

Eleagnus Pungens Maculata (Variegated Foliage) - Eleagnus Ebbingi (Plain Leaves) - Sea Buckthorne (Hippophae) and you will need male/female species for any berries to be produced on the female - Berberris Darwini (beautiful orange flowers late spring).

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Roland and Mary ask...

What kind of garden plants and shrubs would you recommend for an exposed wet and windy area for a house located beside a sea inlet?

Bill replies...

Under the conditions which you describe Roland/Mary you will need to try and create a barrier with trees and shrubs which will tolerate wet/salt spray and windy conditions and will also protect other shrubs that you intend to plant.  This is not an easy task but I have listed below the names of trees/shrubs which will tolerate these conditions.

Trees:
Tamarix Tetrandra, Salix Caprea, Sea Holly (Hippophae Rhamnoides) Ilex Aquifolium

Shrubs:
Olearia Haastii, Ulex Europaeus, Eleagnus Ebbingei, Rosa Rugosa, Griselinia Littoralis

I hope that you are successful with these trees and shrubs.

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Michael Clarke asks...

I need a plant that is hardy evergreen, grows well in the shade and dry conditions, close to a wall with good coverage and with a maximum height of three feet. Please can you help me? Oh, and not too expensive to buy if that's possible please.

Bill replies...

The dry conditions do limit the choice of plants Michael but listed below are varieties of shrubs/perennials which are resistant to dry and shady conditions.

Aucuba Japonica - Kerria Japonica - Golden Guinie - Asplenium Scolopendrium (Hardy Fern) and Iris Foetidissima (Perennial Stripped Evergreen leaves)

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John Evans asks...

I have a north facing border which I would like to plant out with colourful plants. Please could you advise which plants are suitable.

Bill replies...

Quite a number of early flowering shrubs such as Camellias, Rhododendrons and Azaleas will grow in a North Facing Border John and I have also listed below other shrubs and perennials which will also be suitable.

Bergenia - Hardy Fuchsias - Hostas - Hardy Ferns - Euonymus Fortunii and Pulminaria

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Paul Johnson asks...

I have a 15 year old eucalyptus tree, what can I grow under it, I want to bank up soil around the trunk, about 6", the lawn grows under it as does mint, but has become undulating and bumpy. It's a sunny site very well drained soil, over a sand base.

Bill replies...

It is not going to be easy Paul but I have listed below a selection of plants which will tolerate a very sandy and well drained soil.  I suggest that you use container grown plants and also, if possible, to work into your soil some well rotted manure which will assist in retaining the moisture.

Listed Plants:  Potentilla Fruticosa (a hardy shrub which produces yellow flowers during the summer time)
                      Lavenders - Santolina (Cotton Wood Lavender)
                      Artemesia (Limelight - variegated foliage)
                      Genista Hispanica
                      Echinops (Toplaw Blue)
                      Oenothera Macrocarpa

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Neve asks...

I have 30 feet of south facing fence directly alongside the back windows of my south facing bungalow that have nothing growing against them at the moment, so my bedroom overlooks 6 bare panel fences, however the rest of the garden has plenty of trees and shrubs.  I would love to grow some form of screening that would grow to approx. 10ft tall to hide my neighbour's drive that's behind this fence.  There has been subsidence in the past to this side of the house from trees in neighbouring gardens so can you suggest something that won't cause this problem to happen again please.  It is a very sheltered, very sunny position in clay soil.

Bill replies...

Listed below are some evergreen and deciduous shrubs which assist in screening your neighbour's driveway and also bring colour to your garden.

Berberis Darwinii (produces beautiful orange flowers early springtime),  Ceanothus (California Lilac), Camellia Japonica Elegans, Buddlea Davidii, Forsythia Lynwood Gold, Cotoneaster (Lacteus or Simonsii).

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Allan Hardy asks...

I am trying to seek / buy some mature trees for screening purposes, approx 70 across the back of my garden which is approx 100ft in length. I am told that Leylandii is best as I am overlooked by three storey apartments another 100 ft away from my back garden wall. Where in the Lancs region can I purchase about 6 to 8 3 to 4 metre trees? Also the cheapest options for purchase such as wholesale location etc?

Bill replies...

You will obviously require an evergreen tree and Leylandii is quick growing and seems the obvious choice but Allan it does suffer from wind scorch damage and living near the coast you will also have the added problem of salt spray and it may therefore be worth considering growing Laurels - the Cherry Laurel (Prunus Laurocerasus) or the Portuguese Laurel (Prunus Lusitanica).  Regarding where to purchase the trees I would contact your local authority who will have wholesale tree suppliers who they will deal with in your area.

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Kathie Hunter asks...

I have a South Western facing border to my garden which currently has some small plants in it.  I'd really like to plant some taller things there to give us more privacy and shade but the border is over a large drain pipe about 2 foot beneath the surface and I worry about invasive roots from trees etc especially since our soil is clay and dries out quickly in hot weather.  I've planted a camelia which I heard has fibrous roots, but can you recommend any other tall plants that would give us a taller, thicker border?  I'd really like to avoid putting up fencing if at all possible.

Bill replies...

Many thanks for your question Kathie regarding taller plants with fibrous roots for your garden and I list below some species which I hope you will find useful.

Verbascum Nigrum - Solidago (Golden Rod) - Tall Grass species Stipa Gigantica and Miscanthus - Mahonia Aquifoliun - Delphiniums and Acanthus Spinosa.

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Eleanor Whittle asks...

Hello Bill, we are erecting a pergola and would like suggestions for climbing plants to make it look attractive all the year round if possible. The problem is our garden is in a windy spot. Thanks

Bill replies...

It is going to be difficult to give colour throughout the year for your Pergola Eleanor especially if you are looking for flowering species.  There are however quite a number of climbers that you can use, if you like roses I would suggest the varieties Dublin Bay (which is a beautiful red), Golden Showers (which as the name suggests is a Golden Yellow), White Cloud and, also the Salmon Pink species Compassion. If you prefer more traditional climbers there are the Clematis Species and I would suggest the varieties The President (which flowers June to September) Jackmanii (which flowers July to October) the early flowering Clematis Alpina and the beautiful Ville De Lyon.  Other species which you could use are the Honeysuckle and I would suggest Lonicera Japonica - which is part evergreen and I you are looking for scented varieties I would choose Lonicera Periclymenum.  And, if you require a flowering winter evergreen I would suggest Jasmine Uniflorum also, there is the Passion Flower and Solanum Crispum.

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Pam Haslam asks...

Having returned from holiday found that my hanging baskets have not survived due to lack of water! Is it possible to replant them now (August) and if so what with? Thanks.

Bill replies...

You can replant your Hanging Baskets Pam with Autumn/Winter flowering Pansies which are now on sale in Garden Centres/Nurseries.  I would also interplant with one/two trailing Ivys and you can also use Autumn/Winter flowering Heathers and as a central plant I find the variegated ornamental grasses very attractive. And you can also interplant several dwarf daffodil bulbs which will give you colour early springtime.

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Katrina Costello asks...

We have just moved back to Ireland and now live right on the Altantic, where it's windy most of the time. We would like to use ground covering plants on a North-West facing bank (It's sheltered from wind somewhat by the house and in Summer it get a lot of the southern light) It's an area of about 18 feet X 10 feet. Have you some suggestions for what to grow. The soil is good and well drained..

Bill replies...

Many thanks for your question Katrina and I have listed below some Rockery and Ground Cover Plants which I hope you will find useful.

Rockery Plants:  Sedum Spathulifolium, Sempervivum, Viola Cornuta, Pulsatilla Vulgaris

Ground Cover Plants:  Rosmarinus Officinalis Prostrata, Calluna Vulgaris, Pernettia Prostrata, Hebe Pinquifolia.

I would use container grown plants and you will need to keep an eye in the watering until your plants are well established.

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Norma Harrop asks...

Please can you recommend a house plant that will tolerate a north facing bathroom with poor daylight?

Bill replies...

For a bathroom with poor daylight Norma I would recommend the glossy leafed foliage plant Philodendron Scandens which will tolerate the high humidity and low light intensity.  If you like ferns I would recommend the Asparagus Fern and there is also the fall back of ornamental Ivys.  The Weeping Fig also tolerates bathroom conditions.

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Sue asks...

I have a small patio area that I would like to grow climbers on, however I do not have any soil around the area, can I grow climbers in pots and what do suggest?

Bill replies...

There are quite a number of climbers which will grow happily in large containers Sue.  Over the summer months you can grow Sweet Peas to give you instant colour - Climbing Roses - Clematis (one variety I particularly like is Niobi) and if you require evergreen plants there is a wide range of Ivys.  I would recommend using a soil base compost for your containers such as John Innes No 2 or No 3 and you will need to feed your climbers at regular intervals and ensure that you keep your plants well watered.

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Monica asks...

What tree can I plant in a tiny garden which grows no more that 12/15 ft high? Dont like those narrow column trees; do love autumn colours though.

Bill replies...

If you require a plant for autumn colour Monica and your garden is sheltered I would choose one of the Acer Palmatum Cultivars.  There are also the Magnolias and Stellata is reasonable dwarf variety.  The deciduous tree Amelanchier Grandi Flora will again give you autumn colour and also Prunus Serrula.

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Linda Llewellyn asks...

I live on a very windy corner plot at the top of a hill open to all elements, I would like to know of a large plant for a large container that is suitable for these conditions and a statement plant preferred.

Bill replies...

It is difficult for any archectural/statement plant to withstand very windy and exposed conditions but the one plant which will survive Linda in exposed conditiond and is used readily in coastal areas is the New Zealand Flax (Phormium Tenax).  This plant will grow to a height of approximately two metres in six to seven years.  Other plants which you could use - but are not as striking - are Chaenomeles Superba, Deutzia Hybrid, Tamarix Tetrandra and Viburnum Opulus.

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Louise asks...

The front garden of my house gets lots of wind and slugs/snails, but no sun. The grass is dreadfully boggy and full of moss. The soil is very poor and has clay in it. I am thinking of pebbling the whole thing. What dramatic looking plants will grow in this environment? The size is about 4 metres square.

Bill replies...

Before you start pebbling your Garden Louise there are quite a number of plants which tolerate damp and boggy conditions.  These are the Flag Iris, Candelabra Primulas, Astilbes, Cornus Alba Sibirica, Filipendula Rubra, Rodgersia Pinnata and Lobelia Queen Victoria.  If you decide to pebble your garden you are going to have to put at least nine to twelve inches of hard-core down before the pebbles otherwise they will just disappear in the bog garden.

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Lynn Pester asks...

My dad has grown Clivias for years successfully. Now however he is ill with dementia and I would like to ask you a few questions. The plants have buds but have not flowered and some buds are soft. Do they need repotting? Also what is the best food fertiliser to feed them?

Bill replies...

Clivias are beautiful 'old fashioned' houseplants Lynn but, will fail to produce flowers annually if kept in a very warm room especially over the winter months and, I am listing some cultivation tips which I hope you will find useful.

Keep the plants cool over the winter months - temperature approximately 40/50 f

Keep in a light position over the winter months but avoid direct sunlight over the summer period

Water occasionally over the winter period and moderately during the spring/summer time

Repotting: Clivias prefer to be 'pot bound' which encourages flowering and require repotting very occasionally and after flowering.

Feeding: I would feed approximately once a month during the spring/summer period with a high potash fertiliser.

The secret of success Lynn is do not overwater your plants

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PLANTING

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Christine Wright asks...

I have some young delphinium and penstemon plants that I bought mail order. Should I plant them straight into the border or would they be better potted on in a cold greenhouse over winter.

Bill replies...

If your plants are just small plug plants Christine I would be inclined to pot them on and keep them in a greenhouse until next Spring.  The main reason for keeping them in a greenhouse is that if you plant them out now the young plants could be decimated by slugs/snails and although the soil in gardens is still warm at the moment any sudden change in weather conditions could also be detrimental to the plants especially if they have not been completely hardened off.  Therefore leaving them in the greenhouse will ensure that they have hardened off and the plants will be larger and more sturdy by next Spring.

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Sonia asks...

Hello Bill, I've recently got into gardening, as I have my own house. I have a variety of plants and due to the frost and freezing temperatures, I followed the labels and put them in a greenhouse as directed. I went to cut back the dead leaves and flowers today and the soil was covered in a white mould. I've removed the soil with the mould, but I am wondering if there is anything else I can do to prevent it over the forthcoming winter months.

Bill replies...

I am assuming that your plants are in pots Sonia and therefore the main cause for mould to be growing on the soil surface is poor aeration and compaction of the soil - and the moist damp atmosphere in the cool greenhouse will also cause the spread of the mould.  You say you have removed the mould from the soil and what I would do now is to place a layer of course grit on top of the soil and this will help to alleviate the spread.  What you also need to do during the winter months is keep your plants on the dry side - do not over water.  If you are going to re-pot your plants in the Spring I would add ten to twenty per cent sharp grit to your potting compost - this will help to aerate the compost and soil compaction.

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Roy Gilmore asks...

I help out at a school with the veg garden, recently we were gifted 10 of each of, rowan, wild cherry and silver birch trees. Could you tell me the correct planting distances for these trees and any other basic things we should do? Many thanks

Bill replies...

The planting distance between trees Roy is determined by the height the trees are going to grow to and the types of trees you are planting and the planting distance is approximately half the height the trees will grow to.  The Rowans will grow up to ten to fifteen metres high - Wild Cherry (Prunus Avium) approximately ten to thirteen metres and, the Silver Birch fifteen metres plus.  For example if you plant a Silver Birch next to a Rowan you will need to calculate roughly to what height these two trees will grow and then divide by two.  At the early stages of growing this means that there is quite a gap between the trees but, you can also underplant with a range of shrubs such as Viburnums which will bridge the gaps.  If however you want to plant these three trees into a small woodland copse you will be able to plant at a closer distance

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Gloria Sharp asks...

Can I plant my tree fern in the garden is there any special conditions they need? It is in a pot at the moment

Bill replies...

You can plant your Tree Fern (Dicksonia Antarctica) in your garden Gloria providing that it is grown in the right conditions. Tree Ferns need to be planted in a slightly shady but sheltered spot - they cannot cope with windy conditions - and an ideal condition would be under the canopy of trees providing that it is not too shady.  They love humid conditions and during the summer months the main trunk and leaves will need to be sprayed over.  They will also need to be fed with a diluted liquid feed which can be watered through the top of the main trunk or as a folier feed around the trunk. They will need protection during the winter months.  If you cannot provide these conditions Tree Ferns are quite happy growing in containers.

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L Eccleston asks...

When is the best time to plant out my sweet pea seedlings?

Bill replies...

Sweet Peas are very hardy plants but if you have been growing your own seedlings plants on a kitchen windowsill or in a greenhouse they will need to be hardened off before they are planted out.  As you will be aware we are presently going through a very cold spell of weather (March) and I would be inclined to wait until this cold spell is over before hardening your peas off outside.  If your seedlings are two to three inches tall you can nip the growing shoot out - which will encourage side shoots from base level.

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Doug Brandwood asks...

I recently purchased some polyanthus plug plants which I potted on in my greenhouse when is the correct time to plant them out?

Bill replies...

I would wait until your Polyanthus plants are a reasonable size before planting in the garden Doug and with them being plug plants it will be early springtime before this can take place.  It is however important over the winter months to avoid over watering your plants as Polyanthus are very prone to rotting and damping off.

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Karen Clegg asks...

I have just laid some weed control fabric and topped with chipped bark. If I plant lupins and foxgloves will they be able to spread as I am worried they will not be able to? Can I put them in peat pots and plant into the chipped bark instead?

Bill replies...

You will find that with Lupins Karen you will be able to plant through the weed control fabric and providing that there is enough space for new young Lupin shoots to appear they will survive for many years.  With regard to Foxgloves, they are a biennial plant, which means that you will need to allow the Foxgloves to flower and produce seed.  The seeds will then be dispersed onto the soil and new plants will be produced but, the problem which you are facing is that the seedlings will not survive on the chipped bark and for this reason there is not point in planting your Foxgloves through the fabric.  You can however plant other herbaceous and shrubs using this method.

