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YOUR GARDENING QUESTIONS THIS MONTH
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QBETTER BERRIES I’ve been told to remove all the flowers from my new strawberry plants so they’ll produce more and bigger berries next year. Can that be right? I want berries now! BRIDGET LOWE, AUCKLAND
AIn theory, removing the flowers lets the plants put all their energy into establishing strong root systems to support a bigger, more productive plant the following year. The idea seems to be promoted in countries with severe winters where plants need to survive under snow for months. Gardeners in these conditions report getting up to 20 per cent more berries the second year if they pinch out all the flowers of first-year plants. But given that strawberries are most productive for only two to three years it doesn’t seem worth missing a whole year’s crop. Another version of the idea is to remove the first flowers in early spring to grow stronger plants, but in my experience it doesn’t make much difference. The best way to get more berries is to grow more plants! Plant several varieties to extend the harvest times. Grow in full sun in rich, well-drained soil. Allow space between plants for air movement. Keep well-watered. Feed with a potash-rich fertiliser (tomato food will do) to promote flowering and fruiting. Mulch with straw to lift the fruit off the soil. Protect from birds, earwigs and snails. Blow delayed gratification – let’s grow more berries and eat them soon. Barbara Smith
QNEED FOR FEED How do I feed my miniature peach, apple, nectarine and feijoa trees? The ground is completely covered with weedmat. What fertiliser do they need and what time of year should I feed them? MURRAY MCELWAIN, MANUREWA
AAs you’ve found, weedmat creates a barrier that makes it difficult to add fertiliser and organic matter to the soil. It can also reduce the amount of water and oxygen reaching the root zone so the trees may not reach their full potential. On the plus side, careful use of weedmat reduces rampant grass growth that can swamp small trees.
Consider replacing the weedmat with a generous layer of mulch which will add nutrients and humus to improve the soil as it breaks down, and also suppress weeds and retain moisture. Keep the mulch from touching the trunks as this may cause rot.
Sheep pellets and compost improve soil fertility and gypsum makes clay soils more friable.
An understorey of flowering plants adds interest, attracts pollinating insects, increases diversity and reduces run off and leaching of nutrients. Plants such as comfrey with long tap roots bring up nutrients from the subsoil.
Feed pip and stone fruit in summer and autumn. Use a balanced fruit fertiliser with nitrogen and potassium for leafy growth and fruit production, and magnesium to avoid diseases caused by soil deficiencies.
Feed feijoas with general fertiliser in spring and again in summer. Barbara Smith
QSLOW TO BLOOM My kowhai Sophora molloyi is in a sunny spot, but it hardly flowers. It’s been in for four years and is 2m wide by 1m high. How can I encourage it to flower? KAREN EAGLES, TARANAKI
APlant breeder Denis Hughes from Blue Mountain Nurseries in Tapanui has been collecting and breeding kowhai for many years. He aims to grow ideal varieties with interesting foliage and longlasting flowers for use as garden specimens. See bmnco.nz for an extensive catalogue.
His own example of Sophora molloyi is 40 to 50 years old and is covered in flowers from as early as May and throughout the winter months. His plant is slightly stressed as its roots compete for water with a nearby silver maple during hot summer weather.
Sophora molloyi is native to areas of both the North and South Islands around Cook Strait, and Stephens and Kapiti Islands offshore. In the wild, it grows as a low mat or bushy shrub depending on the conditions it is exposed to. In gardens, it grows much larger and more quickly.
Denis recommends you allow your young plant some time to mature before expecting an all-over flower display. It is putting its energy into establishing roots, branches and leaves rather than flowers. This lush growth also tends to conceal any flowers that do form. Barbara Smith
QROOM TO GROW Four 5m high lancewoods have grown too big for my small garden. I’m worried they’ll block the drains. Am I allowed to remove them? Do I need an arborist? YVONNE JONES, HAMILTON
AThis is an increasingly common problem as lancewoods are beloved by landscape designers because of their sculptural juvenile form. Their long, narrow saw-toothed leaves look dramatic silhouetted against the stark walls of townhouse courtyards and the slim trunks fit the tiniest garden border.
But as is the case with so many other cute infants, the teenage years bring trouble. After 15 years or so, when the growing tip is about 3m above ground, the tree begins to branch and shorter, leathery, more rounded, upright leaves appear.
The mature form is a forest canopy tree growing to 15m. The botanical term for change of form like this over a plant’s lifetime is heteroblasty.
All trees will search for water where they can find it and your trees are outgrowing the space available.
Call an arborist. They know the local regulations and conditions so can offer advice on if the trees need to be removed and how urgently.
Plus they’ll have the expertise and the equipment to do the job safely without damaging nearby buildings and fences. Arborists can also chip the remains into useful mulch and grind out the stumps. Barbara Smith