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16 October 2014
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Winter 2009
John Cushnie On...

... A BBCi Live Chat

John answered your gardening questions in a live event on Friday 25th July 2003...

BBC Host:
Welcome to our live chat with John Cushnie. John Cushnie is a landscape designer and contractor who has run his own landscape design and contracting company in County Down for the last 25 years. He also lectures and demonstrates gardening all over Ireland and Great Britain. John writes for gardening magazines and newspapers and has published a book, Ground Cover.
He is a panellist on Radio 4 Gardeners' Question Time and has contributed to BBC Radio Ulster's Gardeners' Corner since 1968.

Shona asks: how do I get rid of weeds in a lawn they have overtaken?

John Cushnie: Prior to today you could have used chemicals but most of those have now been taken off the market and it's going to have to be mainly cultural methods. Such as scarifying, raking and general good management.

Jean asks: Just purchased Acer Bloodgood. It has tiny holes in all of it's leaves also noticed minute white spots on stems.They are too small for scale insects. What could be causing this?

John Cushnie: Acer Bloodgood is a particularly good red leafed variety. The small holes have probably been caused by an insect eating which will do no long term damage and has probably moved on by now anyhow. If the white spots are that small, it sounds like they may be the lenticils which are naturally on the stem and will do no harm at all.

TT asks: When is the best time to take hostas from the ground to a pot?

John Cushnie: Obviously it is best moved when dormant, and that can be any time from Autumn until early Spring. In spring be careful not to damage the new young shoots. Good Luck!

Kathy asks: I'm a fan of summer hanging baskets and would love to have winter ones too - but apart from ivy what can I put in them?

John Cushnie: Ivy probably wouldn't enjoy it!!!! Try winter flowering heathers such as springwood white, or winter flowering pansies, Gaultheria Shallon, is a small evergreen with very red berries and would be lovely over Christmas.

Gray Flo: I have been eaten alive by raspberry beetles! Is there anything you can recommend to deter them while I am gardening and save me from this awful itch!! LOL

John Cushnie: Forget your itch! What about the poor raspberries. Really there is little you can do in that any chemical you might be tempted to use wouldn't be a good idea when the fruit is on the plant. Remove any weeds growing in the area, and hopefully a drier season will mean less of a problem.

Jen asks: Can you tell me if and when outdoor grown tomatoes actually go red ? Or should I crop them and just leave them to ripen in the sun ?

John Cushnie: Providing they are a red fruited variety they will redden when ripe. Sun will speed the process up but is not essential. There are yellow fruiting varieties.

Gail asks: My 7 yr old Wisteria has just flowered for the first time this year. It has now lost all it's leaves and looks dead, but growth has re-started at the base of the plant. I've cut it back by 1/3, should I wait until next year or should I cut the whole stem down and let the new growth take hold?

John Cushnie: Any dead shoots can be pruned out but I would be concerned as to why it suddenly started to die. It sounds like something temporary since it is growing away again. Fertilise with high nitrogen to encourage growth and hopefully it will be OK by next year.

Anthea asks: When should I use farmyard manure and when should I use compost? What's the difference?

John Cushnie: Very little difference. Some farmyard manures ie poultry would contain slightly more nitrogen, but really both are used more for their humus value than for their fertiliser content. Use any time of the year, as much as you like, it can only do good.

Arthur asks: What do you make of the new government restrictions on weedkillers and pesticides? Is it really necessary or has the EU gone mad?

John Cushnie: No and yes. It is a shame in that it is going to leave gardeners with fewer means of controlling pest diseases and weeds. I'm not sure how serious it will be, but obviously diseases and pests will be on the increase.

Dave asks: I have moved into a house built in a field. The grass is field grass and grows very quickly. Is there anything I can do to slow the growth?

John Cushnie: Probably not in that the field grass may originally been a rye grass which was designed for maximum green as animal fodder. Heavy applications of potash will slow the grass down, but some nitrogen will be needed to balance that later.

Tara asks: How can I get rid of (I think) alstromeria it has corms/roots that look transparent and although I hve tried to get it all out it always comes back?