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Ros Burton asks...

We have a very old Mulberry tree in the garden which doesn't come into leaf until after all the other trees and almost looks dead in early spring. I would like to grow a winter/early spring flowering clematis (or anything early flowering) through it to brighten it up. Any suggestions please?

Bill replies...

The most popular spring flowering Clematis used for growing up trees Ros is Clematis Montana and the one I would recommend is Montana Rubra - which has pink flowers.  You could also use Honeysuckle and the semi evergreen variety Lonicera Japonica - which produces yellow flowers - is again very popular.

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PLANTS DYING OFF

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Sharron Quaile asks...

We have recently bought quite a large and bushy, very healthy looking, Fatsia Japonica which was thriving in the garden nursery. After acclimatising it in our well lit garage for 2 weeks before moving to a shady and sheltered spot in the garden, the leaves are now turning black. The new leaves look like they have shrivelled up and appear to have turned to mush. There is no yellowing of the leaves as yet, but it is looking very sorrowful. My partner also owned up to feeding it whilst residing in the garage with a powder feed. Do not know what this was? What has caused this blackening, and can we remedy it?

Bill replies...

I feel that the reason why the leaves on your Fatsia Japonica are turning black is the change in their climatic conditions and the sudden late hard frost since you have transferred your plant from the garage into your garden.   You will also find with Fatsias that this is a common occurrence with the leaves shrivelling and turning into mush and also to blacken.  You will need to cut these leaves back and during the summer months new healthy leaves will appear.  With regard to the powered feed which your partner has applied I am afraid I have no idea what the fertiliser could be but, depending on how much of this feed has been applied could also be a factor why the leaves have turned black.

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Ann Kingsland asks...

For the past three years I have been planting delphiniums. They flower and then die off - what can I do as I love this flower? I have a cottage garden.

Bill replies...

Delphiniums Ann do not like a very damp clay soil and if you have only planted small plants this could be the reason why they are damping off over the winter period.  The other problem which you will most probably be aware of is slugs and snails who love the young shoots of the Delphinium and it could well be that your plants have been eaten by the troublesome pests.  If this is the problem you will need to protect your Delphiniums.  It may be worthwhile planting your Delphiniums in large containers using a soil base compost such as John Innes No 2 as I am sure you will have more chance of success.

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Jo Harrison asks...

I have had a calamondin in a pot for several years, in and out of the house seasonally, producing masses of fruit (enough to make large quantities of marmalade), and always looking healthy and flowering well. I inadvertantly overwatered it in February (it was sitting in water I think for a while!) and now it is outside looking as if it is dying - leaves all yellow (not chlorotic) and the ones at the tips are orangey. Many of them dropped initially. I have given it a sequestrine? plant tonic as it has been watered with tap water, and have fed it regularly. I have also cut it back very slightly. I don't want to lose it as my children gave it to me. Help, please!

Bill replies...

I feel Jo that the reason why the leaves on your Calamondin have turned yellow is due to your plant sitting in water but I am sure that your plant will recover providing you do avoid over watering. Calamondins are far better slightly on the dry side especially during the winter months and, again at this time of year (April) you are far better watering with tepid water.  It is also important to try and keep the temperature at aproximately seven to ten degrees over the winter months and not to allow your greenhouse or conservatgory to be come too warm.  I am quite sure that your plant will recover and produce new leaves and as you will most probably be aware Calamondins are far better placed outside during the summer period.  I would use the specialist Cirtrus Food Feed which can be obtained from Garden Centres and whilst the plant is actively growing throughout the year you will need to feed approximately once a week during summer and approximately every two weeks during winter.  The important factor being is not to over water during the winter cycle.

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Matt asks...

I have four buxus ball plants in containers about 5ft high. Over the last 4 months the branches of the plant have started to lose leaves, creating bald patches of branches and becoming see-through losing its density! Do you know what's wrong and any solutions, please ASAP! Thanks.

Bill replies...

The losing of the leaves on your Buxus Ball plants Matt could quite easily have been caused by the adverse winter conditions over the past few months and I am afraid that there is also a fungal disease which is attacking box hedges and plants. This is also causing dieback of branches.  Over the winter period you are far better placing your plants in a sheltered position in the garden away from prevailing winds and in early springtime I would advise that you water your containers with a general liquid fertiliser to encourage new shoots to appear.

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Di Taylor asks...

I have Virginia creepers around my house for first time this year and they have grown well and have now turned red but many of the leaves are dying off. Is this normal or should I be doing something?

Bill replies...

Virginia Creepers are deciduous climbers Di but they do produce beautiful red autumn foliage before shedding their leaves and there is nothing for you to worry about.

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Leah Hyett asks...

My mother has a small lilac tree in the front garden. Most the leaves if not all of them have curled up brown edges, it has been like this for around 6 months.  The garden was done about 8 months ago, they had lining and gravel put down and also a large shading eucalyptus tree was removed. Could this be the cause of it or something else? Can anything be done to cure the tree?  Thank you for your help.

Bill replies...

I feel that the problem with your mother's Lilac Tree is linked to this year's very hot summer which has caused a number of trees leaves to brown and curl and to fall prematurely.  The problem could also have been caused by the contractors disturbing the roots of the Lilac Tree when redeveloping your mother's garden.  I am sure the tree will recover but when the tree comes into leaf next spring it is important that your mother keeps the tree well watered especially during the summer months.

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Katie Cordell asks...

We have a magnolia which we planted this summer as quite a mature bush. Its leaves are turning brown at the edges and withering and yet there appear to be more new shoots. Is this normal?

Bill replies...

The majority of Magnolias are deciduous trees Katie and at this time of year the leaves will turn brown and and start to fall.  The new swollen shoots that are left on the tree are the flower buds which will open early next spring.  With a newly planted Magnolia it is very important that you keep an eye on the watering during next spring and summer.

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Diane Lewis asks...

The leaves are unfurling on my hydrangea. Last year I had loads of leaf growth but no flowers it is in a 12" pot and is about 15" across and in height. With the forecast of bad weather next week what should I do with it and when/if/how should I prune it?

Bill replies...

With the leaves of your Hydrangea now unfurling Diane you will need to situate your pot in a sheltered spot in the garden.  With regard to pruning this year (early Springtime) you can cut back one or two of the straggly shoots to just above a pair of new leaves and if you already have plenty of new shoots these will form the flower buds and this year no hard pruning is required.  Hydrangeas are a very greedy plant and it is important that you feed and water regularly throughout the growing season.

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Ray Hamza asks...

I have two buxus ball tree plants of which one has started to brown from one side with no leaves. There has been no growth of new leaves for the past 2 years. Could you advise me what I could do.

Bill replies...

I have been told about quite a number of Ornamental Clip Box Plants which have suffered from brown leaves this year Ray.  This has been caused by the prevailing cold winter winds and is commonly known as leaf burn or leaf scorch.  Another problem with Box Plants is that there is a fungi disease which is also causing die back of some of the shoots but unfortunately there is nothing available on the market at the present time to cure the problem but it would be well worthwhile to give your Box Plants a boost by applying a general liquid fertiliser (approximately every two to three weeks) - this can be applied in a liquid form when you are watering your plants.

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L. Long asks...

Leaf curl in dwarf rhododendrons - 9 years old.  Sheltered this year from frost but under a large box tree. Will it survive?

Bill replies...

Rhododendrons will grow in dapple shade and also under the canopy of trees providing that it is not too shady and with your dwarf Rhododendrons being planted under a large Box Tree you will need to keep an eye on the watering and you will also need to feed at regular intervals.  I would also mulch around your Rhododendrons to avoid the roots drying out.

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Len Smith asks...

The leaf ends of my forrest flames have gone brown. How can I cure them? They are 3yrs old and are in very large pot.They have always flowered well before.

Bill replies...

The browning of the leaves on your Forest Flames Len could quite easily be wind scorch damage and this had happened to quite a large range of plants this year.  One of the main reasons being that we have had a very mild winter which has caused lush growth but we have also had some sharp frosts and cold cutting winds which has caused the scorching of the leaves.  Forest Flames do like to be situated in a dapple shady spot away from prevailing winds.

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Kath Bentley asks...

I bought a common lavender 4 yrs ago and planted it in a sunny position. 2nd yr I very lightly pruned it. 3rd yr I pruned it a bit harder, but not into hard wood.  It looks very healthy and has grown well but has never flowered. (it was too early to be flowering when I bought it)  What is the problem?

Bill replies...

I am not certain why your Lavender is not flowering Kath it could be down to the time of year when you actually hard pruned it and again in some respects it could be down to the recent weather conditions.  What I would suggest you do is not prune your Lavender until it has flowered which hopefully will happen next year.  Regarding feeding your plant I would just top dress around the base of your soil with a high potash base fertiliser which will encourage flowering.

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Vicki English asks...

I had an established passion flower which has decided to shrivel and die back over this winter.  It is still 'green' on the low stems - should I cut it back so it can regrow this season?  Or has it had it?  It is about 7 years old and is planted against a sunny fence on a west facing wall.  Please help as I would love it to flourish again!

Bill replies...

Passion Flowers Vicki are susceptible to frost damage and I would cut your Passion Flower down to the lower green stems and I am sure that it will start to shoot again.  It does help during the winter months to mulch around the base of the plant to protect the roots from frost damage.

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Louise Douse asks...

I bought a standard fuchsia which flowered well, but now the flowers keep dying before they open.

Bill replies...

The problem with the flowers dropping off your Fuchsia is down to the fluctuating weather conditions Louise.  If your Fuchsia is growing in a large container I would situate the container in a sheltered position and you will need - even taking into account the high rainfall - to keep an eye on the watering and you also need to regularly feed with a general liquid fertiliser which, again, will help to improve the flowering of your Fuchsia.  

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Audrey Montgomery asks...

I have a Fatsia Japonica which has grown outdoors for 5 years in a 15" plastic pot and which up until recently has looked a very healthy specimen. The leaves are now turning paler, some are yellowing and can be removed quite easily. If I use a feed what should I use and if I repot what type of potting compost is needed, also should I use a larger container?

Bill replies...

I would feed your plant with a general base fertiliser such as Fish Blood and Bone Meal or Vitax Q4 base fertiliser which also contains trace elements, and you will need to sprinkle approximately three to four ounces around the top of the pot.  The other alternative would be to liquid feed again, with a general balanced fertiliser.  Regarding repotting your plant I would use a soil base compost such as John Innes No 2 or No 3 and I would be inclined to repot into a larger container.

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Margaret asks...

I have a camellia bush 3 years old it has always had lovely glossy leaves and flower wonderfully every year. This year it is again full of buds and flowering BUT all the leaves are dropping off it has now very few leaves most of the leaves are patchy brown I have it in a pot approx 12 wide-18ins high I have it in the correct compost it does not appear to be pot bound. What can I do? I don't want to lose it as it has sentimental ties. Hope you can help. Thank you

Bill replies...

It is worth checking the soil of your Camellia plant Margaret to see if there are any soil borne pests - such as Vine Weevil Grubs - which do attack Camellias and can quite easily cause the leaves to drop.  If there are any grubs in the soil they will be pinkish white in colour and they will need to be destroyed.  It does seem quite drastic that suddenly all the leaves are dropping off but if your Camellia does produce new leaves it will be worthwhile to give your plant a feed with a general acid fertiliser.

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Sally asks...

My red camelia, of 6 years approx flowered well this year but now appears to be dying. Leaves are turning brown, buds drying and going brown on the plant, I have a pink and white one also, is there anything I can do to save the plant.  I'd appreciate your help.

Bill replies...

The browning of the buds is usually caused by frost or wind scorch damage Sally but, it can also be caused by the early morning sun burning the damp buds if your Camellias have been planted against an east facing wall.  I also feel that all your Camellia's will benefit from the application of an acid fertiliser and I would also keep an eye on the watering - it has been quite dry this Spring.  Again if your Camellias are growing in containers you will need to feed regularly and keep an eye on the watering.

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Deanna Webb asks...

I planted a Russian vine 3 months ago and it is growing well but now has started to lose its leaves.  They are becoming mottled and then turning brown and falling off - starting from the base of the plant. Many thanks for any help you may give.

Bill replies...

The Russian Vine (Polygonum Baldschuanicum) is often nicknamed the 'Mile A Minute Vine' because it is such a vigorous grower and will thrive in a wide range of soils and it is difficult to pinpoint why such a vigorous plant is losing its leaves Deanna. It may be worthwhile just checking around the base of the soil to see if there are any soil borne pests within the vicinity.  One which comes to mind is the grubs of the Vine Weevil which are pinkish white in colour and will be quarter to half an inch long.  The only other physical reason could be if your soil is waterlogged and this will cause a wide range of plants to lose their leaves. 

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Alice asks...

Agapanthus - once the flowers start to die back, should you cut off the flower stems before they produce seeds, or after?

Bill replies...

Agaphanthis is a beautiful perennial plant Alice and is commonly known as the African Lily.  With regard to the flowering spikes on your Agapanthus if you do not require the flower stems for drying these stems can be cut back to the leaf mounds.

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Simone Bonner asks...

We moved a pink camelia from a pot (kept in the back garden) to the ground in the front garden about 2 years ago.  At first it was ok but gradually over time the leaves have faded to almost yellow and this year has produced only two blooms - the first since moving it.  What can be done to return it to its former glory?

Bill replies...

The yellowing of your Camelia leaves Simone is a classic symptom of Lime Chlorosis. Too much lime in your soil is blocking the uptake of iron to your Camellia plant which in turn is causing the leaves to yellow.  Short term you will need to feed your plant with an ericacious/acid fertiliser and you will also need to apply a dressing of ferrous sulphate fertiliser to the soil to replenish the iron.

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Carol Thomas asks...

My ivies have started dying-mainly potted but looks like one on wall is going too. They seem to die from bottom out with leaves wilting and turning yellow. I had some lovely ivies in pot and now have nothing but stalks. Roots totally dry when pulled up so I thought it might be lack of water, but ivy in beds is going the same way. We had leaf damage to ivy from bright green caterpillars this winter - have never seen this before! Hope you can help.

Bill replies...

If the roots in the pots were completely dry this is probably the reason why your Ivies have died Carol but, it is worthwhile checking the soil to see if there are any vine weevil grubs present. They will be approximately one quarter to half an inch long and will be pinkish white in colour and, it is also worth checking your beds to see if your Ivy plants need a good watering.  I am certain that the problem is due to the very dry soil your plants have been growing in.

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Judi Elmes asks...

I have a purple hibiscus shrub in the garden which has done well previously. This year it has become infected with some sort of disease to the leaves - they have many brown spots then turn yellow and drop off. There are no insects of any kind to be seen. It looks similar to plants suffering from iron deficiency which turn pale yellow and sickly.  Is this the same problem or something else? It has been extremely wet down here of course as elsewhere this year.

Bill replies...

It could be the very damp conditions Judi which often causes leaves to yellow and quite a number of shrubs have been affected due to this year's rainfall.  What I would do is to give your Hibiscus - which is a beautiful shrub - a top dressing with a balanced slow release base fertiliser and I would recommend Vitax Q4 which contains the main nutrients of nitrogen, phosphate and potash and also trace elements such as iron and magnesium.  You will need to sprinkle approximately four to six ounces per square yard.

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William Higginbotham asks...

I have a Clematis Armandii on a south facing fence. I had a wonderful show of flowers earlier in the spring, but now many of the leaves are turning brown. Can you tell me why?

Bill replies...

Clematis love to be planted in a moist fertile soil William and especially with Clematis Armandii it needs to be planted in a south facing aspect however sheltered from the winter winds as the leaves are very susceptible to wind scorch damage and during this years early spring/summer time we have experienced quite a number of cold sharp spells which I feel is one of the reasons why your Clematis leaves area turning brown.  Another reason could be that during March/April is was extremely dry and this again could have caused the leaves to turn brown.  The recent adverse weather conditions could again be another factor to cause browning.

