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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 bm­ 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

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