John Cushnie: Like so many plants it can be a weed. The old fashioned alstromeria do spread quickly and the only good control an total control is to spray with glyphosate weed killer which will also kill anything in the area with green leaves.

Phillip asks: hello there john. I'm after help. I've recently been buying packets of seeds...mainly lupins...and the seedlings are now ready to be potted up...could you tell me...i want to put them in 9cm pots....and dont know how many seedlings to put in...just the one or a few in one pot. These are to pass on by the way.

John Cushnie: Phillip don't be miserable. One per pot will be exactly right. Remember that a 9cm pot is quite small so move them on to your friends quickly or you will be spending your life watering them!

Chris asks: I have a honeysuckle growing on a east/west trellis. It is not bushing out, all I have is three or four long stragerly branches. What can I do to make it bush out ang cover the trellis?

John Cushnie: It sounds like it is making growth so be rash and cut it back hard to encourage side shoots to form and train these from the bottom at an angle rather than straight up. It may not flower this year but will be a show next year.

Nicola asks: John, what would you recommend for getting rid of Leatherjackets on the lawn?

John Cushnie: The best way to get rid of leatherjackets is to give nature a helping hand. After a shower of rain spread old carpet or polythene on the lawn in the evening. The next morning lift it, all the leatherjackets will be on the surface and the starlings will make short work of them.

Darren asks: My dad is a good gardener but he has a plant in his garden that he doesn't know? It is green all over and the plant is like an upside down triangle, each stem has a small ball which off comes another 2or 3 stems which in turn small ball more stems??

John Cushnie: I haven't a clue but sounds like broccoli gone mad! I would love a sample or a photograph. Please email to: or post to Gardener's Corner, BBC Broadcasting House, Ormeau Avenue, Belfast, BT2 8HQ.

RT Asks: I'm from Belgium and I need to ask you if I could leave my borgan villa outside for the winter or should I bring it indoors please help.

John Cushnie: Please bring it indoors. Belgium is no warmer than Northern Ireland and even the hint of frost will kill it.

John Cushnie: Bring it in before the end of September and keep it in a frost free room with reasonable light until the end of May. Bye.

Dave asks: Planted thirty birch trees, all healthy except one, leaves have gone brown and crisp, but stalk is green beneath bark - should tree be pulled out?

John Cushnie: 29 out of 30 isn't bad. If it's still green it may live depending upon the size - it'll do no harm to leave it until
John Cushnie next spring. Good Luck.

Pete asks: Is that true that you can soak stingy nettles to water to make good plant food?

John Cushnie: Yes until the EU decides that maybe it is a dangerous concoction! The only problem with all these organic liquid fertilisers is the lack of knowledge as to the exact nutrients. They (nettles) make great champ mixed in potatoes!

Nigel asks: What are the chances of limes surviving the winter in Northern Ireland?

John Cushnie: I take it you mean the citrus fruit in which case no chance at all outdoors. But in a conservatory with a minimum temperature of 45 degrees F they will be fine.

Marcus asks: Have just watched Gardeners World with Monty Don. They were experiencing problems with Cabbage Butterfly. Quite surprised they didn't recommend planting up some Oregano which helps repel it. Does any other herb repel it?

John Cushnie: Companion planting is of some help with most crops but cabbage white butterfly like so many other pests is not totally deterred by smell.

Glyn asks: Is it possible to prune plum trees after fruiting - or is that too late? Mine is getting too tall to harvest easily.

John Cushnie: Too late. Plum trees must be pruned during July otherwise they are prone to diseases such as silverleaf. July is the period when the spores are dormant.

Louise asks: John my Daphne has lost all its leaves several times but does recover what can I do, it looks dead most of the time.

John Cushnie:
It sounds like root trouble, could the ground be very wet? It's obviously not disease otherwise it wouldn't recover. I suggest giving it a ride in a wheel barrow in late Autumn to a more suitable position.

Pete asks: My apple tree has loads of apples on it, so much so that the branches looks like they are going to snap what can I do?