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Sally asks...

The leaves on our very tall tasmanian tree fern have gone brown - we have kept it watered as instructed when we bought it.  We are now thinking of packing it for winter. Should we cut these dead leaves off and will new shoots grow? Many thanks from a very novice gardener.

Bill replies...

Your Tasmanian Tree Fern (Dicksonia Antarctica) Sally is a beautiful architectural plant but it will need protecting during the winter months and on a dry day you will need to place some dry straw in the crown of the plant to protect the young fronds, I would then tie the older leaves together to protect the straw.  You will need to give it a good covering and you can also protect your fern with white horticultural fleece which can be obtained from Garden Centres

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Vanessa asks...

I have a foxglove tree which is about 3 metres tall with a single trunk (ie not coppiced and grown as a bush for its leaves but grown as a small tree). It suffered last year in the drought and wind and now has a spattering of smallish leaves at the top but is generally looking sparse and bare. A few of the branches were brittle and snapped off although I have since learned this is a characteristic of this plant.  How can I get it back to its former glory of an abundant canopy of leaves, I would prefer not to coppice it as I want a tree not a bush like plant although I like the large leaves this produces. PS it is in a pot - will it ever thrive in a pot?

Bill replies...

Your Foxglove Tree (Paulownia Tomentosa) Vanessa is a native plant of China and under reasonable conditions will grow to a height of approximately eight metres over a period of ten years and grows best in a sunny position - in a deep well drained soil - and is quite drought resistant but, will not tolerate windy conditions.  Regarding your Foxglove Tree I feel that if you are going to keep it in a large container you are far better coppicing your tree.  If you can plant it in the ground you will be able to allow it to grow naturally.

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Geri Cassellbury asks...

I have got a standard silver grey lavender I think Goodwin Creek, I planted it in the garden and it began to wilt in a week even though I watered it, I dug it up and it was waterlogged, I put it in a pot with compost but it is looking worse, is there any hope, can I prune it the tops are wilting but the stems seem strong, also it seems to be losing colour.

Bill replies...

Lavenders love to grow in a well drained sandy soil Geri - they do not like 'wet feet' and under waterlogged conditions the roots will just rot off.  Regarding your Lavender I would prune the wilted shoots back and see if new shoots start to appear but, I am afraid that this does not often happen.  If you have poorly drained soil you would be far better growing your Lavenders in pots/containers and I would recommend a soil based compost (John Innes No 2) and I would add to the compost at least twenty five per cent sharp grit sand to improve the drainage.

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Gina McFarlane asks...

I have a contorta tree which is about 3' high it is planted in a pot, since we got it only half of the tree has grown leaves the other half doesn't look as if it has died just that it hasn't got leaves or even buds, the leaves that are on the tree are yellowing and shrivelled, is this a disease and if so how can I treat it? Thanks for your help

Bill replies...

Your Corylus Contorta Tree (Cork Screw Hazel) is mainly grown Gina for its cork screw branches and architectural features and you will always find that the leaves do look shrivelled and diseased and with it being a deciduous tree the leaves will fall over the winter period.  With regard to the twisted shoot which has not produced any buds or leaves throughout the summer period you will need to cut the top part of this stem with a sharp pair of secateurs and if the shoot is completely brown inside that shoot had died and needs to be cut back.

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Sam Lloyd asks...

I have a small wisteria that I bought and planted next to trelis this year. Some of the leaves have turned yellow and then brown. I'm a new gardener and haven't a clue what to do with it.. all the advice on the net is for established plants not new ones - please help!

Bill replies...

Wisterias love to be grown in a well drained soil and I feel the reason why some of the leaves on your Wisteria are yellowing Sam can be attributed to this year's high rain fall and poor weather conditions and these cold water logged conditions will have restricted new root growth which in turn causes yellowing of the leaves and early leaf fall.  There is not much that you can do at the present time (October) Wisterias are deciduous and providing that next year we have a reasonable summer I am sure that your Wisteria will recover and produce new shoots.

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Collette Hooley asks...

Planted Virginia Creeper early summer and it took off great guns! Very high and looking splendid. Come September it has started shedding its leaves and now nothing - is this normal for the first leaves to fall or is there a more serious problem? The stems are still alive. They are obviously hardy and I cannot understand this. Also can you suggest any similar plant which will give a great colour and grow throughout the winter?

Bill replies...

You have nothing to worry about Collette your Virginia Creeper is a deciduous species and it will lose all its leaves during the winter months.  However what I would suggest you can do next spring when your Virginia Creeper starts to produce new leaves is to give your plant a general feed with a balanced base fertiliser such as GrowMore or Fish Blood and Bone Meal - sprinkling a small handful around the plant. Also with your Creeper being recently planted you will need to keep an eye on the watering during the summer months.

Regarding an alternative climbing plant to your Virginia Creeper which will give you colour through the winter months my only suggestion would be Ivy.  The common Ivy Hedera Helix has many colourful varieties and the ones I would recommend are Hedera Helix Goldheart or the plain green vigorous Hedera Hibernica.  One of the problems though with Ivys is that they can penetrate mortar and damage brick work if you intend planting these Ivys against a wall.  The other alternative Collette would be to try the winter flowering Jasmine Uniflorum which is evergreen and has a mass of yellow flowers through the winter months - but the plant is not self clinging and will need trellis work to grow up.

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Elaine Ladd asks...

We have a lovely big Elaeagnus pungens which, for some reason this year is shedding its leaves dramatically. Many of the leaves have turned yellow and are falling alarmingly (although a minority remain green and healthy looking). We have kept the tree watered, although I understand it is quite resistant to drought. Thanks for any advice you may be able to provide.

Bill replies...

Elaeagnus Pungens is the one of the most popular Elaeagnus species Elaine and they will tolerate full sun or slightly dapple shade and will grow in a wide range of soils but, I do find that the shrub is prone to waterlogged conditions and the yellowing of the leaves is a text book symptom of overwatering and, as you mentioned Elaeagnus will tolerate very dry conditions.  I would therefore be inclined to cut down on the watering. The problem of the shrub shedding its leaves could have arisen due to last year's very dry summer which caused die back to a number of shrubs and also destroyed a number of the surface rooting adventitious roots and it could quite well be that there have not been enough adventitious feeding roots this spring to supply nutrients and water to your shrub which will have caused it to shed some of its leaves.  I would only water your shrub when necessary but, I am sure that your Elaeagnus will recover.

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Christine Kelly asks...

My garden has been well cared for since planting seven years ago.  This year I am shocked to see in different parts of the garden 3 different trees suffering and looking brown and dry.  First my Kilmarnock Willow hasn't got any leaves yet.  A small conifer (one of 6) is also brown and a cherry bush is also showing signs of deterioration, ie brown and no new growth.  What is happening to my garden?

Bill replies...

It is very difficult to pinpoint exactly what is happening to your trees Christine but part of the problem could stem for last year's long hot summer which caused damage and die back and root loss to a wide range of trees and shrubs and, what then happens the following Spring - due to the loss of the surface adventitious roots - there is not enough roots to sustain the new growth which can cause die back.  Regarding your Kilmarnock Willow these trees are quite temperamental and any root loss or waterlogging of the soil over the winter months can quite easily cause the tree to die and this can also apply to your Cherry Tree.

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Phil asks...

Some of the leaves on my Fatsia Japonica are getting black spots and holes in them and curling up. It has been planted for 8 months and is just coming through its first winter, Any ideas what is causing this?

Bill replies...

I find that Fatsia Japonicas are susceptible to very damp and wet conditions Phil and this could quite easily have caused the blackening of the leaves on your plant.  I am sure that during the summer months the new leaves which will appear will be healthy.  It would however be beneficial to apply a general base fertiliser to the soil surface. I would be grateful I you could keep me informed of their progress via BBC Radio Lancashire.

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Ray Miller asks...

I bought a rhododendron from a garden centre last year and transplanted into a timber tub. The shrub gave a nice display of flowers. However over winter the leaves that have curled and there is a brownish dust on the underside. The flower buds have not developed. Any ideas of what is wrong?

Bill replies...

You will usually find Ray with numerous varieties of Rhododendrons that the underside of the leaves are brown and slightly hairy.  Regarding the flower buds which have not developed it is very important during the summer months with container grown Rhododendrons that they are kept well watered as this will encourage the formation of the flower buds which takes place during the summer time.

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James Kelly asks...

My white flowering jasmine vine (planted outside) has begun to die, the leaves are browning and curling up for seemingly no reason, it is well watered and fed and I am wondering whether this is some kind of fungal infection? Please help as up until now it has grown very well and am sad to see it in distress! Thanks.

Bill replies...

The white flowering Jasmine (Jasmine Officinale) James although not a true climber is usually grown against trellis work or walls but, the shrub is not fully hardy and can suffer from frost damage if planted in an exposed area and I feel that this could be one of the reasons why your plant is suffering.  The shrub needs to be planted in a south facing sheltered position but, I am sure that if your plant has not been too badly damaged it should produce new shoots in the spring.

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EVERYTHING ELSE

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Edward Wroe asks...

I planted some Amyrillis seeds 4 years ago.They are growing in pots OK but instead of one single bulb that flowers, I've got one large bulb with lots and lots of little side shoots/bulbs that look very healthy, but no flowers. Any ideas?

Bill replies...

The popular Amyrillis which has the large trumpet flowers and is available during the winter months in Garden Centres is the Hippeastrum Hybrid and you can get wonderful colours such as pink, orange and red.  With regard to your Amaryllis bulb you will usually find that they will require a dormant period and when the leaves begin to yellow you will need to ease off the watering and allow the bulb to become dormant for approximately six weeks.  When your Amaryllis starts to produce new shoots you will then need to increase the water requirements and hopefully your bulb will produce beautiful flowers.

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Debbie Frith asks...

My Magnolia (Rustica Rubra) flowered again late summer this year followed by new growth, probably due to all the weird weather we had. I am worried that it will be affected now by the winter with frost affecting the new growth - any suggestions or advice is welcome.  This is its third year in situ and it is about 6-7 feet tall.

Bill replies...

Quite a number of spring flowering shrubs this year Debbie including Magnolias have again produced flowers late summertime followed by new shoots which is due to this year's unseasonable weather.  Late flowering does occasionally happen on quite a range of plants but the shrubs usually adapt to these conditions and any new growth is very rarely affected during the winter months.

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Pete asks...

I have a jasmine plant the leaves of which have turned to a pale greenish yellow with large red markings. What is the cause please?

Bill replies...

With it being such a very damp and wet summer Pete it could quite easily be that the yellowing and reddening of the leaves on your Jasmine is due to the low temperatures and extreme conditions and, the high rain fall will have leached the nutrients out of the soil.  It is now rather late in the year to apply a base fertiliser (October) but in early springtime I would top dress the soil with a general base fertiliser such as GrowMore or fish blood and bone meal.

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Kath asks...

I have a couple of gloriosa variegatas that are in pots, please can you let me know if I can keep them out over winter? Thank you.

Bill replies...

Your Gloriosa (The Glory Lily) is a beautiful plant and is ideal for growing up trellis work/fences etc but Kath they are not frost hardy and you will have to bring the pots indoors and allow them to dry out over the winter months. The lilies are grown from tubers and in early springtime you can knock the tubers out of the pot and repot into new compost.  During the summer months your plants will need to be kept in a light position in the garden but try to avoid direct sunny positions also your plants will need feeding along with liberal watering.

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Sue Richardson asks...

This year I bought an Abutilon Megapotamicum which has grown and flowered beautifully although late on the patio.  I am aware that it is frost sensitive but am unsure what to do with it as I can't take it indoors other than the shed or greenhouse (unheated). Please help me with this as I do not want to lose it.

Bill replies...

Your Abutilon is a lovely flowering plant Sue and is often called the 'Weeping Chinese Lattern' and is used in containers and also hanging baskets but, it will need protecting from frost during the winter months.  Your plant can be kept in a cool unheated greenhouse but will need to be placed in your garden shed during periods of frost and cold weather.  As an insurance cover if there are young shoots on the plant now I would cut these off and root them as cuttings.  Removing the first pair of lower leaves the cuttings need to be approximately two inches long and inserted in a seed/open compost around the side of a three to five inch pot.  These pots can then be placed on a kitchen window sill. To stop transpiration loss I would cover the cuttings with a clear polythene bag for approximately two to three weeks.

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Linda asks...

Last year my husband moved his red hot poker plants and this summer they thrived.  Now autumn is here what do I do with the abundance of leaves that remain.  Do I could them down?

Bill replies...

Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia) is becoming a popular perennial plant again Linda and with reference to the abundance of leaves on your plants these will die back during the winter months.  However, any straggly yellow leaves can be trimmed back.  If the soil in your garden is a very heavy clay soil it would be worthwhile applying a winter mulch to protect the young shoots - Red Hot Poker plants love to grow in a well drained soil and a sunny position.

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Keith Cowan asks...

My neighbour asked if he could have my ash tree trimmed back a little as it was getting too big. I agreed and said I would share the cost. When I arrived home from work it was done. The problem is that the tree has been cut back so severely that all that is left is the trunk and a few stumps of what remained of some of the branches. The chap who did the trimming said it quite okay to remove 50% of the tree without harming the tree and that it will grow again uniformly by next June. I have since been told that this is incorrect and it will die. I am in the process of selling my house and my front garden does not now look like the estate agent's photograph. Is this tree chap correct bearing in mind the tree was a large tree 20 years ago when we bought the house. I cannot imagine much if anything regrowing by next June. If I am correct who would my complaint be against, my neighbour, the tree cutter or both. I hope you can answer my concerns or if not point me in the right direction.

Bill replies...

It is easy to be wise after the event Keith and you tend to learn by your mistakes but if you ever have this problem again I would ensure that you are on site with your neighbour and that the person who is going to cut down your tree it is a fully qualified tree surgeon and, whose insurance will cover any damage by falling branches to your property.  I am sure that you will agree that having fifty per cent of your tree cut down is not 'lightly trimmed back' and I would speak to your neighbour regarding this and it may also be worth getting a second opinion from a tree surgeon.

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Trica Shepherd asks...

How do I protect my my Hydrangea over the winter? I have them in pots. Do I cut them back, if so how and when, and do I cover with a fleece? My garden is on the North coast and is exposed to Northerly winds.

Bill replies...

Hydrangeas are quite hardy plants Tricia but I feel that as you live quite close to the North Coast you would be far better protecting your Hydrangeas over the winter period.  I would place the pots in a sheltered position in your garden, insert bamboo canes into the soil and during the bad winter weather tie some fine plastic mesh to the canes to protect your plants  Regarding the use of white fleece I feel that if you cover them completely with the fleece your plants - especially the young shoots - could become very damp and quite easily rot off during the wet winter periods.

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Scott Harrison asks...

I love the looks of 'boston ivy' and 'virginia creepers'. I have purchased a 'boston ivy' and hope to grow it on the 'sunny' side of our house to cover some ugly brick work. There is conflicting information on the internet and local garden centres about what the ivy will do during the winter months. Some say that it keeps its leaves and others say that it dies/goes brown in winter. I was hoping that I had purchased the correct climber due to the following criteria:

1) suckers will not destroy the brick work like english ivy
2) it is fast growing
3) it goes crimson red in the autumn
4) it does not die (go completely brown) and show up the brickwork again during the winter months.

Please could you tell me what it will really do and whether I have made the correct choice or what alternatives I have.

Bill replies...

Regarding your question Scott on Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus Quinquefolia) it does produce tendrils which will cling to the brickwork and it will become self clinging but, it is no way as rampant as the English Ivy.  The Boston Ivy produces beautiful autumn colour with the leaves turning red but is deciduous.  With regard to whether you have made the correct choice I feel personally that it is one of the finest climbing plants to grow against a wall.

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John Richards asks...

I know Rhubarb leaves are poisonous, but is it safe to put them in my compost bin?

Bill replies...

You can incorporate Rhubarb leaves into your compost bin John but you should ensure that other composting materials are mixed with the Rhubarb leaves as these are very acidic and again you should incorporate small amounts of garden leaves into the compost, which will improve the Ph of the compost.  Rhubarb leaves do take quite a while to break down but the compost mixture when decomposed will be fine to use on your garden.

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John Stewart asks...

Since putting down a bark covering on a flowerbed we have recently had (on three occasions in different locations) a yellow fungus type patch appears, almost overnight. It looks like custard, is soft like tacky latex, and although is on the top of bark, it has also gone down to soil level (about one and half inches from surface) Is this Honeydew fungus? How should we treat it? We are currently lifting it and disposing of it, but it still appears elsewhere.  

Bill replies...

The same problem happened to me last year John when I purchased bags of bark from a DIY store and when I placed these over my garden you could see the grey mould on part of the bark covering and I am sure that this is where the fungi spores spread from.  And as you suggested the fungi is actually like soft tacky latex.  This can happen quite frequently with bark coverings due to the material decaying and I am afraid it is very difficult to treat and it is just a question of removing the badly infected areas.  Regarding whether it is the Honey Dew fungi I have spoken with my plant pathology colleagues and they are of the opinion that the chances of it being Honey Dew fungi are very slim.

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Anne asks...

I was wondering ... is it possible to overwinter my geraniums and black eyed suzis in a make shift type plastic zip up greenhouse, or is there something else? Do I need heat? I cannot afford a proper greenhouse, and also don't have that much space left in the garden. Thank you

Bill replies...

The problem Anne with keeping both your Geraniums/Black Eyed Suzis in your zip-up plastic greenhouse is a) the greenhouse will not be frost proof - if we do have a very hard winter and b) you will get a lot of condensation inside the greenhouse which, will rot of both your Geraniums and Black Eyed Suzis (Thumbergia).  If you have a garden shed or garage you would be far better keeping both plants in either during the winter months.  However, we are at the present having a mild autumn, and you will therefore be able to leave your plants outside until the first signs of frost.  When lifting your Geraniums I would cut back the stems to approximately half their size and remove any yellowing and dead leaves.  If your Geraniums are growing in pots again, these need to be cut back to half their size and remove all dead leaves.  If you do not have either a garden shed or garage your Geraniums can be kept on a window sill in the house.

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Terry Clifton asks...

Earlier I bought a couple of primulas and when they lost their flowers, I transplanted into my small garden. They have flowered again, and grown enormously. Can these plants be thinned, and when and how can I do it?

Bill replies...

The cultivated Primulas Terry which I am sure are the type you will have in your garden are not long lasting and usually die after a few years.  With regard to the Primulas which are now flowering I would leave them as they are and get the full benefit of the flowers which will continue to appear throughout the autumntime.

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Bill Connor asks...

I have two Boston Ivy one on either side of my hall door. They are approx four years old and extremely "well on" up a pebble dashed wall. They are in whisky half barrels and I'm pretty sure they are root bound. What can I do? I don't want to lose the growth but short of breaking open the barrels I cannot see how to get the roots out and, in any event I don't know of any container larger than I already have which would not be unsightly in a front door location! The concrete apron and approach to the door makes it impossible to get the plants into the ground.

Bill replies...

You will be able to buy larger wooden planters Bill for your Boston Ivys which do look quite attractive and are made from tanalised treated wood.  I take your point with regard to transferring your plants and you will probably have to break some of the wood from the original barrels.  It is important thought that you do not disturbe the roots too much as this will cause die back.

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Alec asks...

The leaves and stems of my hardy fuchsias have turned purple in colour, any idea what this could be?

Bill replies...

Quite often Hardy Fuchsias early on in the year have a purple tinge to the leaves which could be caused by changing temperatures or nutrient deficiency Alec and I would recommend that you top dress your Fuchsias with a balanced base fertiliser and I would recommend that you use one which contains trace elements.  There are quite a number of base fertilisers which can be used for a wide range of flowering shrubs such as your Fuchsias and these are available in both Garden Centres and DIY Stores.  An ideal fertiliser to use is Vitax Q4 and I would top dress using this fertiliser early springtime and late summer at approximately four ounces per square yard or 140 grammes per square metre.

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Jeanette asks...

How should I look after my dicksonia antartice?

Bill replies...

Your Tasmanian Tree Fern (Dicksonia Antartice) is a beautiful Tree Fern Jeanette but is 'quite fussy' regarding cultivation requirements.  It does require a dapple shady position and most be sheltered from prevailing winds.  If your Tree Fern is kept outside during the winter months you will need to protect the central fronds of the plant by placing fresh straw in the central growing point of the plant and then the older fronds can then brought over the top for protection - you can also cover the protected area with white fleece for added protection.  If you Fern is in a dapple shady spot it will require very little watering during the winter months - just keep the soil damp.  During the summer period you will need to keep your Tree Fern sprayed over to keep the humidity up.

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Karen Curnane asks...

I have a mother in laws tongue plant that's kept indoors in a massive pot - the tips of the leaves are going brown and I would like to repot it into some new compost what's the best type to buy?

Bill replies...

I would be inclined to use a soil base compost Karen - such as John Innes No 2.  The John Innes composts are heavier than the multipurpose peat base composts and this will ensure that your Mother in Law Tongue (Sansevieria) is more stable and I would also use a clay or ceramic pot.  The large rhizomes succulent roots can quite easily split plastic pots.  It is important that you do not over water your Mother in Law Tongue they do prefer slightly dry conditions.  Regarding your Aspidistra plant again, I would use a soil base compost - John Innes No 2 - and the correct time for repotting is spring/early summer.  The browning on the tip of the leaves is caused by a very dry atmosphere - possibly due to central heating. During the winter your Aspidistra needs to be kept on the dry side and misting the leaves over with tepid water will keep the humidity slightly higher around the plant and stop browning of the leaves.  Aspidistras were very popular plants during Victoria times and earned the nickname 'The Cast Iron Plant' as they could tolerate the fumes from the gas lights.

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Jane Newham asks...

Dicksonia Antarctica tree fern, each year where the fronds come out it is getting smaller and smaller, is there anything I can do to improve this as the fronds are getting smaller as well, because there is not room for them to open properly, I have tried to cut the old fronds back down from the trunk to allow room for the new ones.

Bill replies...

Dicksonia Antarctica is a magnificent fern Jane but, it can be quite temperamental and, does require special cultural and environmental requirements.  The fern requires a dapple, shady and sheltered position and during the summer months to keep the humidity high you will need to gently spray the trunk and, to increase the size and number of the fronds you will need to pour into the top of the trunk a dilute liquid feed and, you can also spray the trunk with a dilute liquid feed - this will increase the size and number of the fronds.

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Stanley Brammer asks...

Can you tell me if Surfinas can be grown from seeds?

Bill replies...

I have been in touch with a number of large bedding growers Stanley and they all gave me the same answer that Surfinia Petunias are grown from cuttings. 

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Elizabeth Macintosh asks...

What kind of liquid feeding should I give my spathiphyllum plant and any relevant care info you can give me please.

Bill replies...

A general balanced liquid house plant fertiliser will be ideal for your Spathiphyllum (Peace Lilly) Elizabeth and over the spring and summer months when your plant will be actively growing I would feed approximately every two to three weeks.  Also over the summer months it is important your plant is situated in a slightly shaded spot as direct sunlight can bleach the leaves.  During the winter period Spathiphyllums do require quite a warm temperature (15 - 20 degrees C).

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Angela Sedgley asks...

I have a large Camelia in a pot which is over wintering in my greenhouse.  It is flowering well (pink flowers), but the leaves are a very light green.  Does it need feeding and if so what with?

Bill replies...

Any Camelia that are grown in containers Angela need feeding and you will need to use an ericacous/acid fertiliser which are readily available in Garden Centres and DIY Stores. With the leaves on your Camellia being very pale green  I personally would use a liquid acid fertiliser which is easily absorbed by the roots.

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Shamim asks...

I've got a small garden surrounded by a flower bed of perennials and roses. I want to introduce some flowering bushes (camelia, hydrangea...) at the back but don't want them overshadowing the plants in front. Can I tie these plants to the fence like my roses and fruit trees?

Bill replies...

I find the Williamsi strain of Camellias are far better Shamim for training and planting at the side of a fence and there are a wide range of varieties to choose from.  You mention Hydrangeas and the variety which is used for trailing up fences is Hydrangea Petiolaris although one of the problems with this variety is that it is a very vigorous grower and it may smother your roses and fruit trees. I would also consider growing up your fence the Clematis - varieties Ville de Lyon - The President and the small flowered Clematis Alpine

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Brian Wilson asks...

I am growing garlic in the garden and I have some spring planting seed cloves left over. Is it safe to plant them in the edge of the greenhouse border? I intend to plant Shirley and beefsteak tomatoes, and a cucumber in late spring. I always plant a few dwarf marigolds alongside, and have been told garlic with these keeps some other pests at bay.

Bill replies...

You can plant Garlic Cloves in your greenhouse Brian but they will need to be planted reasonably close to your Tomato plants to be effective in detering aphids/white fly.  But, like Marigolds Garlic has proved to be very effective at keeping pests at bay.

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Nick Stockell asks...

Can I grow a Boston Ivy up the south facing wall of my house?  Also as the deck butts up against the house, how big a container would be suitable, if any.

Bill replies...

The Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus Tricuspidata) is a lovely climber Nick and the autumn colour makes this plant an outstanding species.  If you have a large south facing wall you may need two large plant containers each planted with a Boston Ivy and evenly situated along the wall to ensure coverage of the area.  Regarding containers there are quite a number of rustic wooden and hardwood planters on the market which will blend in well with your decking and the size of your planters will need to be at least two feet by three feet and your Ivys will need regular feeding and watering through the growing season.

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Susan Soar/Ian Graves/Janice/Steven Fowkes ask...

All ask for advice on Gunnera Manicata...

Bill replies...

Gunnera Manicata is a spectacular marginal/waterside plant and its large rhubarb leaves and green cone like flowers make it an ideal plant for growing in wet/damp conditions and close to water features.

Gunnera Manicata is frost sensitive and the central crowns will need protecting during the winter months and this can be done by placing dry straw above and around the crowns and the straw can then be covered by bending several of the large leaves and then placing soil on top of the leaves.

Propagating Gunnera Plants - Gunneras can be propagated from seed which can be sown towards the end of March in a general seed and potting compost at a temperature of approximately 15/20 degrees C and, when large enough to handle the seedlings can be pricked out into small individual pots.  Over the summer months the plants be kept outside ensuring that they are well watered but, during the winter months they will need protecting from the frost either in a frost free greenhouse or in a light cool room and the following spring/summer they should be large enough to plant in the garden.

The other method of propogation is by dividing the central crowns/young shoots and this can be carried out in the springtime, but it is important to protect the crowns from late frost. 

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Karen Halliday asks...

I bought some long stems of lucky bamboo from a florist shop for flower arranging, will this root in water and could I then pop it into compost? Any help would be great.

Bill replies...

Although I personally have never repotted Bamboos which have rooted in water Karen I feel it would be worthwhile to repot the shoots into a multi purpose compost.  You usually find with any plants that have been rooted in water that the roots are very fragile and delicate and you will need to handle them carefully when repotting.  After repotting they will need to be kept indoors in a very light area until the summer months when they can be placed outdoors.

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Andy Hayward asks...

What size pot will I need to plant a Camelia which is around 3ft 6ins tall?

Bill replies...

You are going to need a large container Andy and it will need to be at least 18 inches to two feet in diameter and there are excellent ornamental wooden planters now available in Garden Centres which I find are ideal for Camellias.  When planting you will need to use an ericaceous compost and it is important to keep your plant well watered during the summer months and feed with an acid/ericaceous fertiliser.

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David Grogan asks...

Where can I buy spent mushroom compost?

Bill replies...

Spent Mushroom compost is an ideal compost for improving the soil texture and supplying nutrients David.  You can usually find bags of mushroom compost for sale in small ads in local newspapers and it is also available in some Garden Centres and Nurseries.

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Stephen Heath asks...

How can I get my climbing hydrangea to flower?  It has been in place for 4 years now and looks very healthy - just no flowers/blossom.  Thanks

Bill replies...

Climbing Hydrangeas (Hydrangeas Petiolaris) Stephen is a very vigorous climbing plant but it does take a few years for the plant to produce flowers. It will produce masses of young soft shoots and once these shoots have ripened I am sure your Hydrangea will produce flowers.  Also to encourage flowering I would sprinkle around the base of the soil a small dressing of sulphate of potash.

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Peter Morrison asks...

I have a Fatsia Japonica that must be 20 years old. Up until 3/4 years ago it was doing very well and had very good growth. After this time it started to lose branches which did not grow and gradually lost its leaves. I then have to cut the branches off completely. The bark is split and some of the bark has a rotten dark mess behind it. Should I feed or spray it or do they only live this long. There appears to be a little new growth in the centre of the plant near the ground.

Bill replies...

What I would be inclined to do with your Fatsia Japonica Peter is in early Springtime cut all the shoots hard back to approximately 1 foot from soil level,  remove any rotten leaves/stems and then wait to see if any new shoots appear.  If new shoots appear you will then need to top dress with a general base fertiliser.

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Anne Milne asks...

Rubber Tree (ficus elasticus). It is twenty-one years old. Have always kept it smallish as it gets brought in during winter. This year I slipped and the frost caught it. Is there anything I can do?

Bill replies...

If the stems and main trunk of your Rubber Tree Anne are still solid and firm there is a good chance that your Rubber Tree will start to shoot again.  However, if the stems and main trunk have gone very soft and spongy I am afraid the frost could have quite well have killed your tree.  I would be inclined just to cut one of the stems to see if it is still green and healthy inside.

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Preston asks...

What is the length of time needed between liming the ground and manuring?

Bill replies...

Going back 'decades' to my apprentice days Preston we used to double dig the soil in the Autumn and apply fresh manure into the trench and the time of year we added lime to the soil was early Springtime.  If you have a very heavy clay soil I would add extra lime to the soil which will help to break up the fine clay particles.

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Brenda Norse asks...

When ivy is growing up a tree will it harm the tree?

Bill replies...

It is important Brenda to remove the Ivy from your tree before it gets too well established because, over a period of time the Ivy will strangle your tree and cause die back of the shoots and branches - especially if the Ivy is the plain green large leafed vigorous species.

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Anna King asks...

I have inherited a garden that is overgrown with grape hyacinths.  I haven't yet used any kind of weedkiller.  Each spadeful of earth contains hundreds and thousands of small bulbs.  I have pulled out wheelbarrowfuls but the next day more shoots appear.  What can I do?

Bill replies...

When your Grape Hyacinths have produced quite a number leaves Anna I would then spray them with a systemic weedkiller - one that contains glyphosate - and popular brand names are RoundUp, Tumbleweed and Bayer Glyphosate Weedkiller.  You will need to spray on a dry still day and spray to run off.  The weed killer will then be absorbed through the leaves and transferred into the bulbs and roots.  It will take approximately two weeks for your Hyacinths to die back but with your Hyacinths being such a troublesome plant I am sure you will have to spray more than once to keep the problem under control.

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Jimmy asks...

What do I use to feed my hydrangea?

Bill replies...

You need to start feeding early springtime with a general organic fertiliser - such as Fish Blood and Bone Meal.  Hydrangeas need to be kept well watered during the summer months and will benefit from a mulch of well rotted manure. 

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E Cunningham asks...

Earlier in the year we cleared part of the garden which had become very overgrown mainly with holly and a few other trees which had got out of hand.  We put all the branches through a mulcher and have now discovered that this heap looks as if if is quite nice compost.  We have now got the rest of the garden into shape and were thinking of putting this "compost" on the garden.  Our main reservation is that it includes shredded brambles and we are worried that we may end up spreading brambles around the garden.  Is it worth the risk or should we just bin this "compost"? Hope you can help.