John Cushnie: Count your blessings. Use supports such as forked sticks or cords from a central stake to support the branches. I wish I had your problem!

Luni asks: John, my cherry tree is plagued with ants and black fly. Anything I can do?

John Cushnie: Probably by now the black fly will have gone leaving you with dead tips to the branches. The ants will soon disappear as they were only there to enjoy the honeydew excreted by the blackfly. Never worth spraying. To keep the ants at bay next year apply vaseline round the trunk of the tree.

Pete asks: John, I'm thinking of putting some hedging around my back and side garden for a bit of privacy - would you recommend leylandi?

John Cushnie: Yes I would if your garden is large enough or if you are prepared to clip it twice a year to keep it within bounds. It makes a wonderful dense evergreen screen at 8 to 9 foot high, but if not controlled will grow to one hundred foot high. The problem isn't the plant, it's the people who plant it.

Moy asks: We have moved house and have plot 10 yds x 20 yds which we are told was a veg garden up until 5 years ago. How can I clear the Tuftsed grass and some thistle before rotovating in the autumn?

John Cushnie: If you are not organic the answer is to spray with Glyphosate weed killer and apply a second time as the weeds re-grow. If you want to go the organic route, cover the plot with old carpet and leave for 18 months.

Marc asks: Any tips on how to get Yew tree seeds to germinate? When should they be sown and in what. How deep should they be planted etc?

John Cushnie: Bear in mind that the outer pulp is the only bit that is not poisonous. They will germinate better after stratifying which means leaving them out in sand to enjoy the winter weather. Take them out and re-sow in the Spring, germination will be erratic but seedlings should be large enough to transplant the following Spring.

Pete asks: My onions are gone yellow and limp what do you think is the problem?

John Cushnie: It could be one of many problems but if you have grown them in the same place for a few years it may be onion rot in which case don't grow onions in the same area for the forseeable future. If the roots have been damaged by hoeing they may also turn yellow.
I hate onions! So you are confusing me with someone who cares!

Ron asks: My acer looks as though it has been flicked with sticky white polystyrene. Any leaf or branch that has been affected dies within a week. I have been soaking the plant with Dithane 945 which has slowed the death rate. A Coral Bark & Bloodgood nearby are not as yet affected. What have I got?

John Cushnie: It sounds like wolly aphid which are greenfly protecting themselves with a white cotton wool like substance. Spraying them with your finger over the end of the hose is probably sufficient to knock them off. Chemicals don't really work through the protection unless the one you are using is a fungicide.

G asks: I've got bindweed popping up all over in borders - any suggestions?

John Cushnie: Any chemical that will kill bindweed will also kill green leafed plants. If next year you train the strands of bindweed to grow up a bamboo cane you can then spray without damaging nearby plants.

Digging out the white roots in winter will slow the spread.

James asks: I bought a packet of red flowered broad beans and when they came the flowers were all colours why?

John Cushnie: Sounds like a mix up in the packaging shed. Normally they will all be the same colour which can be white, pink or red. It may have been simply a mixing of seeds.

Pat asks: Are there any autumn flowering alpines you recommend?

John Cushnie: You have caught me on the hop. Dianthus will flower into the Autumn and obviously Autumn flowering Gentians are a must. Sedums and saxofrage will flower into Autumn.

Emer asks: I've moved into a new house and I've got a 8mx10m back garden. It's all grass at the minute and I don't know how to start planning it. Any advice??

John Cushnie: It is quite a small garden and I would give consideration to eliminating any lawn. A small gravel area would double as a patio and BBQ area. Choose small plants with a long period of flowering and a small tree such as Japanese Acer or Amelanchier to give height. Bulbs will give you great colour in Spring and Autumn.

Lily asks: My ten year old rowan tree had lots of blossom, but always very sparse berries, though they do turn red, what is the problem?

John Cushnie: It could be an inferior variety or even a self sown seedling which will never be of much use usually after blossom the berry automatically follows although dry conditions in June could cause a loss of berry.

For more Live chat transcripts visit our Talk NI website.

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