Bill replies...

It is going to be difficult to give you a clear and concise answer and a lot will depend on how well your brambles have been shredded and I would be inclined to err on the side of caution.  Early next spring I would just mulch a very small area of your garden with the compost and wait to see if any of the bramble shoots appear.

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Joanna Shilton asks...

What should I do with a bay tree, rosemary and a spearmint in the winter. I have them in pots out side. Thank you.

Bill replies...

I would place your pots in a sheltered position in the garden - especially your Bay Tree which is susceptible to wind scorch damage.  You will find that your Spearmint Joanna will die back during the winter months but will produce new shoots in the spring and again, if you are considering repotting your plants I would wait until early Spring time.

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Evelyne Cole asks...

I have a couple of Spanish lavender plants in clay pots and they have some of their leaves turning yellow. Is this a sign of too much or too little water?

Bill replies...

When the leaves of your Lavenders are starting to yellow Evelyne it is usually a sign of too much water.  Lavenders prefer to be kept slightly on the dry side - they do not like water logged conditions and over the winter months your Spanish Lavenders will need to be kept in a sheltered spot.  Next spring if you intend repotting your Lavenders you will need to use a well drained compost.

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Judy Moore asks...

I brought a cutting of a type of climbing jasmine back from Italy.  It has now grown to about 2 metres and still going strong!  It has glossy oval, opposite leaves and star like twisted white flowers which come from the leaf joints and smell wonderful.  It
was growing outside beside Lake Garda so I was wondering if it would be hardy enough to put outside in our area?  Have you enough info to tell me what it's latin name is, please?

Bill replies...

It is very difficult to say for certain whether your Lake Garda Jasmine will be hardy enough to withstand a typical British winter Judy and 'better safe than sorry' I would keep your plant indoors over the winter months.  It will need to be kept in a very cool but light room.  In the summer months you can place your Jasmine outdoors and what I would do is to build up the stock of your plant by propagating some cuttings and, once these have rooted and become established, one of these plants can be planted in the garden as a trial plant to see if it will survive during the winter months.  The two white climbing Jasmines commonly grown in this country and will survive in a sheltered spot are Jasmine Officinale (the common white Jasmine) and Jasmine Grandiflorum - both of which produce beautiful fragrant flowers and looking at your photograph your Lake Garda Jasmine could be one of these species.

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Linda Eccleston asks...

I've been given a huge ball shaped crysanthaum plant via interflora can I put it outside at this time of year (November)?

Bill replies...

The Chrysanthaum plant which you have been given is more than likely to be one of the large garden pot Chrysanthaums which, are very hardy and can be placed outside or planted in the garden.  Once your plant has finished flowering you can cut down the shoots and as mentioned above the plants are very hardy and will flower again next year.  However, if you intend to keep the plant in the same pot you will need to feed and water.

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Mike Holmes asks...

I have found a wild Holly bush with acorns like an Oak. What is this?

Bill replies...

The tree you have found Mike is an Oak Tree and the species of this Oak Tree is Quercus Ilex (Holm Oak).  The tree is evergreen and the confusion for many people is that the leaves are similar to Holly.  This Oak Tree is the most common and widely distributed of the evergreen Oaks in Europe.

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Bob Whiting asks...

What are the most common grown by the amateur gardener of the following,  Veg, Herbs and Bedding plants. Reason: I am making up some 12 x 50 x 100mm ply plant labels sealed with external use lacquer for may daughter to sell at our local craft fair.
I will be burning the names on with a pyrography iron a hobby I've just taken up.
Thanks for your time.

Bill replies...

I know quite a number of people who grow herbs Bob and I am sure labels for the different types would be very popular and also, with such a wide range of vegatable/salad crop varieties now being grown I am sure labels for these crops would again be very popular - especially for the allotment growers.  You will usually find with bedding plants that people buy these from Garden Centres with labels attached and personally I would concentrate on the herbs and vegetables/salad varieties but I am sure if people see your labels they may ask you to produce labels to their own specification.

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Melanie Pirie asks...

I have re-potted my white flowering jasmine, it's growing well, lovely and green but it has not flowered since the ones it had when I bought it, fell off, should I feed it? And should it be kept warm at all times? It is in a conservatory that gets cold at night.

Bill replies...

The main cultivation requirements for your Jasmine Melanie is that during the winter months they need to be kept in a cool but very light position in the house and a temperature of 40-45 degrees would be ideal.  During the summer months your Jasmine would benefit from being placed outside and I would feed your plant over this period approximately once per month with a high potash liquid fertiliser - which will encourage flowering.  I would refrain from repotting every year as this will encourage more young shoots than flowers.

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David Bunting asks...

Back in the 1960's, I used to swear by a gardening product, heavily advertised nationally at the time, called "Acta Bacta", created to break up clay soils - which it did! It consisted of small, black, irregularly shaped pieces - very similar to coal. Do you recall it, and if so, whatever happened to it? Has it just disappeared, or been re-branded?

Bill replies...

I have used the product myself many decades ago David but like yourself I have not seen it on the market for many years now.  I have checked at both Garden Centres and Nurseries without any success - quite a number of the young managers have never heard of the product.  I have also checked on the internet and again, no success.  The product seems to have completely vanished.  I will keep on making enquiries and advise you.

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Kate asks...

My children's school has a yew tree on the driveway.  I have warned them about touching it but I am very worried that they have to walk through the squashed berries every day which will stick on their shoes.  They then all sit on the floor.  I also have a baby who is crawling on the floor and am worried about it coming off their shoes.  Is the yew tree as poisonous as this?

Bill replies...

The answer is yes - the leaves of the Yew Tree are poisonous if eaten and can affect both humans and animals - and there has been a number of cases of cattle fatalities due to the eating the leaves of the Yew.  Regarding the Yew Tree berries which are formed on female trees the fleshy skin/aril which is protecting the single seed within the berry is not poisonous but, the seed within the berry is poisonous.  If your children are carrying the berries on their shoes they are obviously carrying the seed and you need to ensure that school shoes are left outside the house.

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Lynda asks...

Dear Bill what, if anything, should I be feeding my selection of different conifers? 

Bill replies...

Your Conifers will benefit immensely Lynda from a general feed and you will need to feed your trees with a slow release base fertiliser such a Fish Blood and Bone Meal, Grow More or Vitax Q4.  The fertiliser needs to be applied early Spring with a liberal dressing (approximately four to five ounces) around the base of the trees.

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Barbara asks...

My calendula put out these flowers from a seedhead, I have a few that have done the same, is this common? I have grown them for years and it has never happened before.
Also I have a poinsettia I am preparing for Christmas. It has never been fed. Is it too late to feed it now? Thanks Bill

Bill replies...

What can happen with Calendulas Barbara especially in a warm and prolonged summer which we have had this year - you will get small flowers appearing from just below the seed head and I just wonder, if this is what has happened to your Calendula.  On the question of your Poinsettia you will need to feed your plant and I would use a balanced liquid fertiliser such as Miracle Grow or Phostrogen.  Feeding the plant approximately every two weeks.  For red leaves to appear on your Poinsettia you will need to grow your plant under natural day light - any supplementary lighting in the evening and the leaves will not turn red.

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Alice May asks...

We moved to a house two years ago where the garden hadn't been touched for around 40yrs. After hacking back the undergrowth and discovering well-established mock orange, camellias and rhododendron, we lived with the site for a year and then dug out 20sq m for a sunken garden (the garden itself is around 8m wide by 22m long). Not knowing enough about gardening at the time, we put all the subsoil on the rest of the garden, and the texture is now heavy clay in many places. I realise now this was wrong, but pretty much all the plants seem to be thriving on it nonetheless; especially the acid-lovers - having tested the soil even before putting subsoil on, the ph in some areas was right off the scale below ph4. Have we badly restricted ourselves as to what we can plant in future? I believe clematis is one that shouldn't grow, but it's thriving and I'm confused by how all the plants are doing considering the stupidity of our actions! The only things that don't seem keen are bamboo and lavender. Any thoughts? We'd appreciate your advice. The garden's west-facing, by the way.

Bill replies...

May I start by congratulating you Alice on the work you have already undertaken in developing your garden.  The plants that you have managed to save ie the Rhododendrons and Camellias are acid loving plants and will thrive in your garden.  I would also suggest you plant Heathers, Japanese Maple, Forest Flame and the Calico Bush Kalmia which, again are all acid loving plants.  I am however worried about the clay/sub-soil you have placed onto your garden soil.  You are going to find this part of the garden difficult to cultivate and, it is going to be difficult for rain water to penetrate through the clay/sub-soil.  I feel long term it will be far better to remove this.
On planning your garden I would concentrate on planting your acid loving plants together in a shaded part of the garden.  What you can apply to other parts of the garden is a liberal dressing of ground lime stone which will increase the PH of your soil which will in turn allow you to grow a larger range of plants.  The PH you should be aiming for is a reading of 6.5 and to achieve this level you may need to give one/two dressings of ground lime stone - ensuring you work it into the soil.
Good luck with your gardening.

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Tommy asks...

I've just started to do my garden now that the kids no longer play football in it! I have planted a Camellia, two Rhododendrons and an Azalea with a few heathers dotted in between. They've been planted approx 2 feet apart and we have very dry soil. My mum told us not to use tap water on them but I've read that they need plenty of water to establish. What's the best way to water them?

Bill replies...

It is very important to ensure that your plants are well watered and for plants such as Camelias, Rhododendrons and Azaleas it is far better to water with rain water if this is possible.  The main reason being is that rain water does not contain any lime which can be detrimental for acid loving plants such as above.  It would be advisable long term to purchase a water butt which can be plumbed into one of the down spouts of your house which will assist with the constant supply of rain water.  However, in the meantime Tommy you will need to keep your plants well watered and you will have to use tap water.  The amount of lime in the tap water does vary from area to area but, your plants do need watering especially during the summer months.

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Sarah Howard asks...

None of my daffodils or tulips have flowered this year - why?

Bill replies...

The reason why you have no flowers on your Daffodils and Tulips this year Sarah probably relates to what you did with your plants last year.  The two main causes for having no flowers relate to cutting the leaves off when they are still green and not applying fertiliser to your bulbs when the leaves are emerging in early spring.
It is important that you allow the leaves to die back naturally - the reason for this is that the leaves are manufacturing nutrients continually which are then transferred through the plant and into the bulbs.  This will ensure that you will have a good quality bulb which will be large enough to produce flowers the following year.  If you cut the leaves off when they are green this process is immediately stopped.  Ensuring your plants receive enough fertiliser will again ensure you have quality flowers and quality bulbs.

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Matthew Dodson asks...

My garden and surrounding area is on a flood plane and collects water when its rained and becomes very boggy. Is there any way I can make the soil drain better to stop the garden becoming boggy so my children can play out more?

Gary Douglas asks...

We have just moved in to a new bungalow and we have a garden that is 2/3rds of an acre. We are not gardeners and need help a it is water logged and very boggy, the garden is low lying and there is no visible view of where it can be drained please help

Bill replies...

With the conditions that both Gary and Matthew have described draining the soil  is going to be very difficult and would cost vast amounts of money.  One option would be to try and build part of the garden up around the houses which would then be above the flood level.  I have seen this done with a strong retaining wall and also large boulders.  Aggregate is then used as a filler and finished off with top soil.  Another option would be - with the help of a small digger - is to dig a large pond in lowest part of the garden and try to drain any excess water into this area. 

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Adam asks...

I have recently bought a mid-terraced house with a back garden. The ground is extremely waterlogged and boggy.  All the advice I have seen so far suggests I drain the water off at the lowest point in the garden, however, the lawn/garden is flat.  There is also no rear access to the garden, so the option of getting a small digger in to dig a pond.  I am at my wits end, as I have always wanted a garden, but this one is proving unusable!  HELP!

Bill replies...

Whatever I suggest you do Adam it is going to be very difficult due to non-access to your back garden.  There are plants which will tolerate boggy conditions and these plants will assist in taking moisture from your garden.  The plants are: Ligularia (Golden May), Flag Iris, Rheum Palmatum, the Candelabra Primulas, Bull Rushes, and Astilbes.  All these plants, as well as taking moisture from the soil, will also encourage wildlife to your garden.

It may also be worthwhile making some raised beds and one of the least expensive methods is to use railway sleepers.  You could have a raised bed on either side of your garden and in the centre I would suggest a coarse gravel path.

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Mrs D Falshaw asks...

We have just built a new property on a green field site and would appreciate some advice re making and planning a garden on heavy clay soil.

Bill replies...

One of the main problems with a heavy clay soil is that during the winter months the ground becomes water logged and poorly aerated and, during the summer the soil baked and bone hard.  You can improve the texture of the soil by adding organic materials such as farm yard manure - leaf mould and also a sharp grit sand will help aeration.

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Ivy asks...

How do you know what size pots to use for your plants?

Bill replies...

The general horticultural practice when repotting plants Ivy is to move up two to three sizes - for example if you have a small plant in a three inch pot you would repot into a five inch one.  The main reasons for this practice is to avoid over-watering your plants and also to make full use of the nutrients in the compost.  There are however exceptions to this rule - for very vigorous plants such as tomatoes and cucumbers which can be transferred from a three inch pot into a eight/nine inch pot or grow bags.

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Chrissie Smith asks...

I have a large camellia with a spread and height of about 4 feet growing in a 14 ins container. Do you think I should transfer it to a larger pot, it seems quite happy at the moment and full of buds. If I do have to transfer it, when would be the best time?

Bill replies...

One of my favourite shrubs is the Camellia and yours Chrissie seems in prime condition.  The time to re-pot your Camellia is after flowering - if you re-pot your Camellia when it is in bud by disturbing the soil some of the buds may drop off.  Camellias require an acid soil and your plant will have to be re-potted in an ericaceous compost, and it is important  to keep your plant well watered during the summer months when the new buds are being formed.  You mention that you are not sure whether your plant needs re-potting.  I personally feel that a plant which is four foot high and has a four foot spread would be better in a larger container.  This would ensure that the plant is more stable and less chance of your Camellia 'drying-out'.

Good luck with your re-potting!

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Davis Childs asks...

We have a camelia which has browning of the leaf edges and flower buds are going brown before they open and dropping off. What is wrong please and what is the remedy?

Bill replies...

It is important that Camellias are not planted in an east facing aspect as the early morning sun on damp flower buds can easily cause the buds to brown and drop off.  With regard to the browning of the leaves this could quite easily have been caused by wind scorch and frost damage.  It would be worthwhile if frost is predicted to protect the flower buds overnight by covering your plant with white horticultural fleece.  You will also find that some varieties are more prone to frost damage than others.

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Susan Farrow asks...

Could you possibly tell me the correct time of year to re-pot a Hydrangea and also how to keep the flowers blue?

Bill replies...

This time of year Susan is a good time to re-pot your Hydrangea.  For Hydrangeas I prefer to use a terracotta pot and with Hydrangeas being quite vigorous plants you can re-pot into a pot three to four sizes larger i.e. if your plant is in a five inch pot re-pot into a eight-nine inch pot.  I would use an ericaceous compost which, will encourage the flowers to stay blue but, you will also need to use the Hydrangea blueing powder which can be obtained from Garden Centres and DIY Stores - to ensure that your flowers stay blue.  The powder comes in a granulated form and can be mixed into the compost when re-potting or watered into your re-potted plant.  It is important during the summer months that your plant is kept well watered and you will also need to feed with a general fertiliser.

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Patricia Battersby asks...

I was given an orchid, which was in flower, but now all the blooms have died.  I cut the main stem down slightly but got die-back so I have now cut the stem down to approx 2" high.  I have got new leaf growth but no sign of anything else.  Could you please advise me on types of fertilizer to use, potting on and what to expect from this plant.  I really don't want to lose it as it was a gift from my son and daughter-in-law on their wedding day. Thank you.

Bill replies...

Orchids are grown in a very open coarse compost and you will need to water your plant approximately once/twice a week when dry.  Keep your plant in a light and warm spot but not in direct sunlight and I would also feed your plant with a half strength general liquid fertiliser approximately once a fortnight.

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Ann Turner asks...

We have recently been offered some top soil for a plot of land we have bought. The plan is to turn the land into a garden. The soil has been reclaimed from beneath some tarmac and therefore my question is do you think that it will be suitable for the garden as we have been warned that it may have a high sulphur content.

Bill replies...

It is difficult to envisage tarmac being placed directly onto top soil.  What usually happens is the top soil is removed - the soil compressed and tarmac is then laid.  I feel you need to check Ann whether your soil is top soil or sub soil and, with the soil being compacted I feel you will need to add plenty of organic material and well rotted manure to improve the texture and quality of the soil.

On the question of the sulphur content of the soil it is difficult to give you a defining answer without having a soil analysis carried out.

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Margaret Joyce Saunders asks...

Hi Bill. I only have a back yard so most of my plants are in containers. I wish they would do a programme for people who don't have a garden and show us how to change our back yard into a garden. I would like to know how long a plant can live in a container. I have a standared lilac tree it has been in the container two years also I have a standard butterfly bush also been in the container about two years. I also have two clematis one is princess diana and the other is a jacknamil how long can they stay in the container for? Also I have a few plants growing in the wall how do I care for them? Many thanks.

Bill replies...

It is possible Margaret to grow plants in containers for quite a number of years - provided you give your plants a regular supply of fertilizer and water during the growing season.  On feeding your plants I would use a balanced slow release fertilizer and, when your plants are actively growing, I would also water at two week intervals with a liquid fertilizer.

Other plants which are ideal for a back yard and easy to grow in containers are lavenders, rosemary, hostas, and, during the summer months why not try some fuchsia, and geraniums in pots?

On the question of plants growing in your wall - without knowing the types of plants which are growing  it is difficult to give you an answer - but ensure that these plants are watered during the summer months.

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Anne Marino asks...

How do I look after a bonsai tree?  It was a Christmas present and the leaves are dropping.

Bill replies...

The cultivation of Bonsai  is a specialist art and I must confess Anne that I am not a Bonsai expert.  There are however, basic cultivation requirements which I suggest you can follow.

During the winter months Bonsai trees require a light but cool position, and no over watering.  Through the summer months your Bonsai tree is better kept outside.  Again, you will need to ensure that the plant is watered regularly and you will need to feed with a half strength liquid fertiliser at approximately two weekly intervals.

Bonsai trees are very hardy and, there is such a wide range of deciduous and ever-green trees being used, these include

             Pines
             Junipers
             Japanese Acer
             Birch
             Beech

to name a few.

I am quite certain that your tree is one of the deciduous species and, the reason for some of the leaves dropping off your tree could be down to temperature change and light conditions.

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Ann Smith asks...

I have a Peace Lily given to me a year and a half ago by a dear friend since deceased. It flowered profusely at first, but no flowers now for almost 6 months. I feed it occasionally, and it is still in its original pot. Would repotting it help? Or is it a type which likes being pot-bound? I have a picture of the otherwise very healthy glossy plant should you wish to see it.

Bill replies...

If your Peace Lily is really pot bound now is the time to re-pot your plant using a general multi-purpose compost and, increase the size of the pot by two sizes.  For example if your plant is now in a three inch pot re pot into a five inch.  During the summer months to encourage flowering your plant needs to be situated in dapple shade (out of direct sunlight which can bleach the leaves).  To increase the humidity and create a tropical atmosphere, place your plant on a small tray of moist pebbles and mist the leaves regularly with tepid water.  During the winter months - keep your plant on the dry side - over watering will cause the leaves to yellow and wilt.

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Val asks...

I have been given a small outdoor hosta in a tub, but the leaves have now become full of holes and eaten away - even though there is gravel on top of the soil. Is it due to slugs or caterpillars and if so, what is the most effective way to treat please Bill? Many thanks.

Bill replies...

One of the delicacies for slugs is the Hosta - they 'love them' and, I am sure the eaten leaves on your plant Val has been caused by slugs.  By growing your Hosta in a tub you have more chance of keeping the slugs under control and, what you need to do is to create a barrier around your tub.  One method is to administer a layer of grease around the base of your tub - another method is to place copper tape (which you can buy from Garden Centres) and again this needs to placed around your tub and when the slugs try to slide up your pot and come in contact with the copper tape they will immediately get a shock and this will deter them for going any further.  During the summer months you can also stand your tub (if not too large) in a large container containing two/three inches of water - again this will keep the slugs at bay.  You may need to irradicate any slugs that may be in your pot and you will need to place a few slug pellets on the soil surface.  I would recommend using the small blue pellets which are less harmful to wildlife.

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Tina asks...

Are chocolate cosmos more difficult to grow than others? I have been successful for years with mixed colours but the chocolate always die before I get then in the ground.

Bill replies...

What I would do Tina is to buy a good size plant from a Garden Centre and in early June - weather permitting - plant your Cosmos in your garden.  Cosmos love a sunny spot - in a well drained soil - where they will flourish and flower throughout the summer.  Unlike the majority of the Cosmos species which are annuals, the Chocolate Cosmos is a perennial plant but, is frost sensitive and what you will need to do in late Autumn time is to lift your plant - repot it - and place in a frost free greenhouse/building until the following Spring.

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Sam asks...

I purchased a lovely Chocolate Cosmos in the summer and placed straw over the tubers to help protect it from the end of August there was a heavy frost last night and it appears all the flowers and leaves have withered. Is it possible that the straw around the base of the plant will have protected the tubers and if I bring it indoors and in a warm place is it possible it will survive over the winter months still. This is the first frost of a severe nature we have had so I am hoping it maybe ok if brought in now.

Bill replies...

Quite a number of people Sam do leave their Chocolate Cosmos in the ground during the winter months and just give it protection from the frost with a good layer of straw or well rotted compost material and under normal winter conditions they will survive over the winter months.  If you do not want to take any risks you can lift the tubers, store in a cool frost free shed and replant the following spring.

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Sarah Smith asks...

Where am I best looking for info about heritage plants and historical gardening 18th and 19th century? In particular walled gardens/melon pits. I would like to know what was traditionally planted and info about each plant, its uses/reasons for being planted. Please help!

Bill replies...

I have made enquiries regarding Heritage Plants without much success Sarah and I can only suggest that you contact the Royal Horticultural Society London - Botanic Gardens at Kew - Myerscough College (near Preston) which is the Horticultural College for Lancashire and your local Library.

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Alf Robson asks...

Can I plant out Godetia Plants now? They are 6ins tall are they hardy to withstand the current weather?

Bill replies...

There are numerous bedding plants on sale now Alf but, I am always reluctant to plant out until the end of May.  I would definitely harden your Godetia plants off outside and, if there is any sign of frost you can always bring your plants inside overnight.  Godetia is a beautiful bedding plant but I personally would delay planting until the end of May.

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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/Azaleas 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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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.

Bill replies...

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.

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Derek Law asks...

Why does a Rhododendron in the back garden not flower, it always comes into bud, but never flowers. At its side is a Holly bush that grows vigorously, and another Rhododendron about 8/10 foot away also does very well.

Bill replies...

It could quite well be the competition factor which is causing your Rhododendron not to flower Derek - it is in competition with a very large Holly for nutrients and water and if it is not receiving enough of these basic nutrients the flowering buds will not be able to mature and form properly and it is very important especially during the summer months to keep your Rhododendron well watered.  Your other Rhododendron - which is ten feet away - is obviously receiving the nutrients it requires and is flowering profusely.

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B Crompton asks...

Where can I get a Mattock tool from? All the garden centres I have visited don't have them and my garden is full of really heavy clay.

Bill replies...

I would suggest searching on the internet for a list of suppliers of Mattock Tools.

What you can also do to improve your heavy clay soil is to apply a liberal dressing of ground limestone and also any organic material/sharp grit sand worked into your soil will be of great benefit.

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Sharon Hollingsworth asks...

Could you please tell me what to do with the flowers from a Common Evening Primrose when it has finished flowering?

Bill replies...

The Evening Primrose (Aenothera) is a wonderful plant and although the yellow flowers only last for a day the amount produced ensures you will have a colourful display throughout the Summer.  There are quite a number of varieties Sharon such as Fruticosa Tetragon and the dwarf variety Perennis.  When the flower's spike has finished flowering you will need to cut these back to ground level and, although the plants are easy to grow, you will need to water during very dry spells.

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Elaine Morgan asks...

Are there any evergreen climbers APART from ivy. The walls are 'wet dashed' rather than brick, I've had ivy in the past but it brought the rendering off when it got out of control. I'll be planting in quite shallow soil and we've taken up yard flags, I also want to plant on another wall in a container.

Bill replies...

It may be worth considering Elaine using wall shrubs which will not only cover your wall but will not damage your pebble-dashing.  One of my favourites is the Pyracantha which will produce flowers in the summer and berries in the winter months. And if you require a plant with large glossy leaves why not try Fatshedra which is easy to grow and very hardy.  Climbing plants which I would recommend are; Clematis Armandii - which would need to planted on a south facing wall and the winter flowering Jasmine Nudiflorum which produces an abundance of yellow flowers throughout the winter months and early spring.

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Lynn Williams asks...

My hydrangea petiolaris is approx two and a half years old and is in a shady spot climbing up a wall. However, it has made rapid growth, but the leaves are looking decidedly unhealthy, small and wilting. Should we be feeding it and if so with what? Many thanks.

Bill replies...

I feel your plant is growing so rapidly Lynn that is cannot sustain the transpiration loss from the leaves due to the very hot weather and this is what is causing your plant to wilt.  What usually happens in the evening under cooler conditions your plant will tend to recover - it will be worthwhile to nip out some of these rapidly growing shoots and this will help to offset the transpiration loss.  With your plant actively growing you will need to ensure that your plant is well watered.  On the question of feeding I would leave it until your plant has settled down but, it would be worthwhile if possible to mulch around the roots with some well rotted manure.

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Paul Bray asks...

What's the best way to grow a conker tree and an acorn tree, from a conker and an acorn, how long will it take and will they last? Thanks.

Bill replies...

I find the best method Paul is to plant your conker and acorn seeds in a peat and sharp grit sand mixture - in pots or a two inch sheet tray.  Cover the seeds with approximately one quarter to half an inch of peat and grit mixture.  The pots/seed trays can placed outside in the garden but you will need to cover them with a fine plastic mesh to keep mice at bay.  The time of year to plant your seeds is during the autumn when you have collected the seeds and they will start to germinate early spring time when they can be repeated into single pots.

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Andy Gordon asks...

I have a Boston Ivy waiting to be planted next to my house wall.  Unfortunately, the house is surrounded by a one metre strip of concrete around its base.  How can I train it to "jump the gap" as I do not wish to break up any of the concrete?

Bill replies...

Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus Tricuspidata) is a lovely climbing plant and, in the Autumn the changing colours of the leaves is outstanding.  On the question of your one metre concrete strip Andy, I would be inclined to use a rigid strip of plastic mesh netting - you will need to fix the netting to the concrete but, your plant will have no problem climbing up the netting and then onto your wall.  With any climbers planted next to the house wall you will need to keep an eye on watering and, when the plant is established I would also use a mulch with well rotted manure.

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Joan Weeks asks...

I have five purple aliums in my garden which have just finished flowering, I want to move them for next year. Do I dry them out first or just replant them? They were quite a talking point!

Bill replies...

It has been a wonderful year for the ornamental Aliums Joan and they are certainly becoming a popular plant.  You can plant your Aliums straightaway providing you have let the seed heads die off naturally.

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Carolyn Bailey asks...

When buying bedding plants, the roots are often completely entwined in a solid mass.  I've heard that it's best to 'tease out' some roots, but they don't seem to want to be teased!  I always end up breaking them - is there a best method of untangling, or should they just be left alone?

Bill replies...

The reason for teasing the roots out Carolyn is to enable to roots to grow into the new soil/compost.  If they are left in a solid compact mass when transplanting  they quite often just sit in the new compost.  I would not worry too much about breaking one/two roots but I always find it easier to work from the centre and gently ease the roots outwards.  You will also find that the roots will separate more easily if you plants have been well watered.

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Ruth Lambert asks...

I'd like to grow ivy to cover a house wall which has been made from ugly bricks. The problem is that the concrete drive extends right up to the wall. Will the ivy survive if I try to grow it from long, narrow, foot high containers? Also, will I need to use a trellis? Many thanks.

Bill replies...

You are going to have problems growing any trailing plants up the side of your wall Ruth if they are in containers only one foot high and very narrow.  They will be constantly be drying out during the summer months and they will also need regular feeding and if your brick work and mortar is quite old I would be very reluctant to choose a plant such as Ivy which, can easily root into the old mortar and into any window frames.  On the other hand if the brick work is sound, Ivy would be the ideal choice.  There are large terracotta plastic containers available which you could use for growing your trailing plants. Other species I would consider would be the Virginia Creeper (Boston Ivy) the small leafed Honeysuckle (Lonicera Japonica) - Clematis Montana and also the ornamental Vine (Vitis Coignetiae).

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Mary Goulding asks...

I have just acquired a very overgrown allotment plot, I am a novice gardener to say the least. There are all kinds of waist high weeds, only one that I can put a name to: mare's tail. I know its a massive job, the Parish councillor's handyman has agreed to strim the plot initially, and then I planned to cover it up with black plastic and deal with a small area at a time.  Is this the best way to start, or should I use weedkiller (roundup) before strimming?

Bill replies...

I would use a weed killer such as RoundUp which contains glyphostate before strimming Mary.  Now is a very good time to apply the weed killer which when applied will be transferred through the leaves and into the roots and it will take approximately two weeks for the weeds to die back.  I would then apply the black plastic to your allotment plot to suppress any weeds which are going to germinate.  I agree entirely with your method of cultivating small areas at a time.

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Ray Donnelly asks...

I have recently bought a bungalow with a lovely mature garden (established in the 1950's). It is full of different trees, shrubs and plants. Having just moved in this autumn, I am sure many more flowers will appear next Spring and Summer.
I am a novice gardener having spent my life a a busy surgeon, and I want to identify as many of the plants, shrubs etc as I can. Can you recommend a good book to help me do this? Thank you.

Bill replies...

The two reference books which I use on a regular basis Ray is the Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopaedia of Plants and Flowers and the reference book Botanica which has over ten thousand illustrated plants listed.  The publisher is Gordon Cheers and is published by Random House Australia.  Collins Press also publish a wide range of specialist gardening books which I also find very useful.

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Norma Hutchinson asks...

How can I over winter 100+ zonal geraniums? I have a small unheated greenhouse. Thanks.

Bill replies...

You can over winter your Zonal Geraniums/Pelargoniums Norma but the only problem with using your unheated greenhouse is that the interior will be very moist and damp  and this can quite easily cause your Geraniums to rot and damp off.  What I would do  is when you lift your Geraniums - cut them back to half their size and any yellowing and dead leaves need to be removed.  I would then repot approximately one third of your plants into three to five inch pots and place in the greenhouse - keeping the plants dry.  You will need to check them for rotting and damping off.  With the remainder of your plants I would lift - shake off the soil - cut back to half the size removing any yellowing leaves and place these in a cardboard box - and if possible - place in a frost free cool shed or garage.  Again you will need to check for rotting and damping off.  Repot the plants the following Spring and place in a cool greenhouse.

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Margaret Nightingale asks...

I have a Pointsetta which was bought last December. I  have repotted it and although it is growing well, what do I need do to get the red leaves? I have heard that I should put it in a dark place, is it too late to do that for this December?

Bill replies...

If you can keep your Poinsettia in a room which only receives natural daylight for a period of six to eight weeks Margaret the leaves of your plant will then start to go red.  Your Poinsettia needs natural daylight or approximately 14-15 hours complete darkness each day for at least six to eight weeks.  For example your Poinsettia would need to be kept in the dark i.e. from 6pm in the evening until 9am the following morning and then your plant needs to be given daylight for the rest of the day in a warm room with plenty of light.

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Beverley Dunnill asks...

When and how do I cut back my Pointsetta plants? One is two years old and has no red leaves and the other I bought at Christmas 2006. Thanks

Bill replies...

What usually happens with quite a number of Pointsettes bought at Christmas time Beverley is that during February/March the bottom leaves begin to yellow and drop off leaving bare green stems.  If this happens you can cut the bare stems back to approximately six to nine inches from the base of the plant and you need to cut back just above a leaf scar and, with your two year old plant the stems need to be cut back five to six inches above the previous seasons growth.  Regarding your two year old plant for it to produce red leaves it would have needed to be grown under natural daylight from the end of September - any supplementary lighting and the leaves will just remain green.  They need fourteen hours darkness each day to produce the red leaves.

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Margaret Large asks...

Please can you advise how to treat hydrangea over winter? We have one pink one in the ground and another pink one in a large pot thank you.

Bill replies...

If your Hydrangeas are the mop head type (Hydrangea Hortensis) Margaret you need to do very little over the winter months but it is advisable to leave the flower heads on to protect the young shoots/buds over the winter period.  Hydrangeas are quite a greedy plant and over the spring/summer months you will need to keep them well watered and also fed regularly - especially your Hydrangea in the pot.  You can feed with a slow release fertiliser or you can use a base fertiliser such as GrowMore or Fish Blood and Bone Meal.  Little pruning is required except for cutting back large shoots and straggly stems just above a base shoot in early spring time.

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Pam Haslam asks...

Tips for planting hanging baskets please and also suitable plants to use.

Bill replies...

My favourite plants for hanging baskets are trailing fuchsia, the mauve flowering bacopa, surfina petunias, the ivy leaf geranium, creeping jenny, and for filling the gaps in your basket I use the trailing lobelia and, I would recommend the varieties String of Pearls and Cascade.  If you would like to place a hanging basket in a shaded spot in your garden I would recommend the flowering trailing begonias, the upright non-stop begonias as a main central plant and also impatians, ferns and trailing ivys.

It is very important to keep your baskets well watered - they will need regular feeding and I find the slow realise fertiliser pellets excellent.  I would also use a compost which contains the watering retaining swell gel modules.  And, last but by no means least, on a very windy day I would take your hanging baskets down and place in a sheltered spot - better safe than sorry!

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John Williamson asks...

I have lots of trailing begonias in hanging baskets. Do they seed so that I can collect and grow them next year, or will they form tubers? Many thanks

Bill replies...

Your trailing Begonia should produce some small tubers but it is important that you allow them to have as long a growing season as possible to enable your tubers to mature.  You can then lift your Begonias shaking the soil off - cutting the stems right back and your tubers will then need to be dried out and placed in a cool but frost proof building.  Over the winter period the tubers can just be stored in a cardboard box.

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George King asks...

How do I keep my bedding plants, pot plants and hanging baskets watered quickly and easily whilst away for three weeks?

Bill replies...

There are small automatic watering systems available for the amateur gardener George and these are on display in larger Garden Centres and DIY Stores with prices from £50 upwards. You will also see these systems advertised in Gardening Magazines. However, one of the easiest methods which you can use is capillary matting which can  be placed on a greenhouse bench with the ends of the matting immersed in large tanks of water and by capillary action the matting will be kept moist at all times and your plants can be placed on the matting.  It is going to be difficult to water your hanging baskets using this method but you can get drip irrigation nozzles which are used in some of the small systems especially for hanging baskets.  I feel that three weeks is quite a long time and if you do use capillary matting you will need two large containers to sustain the damp conditions required and quite a number of the smaller automatic systems will only last for approximately two weeks.

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Cecile Spencer asks...

This year we bought large hanging baskets. They are now starting to be past their best and I was wondering what to do with the plants that are in them (there are geraniums, fuscias etc). I was also wondering if the variety of fuscias which is used in hanging baskets is a 'special' type (ie if I plant them in my garden, will they grow along the ground or would they grow straight up?) Thank you for your help.

Bill replies...

You will be able to keep both your Geraniums and Fuchsia Cecile - what I usually do is remove the plants from the basket and repot the Geraniums/Fuchsia into three/five inch pots - cutting back the plants to half their size - removing any dead and yellow leaves.  The plants then need to be placed in a cool, dry/frost proof building and kept on the dry side.  Any further yellowing leaves also need to be removed.  On the question of your Fuchsia plants the types which will have been growing in your baskets are the trailing varieties and these cannot be used as upright species.

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Barry Stanley asks...

Alstomeria. I purchased four small plants in August 06 at Southport Flower Show. They have been repotted twice and are now in 9in pots in the greenhouse with plenty of leaf still on. Can I put them in the garden in spring? They have made lots of roots in the pot so before planting can they be divided?

Bill replies...

The summer flowering tuberous perennial Alstomeria tends to produce an abundance of flowers if allowed to form a large clump, and I feel that it is worthwhile taking this into consideration Barry before dividing your plants.  The time to divide your plants is early Spring and I would be inclined to keep two of the plants in the large pots and divide the other two remaining pots.  Your plants will need to be grown in a sunny position and they do prefer a well drained compost.

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John Pollock asks...

What is the best time to repot Camelias?

Bill replies...

One of my favourite shrubs John is the Camelia - they produce lovely glossy leaves and a wonderful displays of flowers in the Spring.  Regarding your question on when to repot your plants the correct time is after flowering and it is important to repot your plants in a lime free/ericaceous compost.  The majority of ericaceous composts are peat based but you can purchase an ericaceous soil based John Innes compost which has been specially formulated for acid loving plants - such as your Camellias - and with this compost being heavier than peat it will make your pots more stable and less prone to being blown over.

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Michael Ellison asks...

My parents gave me a camellia japonica 'adolphe audusson' for Christmas. I've kept it  indoors to protect from shock off cold weather, watered it gave it plenty of light but now the leaves are turning brown and the flower buds have fallen off. When should I plant it outside?

Bill replies...

The browning of the leaves and dropping of flower buds could be due to your plant being kept in too warm a room Michael and also if your plant has been kept too most this will also cause the leaves to brown.  It is going to be too much of a shock to place your plant outside at the present time and I would wait until middle March/early April.  When outside your plant needs to be kept in a sheltered spot and they do require slightly acid soil - too much lime in the soil will cause yellowing of the leaves.

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Carol Johnson asks...

A year or so ago we were told that a palm tree had brought down a wall.  Our neighbour has planted a palm tree which is now about 5` tall next to a new brick wall.  Would this cause damage to the wall?

Bill replies...

What happens when a tree is planted too near a wall Carol is that the roots go searching for water and can quite easily penetrate the foundations of walls and take moisture from around the foundations which can then cause subsidence.  This in turn will cause cracks to appear in the wall.  Your neighbours Palm Tree will not have a vigorous root system such as the Willow or Cherry but, it will grow to a height of 15 - 20 feet and will have a large root system and I feel your neighbour's Palm is planted too close to the wall and will cause problems.

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Heather Profit asks...

We have a Juniperus Blue Star and Blue Carpet planted in 2001, which have grown well and spread, but last year one of them died back quite badly and this year the other has died back in the centre of the plant and looks unsightly.  This latter is planted by the side of steps in a bed of heathers.  What are we doing wrong?

Bill replies...

This happens quite often with Junipers Heather especially Blue Carpet and it is usually caused by very dry soil conditions and with your Junipers competing for nutrients and also water I am sure this is the main reason why you have had die back on your Junipers.  To offset the problem I would give your plants a really good watering and I would also feed with a general base fertiliser.

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Tony asks...

I have a 6 ft fence no gaps and need a rapid growing plant to cover outside to prevent graffiti being drawn on it. I would like to grow it on inside the fence to hang over to outside if possible or feed through from bottom of fence. This fence backs on to a public dirt track. Any ideas?

Bill replies...

The most vigorous climber I can recommend Tony to cover your fence is the Russian Vine commonly known as the 'mile a minute plant' and the most popular variety is Polygonum Baldschuanicum and the growth rate can be fifteen feet or more per year and it is an ideal plant for covering unsightly walls and graffiti.  You will however need to keep an eye on this Vine as it is a very vigorous grower and your fence could finish up looking like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

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Jackie asks...

I am thinking of buying a Ceanothus (California lilac). What I want to know is, can this plant be kept in a tub, or does it have to be in the ground?

Bill replies...

Ceanothus the California Lilac is a beautiful shrub Jackie and there are varieties which you will be able to grow in large tubs and containers.  I would use a soil base compost - John Innes No 2 and 3. Ceanothus' do require a well drained medium and you will need at least one inch layer of gravel at the bottom of your tub to assist drainage.  I would choose an evergreen variety and the one that I am particularly fond of is the variety Pugent Blue which, will grow to approximately one to two metres.  Any shrubs growing in containers need to be kept well watered and you will need to top dress during the growing season with a general base fertiliser such as Fish Blood and Bone Meal or Vitax Q4.  Ceanothus are frost sensitive and your shrub will need to be situated in a sheltered spot over the winter months.

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Shirley asks...

I have a clematis montana which covers my pegoda every spring. I have just noticed my neighbours have planted a virginia creeper on the other side of the fence. The virginia creeper is now invading the clematis. I need to know if the clematis will survive this or will it be suffocated?

Bill replies...

Regarding your neighbour's Virginia Creeper Shirley the most popular species is Parthenocissus Tricuspidata (Boston Ivy) and this is quite vigorous and will suppress your Clematis.  The mature leaves of the Boston Ivy are three lobed.  The large leaves of the True Virginia Creeper Parthenocissus Quinquefolia is again quite vigorous and each leaf contains five oval leaflets.  The other plants which looks very similar and is often mistaken for Virginia Creeper is the Russian Vine which, will produce masses of white flowers during the summer months.  Your Clematis is also a vigorous plant and should compete with the True Virginia Creeper but the Russian Vine and the Boston Ivy will I am afraid suppress your Clematis. The easiest option you have is to keep trimming the creepers back away from your Clematis.

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Claire Qualtrough asks...

I have a rubber plant (Ficus Tineke) and it developed brown, dry patches on its leaves a little while ago. Does it need more light or more/less water?

Bill replies...

One of the main reasons why you get browning of the leaves on any foliage plants including Rubber Plants is the dry atmosphere in which the plants are growing Claire and, this quite often happens over the winter months when people switch on their central heating.  To overcome this problem in the winter you can stand your Rubber Plant on a saucer which has inside moist pebbles - this will ensure that there is some humidity around the plant.  It is also vitally important over the winter months that you do not overwater - your Rubber Plants need to be kept slightly on the dry side over the winter period.  During the summer months I would place your plant away from direct sunlight as, this can again causes dry patches and scorching of the leaves due to the increase in temperature.  Basic cultivation requirements are - do not overwater in the winter - frequent watering in the summer - and feed with a general liquid fertiliser approximately every two to three weeks over the spring/summer period.  If you plant needs repotting this again should be done early springtime.

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Pauline asks...

I've had my aspidistra in the same spot in my lounge for over 18yrs. It's generally healthy but sometimes some of the leaves go yellow and die. I don't overwater it or feed it too much, so can you tell me what I'm doing wrong. At the moment it's got about 20 healthy leaves on it and 3 are going yellow.

Bill replies...

I would not worry if there are only one or two leaves yellowing Pauline - this is quite natural for large Aspidistra plants.  The usual cause for yellowing of the leaves especially over the winter months is over watering but, I am not going to give you advice on cultivation techniques having had an Aspidistra for eighteen years and with over twenty healthy leaves tells me that you have 'green fingers'.  Just one quick note in the Victorian times the Aspidistra was nicknamed the Cast Iron Plant because it was one of the few plants which could withstand the fumes from the indoor gas lights.

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Judith asks...

I just started gardening over a year ago after buying my first house. I planted a Laburnum tree last year in late March, and after only producing 2 flowers, the leaves turned yellow and fell off after a couple of months.  Unfortunately I have poor drainage in the garden, and for some of the winter the soil was waterlogged.  The tree has healthy looking buds on, but has still not started to produce any leaves. Other Laburnums in the area have leaves and have started producing the buds for flowers by now. Please can you advise whether this is normal for a tree in its first year after planting, or whether I have planted in too wet soil? If so, is there any way to rectify the soil without disturbing the tree, or is it too late to remove the tree either to a different position or plant in a large pot? Any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Please help?!

Bill replies...

I feel that the reason for your Laburnum Tree losing its leaves is the water logged conditions in which your tree is growing Judith.  Laburnums love to be planted in a well drained but fertile soil and it would be worthwhile to drain away from your tree any surplus water.  Long term I feel that it would be better to remove your tree into a different position where it is not water logged or replanting in a large container and I would be inclined to replant in the Autumn time.

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Anne Solley asks...

My small bedding plants (begonias and geraniums) have developed small pale spots on the leaves. Could this be caused by the sun on wet leaves?

Bill replies...

The problem causing the small spots on the leaves of your bedding plants Anne could quite easily be sun scorch damage which can quite easily occur on damp leaves and it is always advisable to try and water bedding plants early morning and evenings to avoid this problem.  Begonias are very susceptible to this problem.  There is also the other alternative that the spots could have been caused by the extreme weather conditions during June and July - the heavy rain coupled with hail stones could quite easily have caused pitting and spots on the leaves.

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Julie Dawn Webb asks...

I just bought a cocos nucifera but do not know any thing about it - is it an indoor or outdoor plant and how long do they last? Do I feed it, what is the best way to water it?

Bill replies...

Your Cocos Nucifera (Coconut Palm) is quite an exotic plant Julie.  It is an indoor plant and during the winter months will require a temperature of 18 degrees centigrade and I have listed below various cultivating requirements which I hope you will find useful.

A tropical plant which requires bright warm and humid conditions and regarding watering and feeding you will need to keep the plant slightly moist at all times and during the spring and summer months you will need to give a liquid feed once every two weeks.  It is important to keep the humidity around the plant quite high and you can do this by misting with slightly warm water.  It is virtually pest and disease free and if the tips of the leaves start to brown it is an indication that the atmosphere is too dry.

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Ken Benn asks...

What type of soil do ferns and conifers like, can you do anything to slow down their growth?

Bill replies...

The bulk of Fern and Conifers species Ken prefer neutral or slightly acid soil and again the majority of Ferns prefer very moist and damp dapple shady conditions.  Conifers prefer a fertile organic soil which is well drained - they do not like being planted in water logged conditions - which will cause the needles to yellow.  Regarding slowing down their growth there used to be a product which you could use to slow the growth rate, especially for hedging conifers, but this has now been taken off the market.

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Janet Holmes asks...

What is the cure for soil mould due to overwatering and will this continue to spread and will affect plant growth?

Bill replies...

Mould on soil Janet is usually caused by compaction of the soil which causes poor aeration and is ideal conditions for the spread of algal growth and mould conditions.  You will usually find that this also occurs in shaded areas and what you could do is try, without damaging the roots of your plant, incorporating some sharp grit sand into the soil and also forking the soil will help aeration.  Also spreading a layer of bark mulch over the soil will not cure the problem but, will help to control the algal growth.  If you have problems with soil mould on plants grown in containers the easiest method is to scrape the mould off and place a layer of sharp grit over the soil.

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Petrina asks...

I have a bird of paradise plant which is in a large pot 35in across, the stems are growing very tall but then they are breaking. I am feeding and watering the plant and it looks healthy apart from this. The plant is 7yrs old no flower as yet. Is the pot too big and how can I stop them stems from breaking?

Bill replies...

It is important Petrina that your Bird of Paradise is growing in a very light position which will control elongation of the leaves and, if we do have a late hot summer it would be beneficial to place your plant outside in a sheltered spot during the hot weather.  You obviously need to take your plant indoors during the winter months and again, it is important to ensure that your plant receives maximum light intensity.  Placing the plant outside during the summer will harden the shoots off and encourage flowering and, I would cut down on the feeding of your plant as I am sure that this is what is causing the lush growth of the leaves and with your plant being in a large pot you will only need to feed occasionally and I would use a high potash fertiliser which again will encourage flowering and harden the shoots off?

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Petrina asks...

I have a Bird of Paradise plant which is now 7 years old, I think. I bought it 3 years ago as a Christmas gift for my husband. It was growing fine in the conservatory and flowered for this first time last year. But since then we have moved house and the leaves are starting to curl up. I now keep it in the front room by the patio doors hoping that it will improve. Is there any thing that I can do to help the lovely plant and to stop it curling up?

Bill replies...

Your Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia Reginae) is a beautiful plant Samantha and it could quite well be that the change of position to where you now have your plant could quite easily be the cause of the leaves curling.  During the winter months Strelitzias love to be kept in a very light room and watered sparingly and kept at a temperature of approximately 50-60 degrees f.  Also during the winter months occasionally misting the leaves with tepid water will increase the air humidity and this will be beneficial to the plant.  I am certain that the reason why the leaves on your plant are curling is due to air humidity (too dry an atmosphere) and temperature change and I would suggest that during the summer months - providing that we have a reasonable summer - it would be worthwhile to place your plant outside in a sheltered sunny position, Strelitzias do appreciate a breath of fresh air during the summer period.

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Joan Cross asks...

When do I plant delphinium seeds, which I have collected from this year's plants?

Bill replies...

Regarding your Delphinium seeds Joan if you have a greenhouse you could sow some of the seeds now (August) and when they have germinated you could prick the seedlings out into small three inch pots but, the seedlings will need to be kept in the greenhouse over the winter period.  The easiest method I find it to wait until the spring, sow the seeds in a seed potting compost and again when the seedlings have germinated prick out into individual small pots.  They need to be kept in light conditions and during the summer months these can be hardened off and repotted into large pots or planted in the garden.  I personally like to produce a reasonably large plant before transferring into the garden.  It is important that during the winter months your Delphinium seeds are placed in plastic containers and kept in a cool/constant temperature and I find the ideal place is the domestic fridge.

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Simon Cowell asks...

For the first time ever I have a lot of seed pods on my wisteria. What should I do with them? I would like to use them if possible.

Bill replies...

You can grow Wisteria from seed Simon but it can take up to twenty years for a Wisteria to produce flowers from seed!  If you still intend trying to grow from seed you will need to wait until the seed pods have fully ripened then the seeds can be collected and sown in small pots or seed trays using a seed compost with extra grit sand and the seeds need to be covered with approximately one quarter/half an inch of compost.  The pots/seeds trays can then be placed outside in a cold frame or sheltered position in the garden but must be protected from mice.  The other alternative would be to collect the seed and dry under normal room temperature, place the seeds in a plastic container, and keep in a domestic fridge until the following spring when the seeds can be sown in pots/seed trays again using a general seed/potting mixture and placed on a kitchen window sill or in a greenhouse.

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Jackie Dickenson asks...

I have a shumack tree in my garden.  Unfortunately my children decided to strip the bark, causing all the leaves to wilt and die. I trimmed the affected areas,  mulched and fed it, and there are lots of leafy shoots running from the bottom.  Are these just runners, or will they summount into anything? Many thanks.

Bill replies...

The most popular Sumach Tree grown in people's gardens is Rhus Typhina the Stags Horn Sumach and the tuberous roots of the Sumach do produce numerous suckers and these suckers are the leafy shoots which you have mentioned in your question.  These suckers can be dug up and planted in the garden to produce new trees.

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Eleanor Moon asks...

I have three reasonably sized camelias in largish pots and one of them has what can only be described as "leaf curl".  The other two are perfectly healthy and have a plentiful supply of fresh buds - as does also the affected plant but it does look quite unhealthy.  What is causing ghe leaves to curl and what can I do to prevent it?  Many thanks.  

Bill replies...

It is difficult Eleanor to pin point exactly what is causing the leaves on your Camellia to curl.  It could be a virus disease or a genetic disorder which is causing the problem to just this one plant but, leaf curl can also be caused by scale insects and aphid damage although I very much doubt that this is the problem.  I would however check the leaves of your plant carefully to see if there are any diseases affecting this particular plant.  If all three of your plants were planted in the same potting medium and have received the same treatments it looks very much like that this one plant is suffering from a genetic disorder and it will be difficult to find a cure for the problem.

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Ann asks...

I would like to plant Acacia Dealbata next to the house.  Will its roots be a problem for the foundations - how close can it be?

Bill replies...

Your Acacia Dealbata (Mimosa Silver Wattle) is a beautiful evergreen tree Ann and can reach a height of 30 metres and a 10 metre spread but, it does require a very sheltered and sunny aspect and will only grow in the South and West of Britain and where I live in the North West you only see these growing in cool conservatories and cool greenhouses.  It is however a beautiful tree with delicate foliage and produces masses of sweetly scented yellow flowers.  With regard to growing an Acacia on the wall next to your house as mentioned above it can grow into a very large tree and could quite easily affect the foundations of your house.  It is difficult to give you a more precise answer but, if you have a south facing aspect /wall or large fence away from the house I am sure it would be well worthwhile to grow one of these beautiful trees.

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M Dyson asks...

Is it too late to plant "everlasting" sweet peas. Should they be planted straight into the garden, or in pots please?

Bill replies...

I would plant your everlasting Sweet Peas (Lathyrus Latifolius) in small separate pots rather than straight into the ground.  They can take quite a while to germinate and you will need to be sowing these in pots now (March).  If you do not have a greenhouse your pots can placed on a kitchen windowsill and once they have germinated they will require maximum light intensity to avoid the plants going leggy, and when large enough the growing shots can be nipped out to encourage a more bushy plant.  You can, depending on weather conditions, plant them out in your garden mid April time.  Your Sweet Peas will require a sunny outlook, a very rich humus soil and, they will flower continually from June to October.  They are quite vigorous and are ideal for growing up a sunny wall or trellace work but, unlike the annual Sweet Pea there is no fragrance.

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Irene Bennett asks...

I have moved house and inherited a Labernum which I believe is over 50yrs old. It flowered beautifully but when the garden died down for the autumn I noticed the trunk splits into two at about 1 ft from the ground. One of the trunks is leaning over at about 45deg and is splitting away from the main trunk, obviously the cause of it leaning. there is quite a large wound at the divide which has a white mouldy looking growth around it. Is there anything I can do to help this limb survive? We have a quite damp soil, clay soil.

Bill replies...

I feel that you are going to have to errect strong wooden post supports to stop the trunk from splitting completely.  You could also, to take pressure of the leaning trunk, strap the trunk to the main trunk using rubberised straps.  It is not going to be easy and it maybe worthwhile to obtain on the spot advice from a local Tree Surgeon or even your local Parks Department.

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David Hawke asks...

We have several mature sycamore trees beyond our rear fence (with TPOs on them). We moved into this house in November, and are just now seeing many tiny saplings in the front and rear lawns and take them to be sycamores. Can we eradicate by mowing or will it be necessary to use a paint-on/systemic herbicide on each seedling? Help!

Bill replies...

The regular mowing of your lawn David will keep the Sycamores under control but it will not solve the problem and, whilst it may be tedious as soon as you see these tiny saplings appearing in the lawn you need to gently lift them from the lawn and cut the roots off with a sharp pair of secateurs.  Regarding paint on systemic herbicides these will help to kill the seedlings and the named products which you can use are RoundUp, Tumbleweed or Bayer Glyphosate.  All these three named weedkillers contain the chemical glyphosate. 

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Dave Cooper asks...

A couple of years ago I had a block paved driveway built, and in parts (especially just behind a fence and a hedge) a green film is developing on the brickwork and also moss is growing between the bricks. Could you please advise me what I should do to get rid of this film and bring the brickwork back to pristine condition. Could soapy water, a good stiff brush and plenty of elbow grease be the answer?

Bill replies...

There are Dave cleansing materials available at Garden Centres for cleaning paving stones and block paving but, I am sure soapy water and a stiff brush will do the job and will also help to keep you fit!  I would refrain from using a power jet machine as this will wash out all the sand between the block paving and, you should also avoid the use of strong disinfectant as there is a chance that run off will occur onto nearby plants or soaking into the soil.  Good luck with your task.

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Dawn-Marie Robbins-Eales asks...

I have a skimma which has its leaves turning yellow, my soil is 7.5pH and is clay. I have incorparated matter into the soil. now is this to do with the soil or is the plant suffering from a lack of iron.

Bill replies...

Skimmias love to be planted in a slightly acid soil Dawn-Marie and the reason why the leaves on your Skimmia are turning yellow is due to the high pH of you soil and the term used for yellowing of the leaves is Lime Choloris.  Basically what happens is the lime in the soil blocks the uptake of iron to the plant which is then turns the leaf yellow. Short remedies are to increase the iron in the soil by applying a fertiliser in the soil such as Sequestrian Iron and also as you have indicated incorporate organic matter into the soil but, I am afraid that long term you would be far better planting your Skimmia in a large container using an ericatious compost if all the soil in your garden is alkaline.  You will already most probably aware that to obtain berries on a Skimmia both a male and female variety are required.

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Sarah Westerdale asks...

I moved home in November and recently began clearing the front garden, it was very overgrown with shrubs of a thorny nature, no leaves or new growth just a mass of thorns most of which pulled away from the plant quite easily.  However the parts I had to cut revealed a yellowing all the way through the cut, the same on some other shrubs too.  I have never seen this before and as I am hoping to plant new shrubs, trees and plants in the area once clear I am concerned, could this be a disease?  My partner has suggested it may be some kind of poison/killer administered by the previous owner.  Can you make any sense of this and do you think I am safe to replant in the same area?

Bill replies...

It is difficult to say for certain Sarah whether the previous owner of your house used a total weedkiller to kill the plants but, if a total weedkiller such as Sodium Chlorate has been used you will have to wait approximately six months before any plants can be planted.  I am sorry that I am unable to give you any more information but if there is nothing whatsoever growing in your garden it does look as though weedkiller has been used.

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Barbara Kramer asks...

We live in a flat and are coverting an old bin store in the courtyard into a patio. We have cleaned some of the bricks for re-use to build planters; can we use broken bricks with mortar still attached to provide drainage in the base of the planters or will the mortar decompose and produce chemicals which will adversely affect the plants?

Bill replies...

You will find Barbara that mortar contains a large amount of lime and if you use broken bricks with mortar for drainage it will affect acid loving plants such as Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Japanese Maples and Camellias and therefore you will need to take this into account before using bricks/mortar for drainage.

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Mike Haggar asks...

What can I plant that won't get eaten by deer wandering into the garden?

Bill replies...

There are Mike some weird and wonderful methods for keeping Deer out of gardens such as sonic sirens, flashing units, tin cans and streamers attached to wires and chemical repellents which are available in Garden Centres and non commercial products such as Lion Dung from Zoos but, if all else fails I have listed below plants which are reasonably resistant to Deer.

Camellia, Cistus, Lavender, Rhododendron, Fuchsia, Hellebores, Iris, Clematis, Foxgloves, Kerria Japonica and Daffodils.

If you are considering planting trees you will need to protect these with plastic tubes around the stems or netting guards which can be used for shrubs and conifers.

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Barbara Stretch asks...

Why are my leaves on my orchid going yellow and dropping off?

Bill replies...

There are Barbara a number of reasons why Orchid leaves turn yellow and drop off and the most common reason is over watering. Orchids do prefer to be kept on the dry side and need to be watered sparingly especially during the winter months.  Temperature also plays an important and the general rule is 70 degrees f during the summer and approximately 55-60 degrees f during the winter period.  During the summer months Orchids need a light position but away from direct sunlight,  good ventilation is required but it is important to keep your Orchid away from cold draughts. You will need to feed your Orchid occasionally during the winter months with a half strength liquid orchid fertiliser and during the summer period at weekly intervals.  Orchids do prefer to be pot bound and only need repotting every two to three years using the recommend orchid compost.

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Shirley Bird asks...

I have recently moved into a house with a very small garden containing a small malus and a small prunus, but as they are not named I am unsure of exact varieties. My problem is both trees had a beautiful display of berries in the autumn but now neither has any blossom this spring. Any ideas why?

Bill replies...

If both your trees are looking healthy Shirley it could quite well be that the late frosts we have had this year have killed the blossom.  There is nothing much that you can do but as I have mentioned above if your tree and leaves are looking healthy obviously no damage has been caused by the use of herbicides. 

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Wayne Chandler asks...

Please could you advise what regular feed should be given to 'viburnum tinus'. Thank you

Bill replies...

Viburnum Tinus Wayne is a lovely winter flowering shrub which produces pink buds and white flowers.  It is also a very easy plant to grow and will tolerate a wide range of conditions.  I would recommend that you feed your Viburnum early springtime/late summer time with a general base fertiliser such as Fish Blood and Bone Meal or Vitax Q4.

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Robin Harrod asks...

We have a huge very long established wisteria growing over our garage. It is perhaps 25 years old and is beautiful. The garage is to be demolished and extended over the root area. Is there some way of digging it up and storing before replanting that will give a chance to preserve the plant?

Bill replies...

If Robin as you suggest the Wisteria has to be removed  the shoots and main stems will need to be cut hard back and I am afraid that you will then be left with the main trunk and bare stems. You will then need to dig out as large a root ball as possible, I would then in a sheltered spot in your garden dig a large hole and heal the Wisteria in but ensuring that the plant is kept well watered during the summer period.  Hopefully new shoots will start to appear from the trunk and stems.

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Jan Thornton asks...

When we moved to our current house 5 years ago there was a dead cherry tree which we removed.  We planted some fir trees to provide cover from neighbour's house which started to grow really well and then died after about 1 year.  We then tried Red Robin which have grown really well and looked very healthy until now and they are beginning to look very sad, the leaves are dropping.  I am beginning to wonder if there is something in the soil which is killing the plants.  Any ideas?

Bill replies...

There could Jan be a number of reasons why your trees are dying, one could be that there is something toxic in the soil but if this is the case nothing else would survive in that part of your garden.  There is also a soil borne disease called Honey Dew Fungi and this fungi attacks the roots of a wide range of shrubs and trees.  To see of your soil has been contaminated it would be worthwhile planting one or two bedding out plants in the soil and see if they survive.  I would also advise you to obtain a second opinion from a local Tree Surgeon and I would be very grateful if you could advise me of the outcome.

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Katie asks...

I'm hoping to keep my Christmas tree from last year growing until this Christmas. I've re-potted it and moved it outside, but the top of the tree is browning slightly - what can I do to help / feed it, and how should I care for it throughout the year?

Bill replies...

The reason why the needles on your Christmas Tree are slightly browning is due to the tree being placed outside and the change in temperature.  You would be far better situating your tree in a slightly dapple shady spot as this will cut down on transpiration loss and will give your tree a much better chance of re-establishing itself. 

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Mary asks...

I would like some advice please on the care of my amaryllis following flowering.

Bill replies...

Most Amaryllis bulbs which are purchased in the autumn from Garden Centres have been pre-treated to ensure that they flower quickly Mary.  Once they have flowered it can take twelve to fifteen months before flowering takes place again and, then they will settle down to flower annually.  What you do need to do after flowering is feed the bulb with a high potash fertiliser to keep the leaves green and healthy and this in turn will bulk up the bulb.  When the foliage starts to turn yellow you can then slowly cut down the watering and feeding and let the bulb dry out in its pot and, when the leaves have completely dried off you can cut the leaves off just above the neck of the bulb.  It is important that after cutting off the leaves that you keep the bulb in a warm place with a temperature of 18 - 25 degrees centigrade.  During the autumn time you can gradually increase the watering of the bulb, keeping the temperature at approximately 20 degrees centigrade and within a period of six to ten weeks your bulb should be ready for flowering again.

last updated: 19/05/2008 at 11:36
created: 23/10/2006

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