Tony Dick­er­son an­swers your ques­tions

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Q How do we cre­ate a wild­flower meadow?

Steve Rot­ton, Dunoon, Ar­gyll

A Wild­flower mead­ows are quite dif­fi­cult to es­tab­lish. You of­ten hear that they need poor soils, but this isn’t true. Wild­flow­ers love rich soils, but un­for­tu­nately rank grasses and vig­or­ous thugs, such as net­tles, quickly out­grow and swamp them.

As a first step it’s im­por­tant to choose wild­flow­ers suited to your soil and sit­u­a­tion. The species that grow best on dry, thin, chalky soils will fail mis­er­ably on moist clay soils. There are three ways to cre­ate a wild­flower meadow. Per­haps the sim­plest is to re­peat­edly mow an area and re­move the clip­pings for a sea­son, be­fore sow­ing yel­low rat­tle in au­tumn. This is a semi-par­a­site of grass and re­duces its vigour. Seed has to be sown fresh be­cause it has short vi­a­bil­ity, so go to a spe­cial­ist wild­flower seed sup­plier such as Sco­tia Seeds (01356 626425; www. sco­ti­aseeds.co.uk). Then add your cho­sen wild­flower plug plants in spring, us­ing a bulb planter. Ei­ther grow your own plug plants from seed or buy them from spe­cial­ist nurs­eries such as Cum­bria Wild­flow­ers (01228 711282; www.cum­bri­aw­ild­flow­ers.co.uk). Sim­ply sow­ing seed into an area of ex­ist­ing grass will fail. A sec­ond op­tion is to strip off the fer­tile top­soil and cul­ti­vate the soil be­neath be­fore sow­ing a wild­flower mix. It’s im­por­tant to work the soil be­cause oth­er­wise seed will strug­gle to es­tab­lish on a com­pacted base. A ro­ta­va­tor is fine for rel­a­tively small ar­eas.

You can do this in au­tumn in mild lo­ca­tions on well-drained soils, but in colder re­gions it’s best to wait un­til spring. If you’re at­tempt­ing to seed steeper slopes, to pre­vent seed be­ing washed away, put down jute net­ting, avail­able from sup­pli­ers such as Green­fix (01608 666027; www.green­fix.co.uk).

The third ap­proach is to kill off the cur­rent veg­e­ta­tion with glyphosate and cul­ti­vate the soil. If you then sowed into this, the weeds in the seed bank in the soil would swamp your wild­flow­ers. The se­cret is to put down a layer of sharp sand 8-10mm deep over the en­tire area and sow into this. This pre­vents light reach­ing the weed seeds in the soil be­neath so they don’t ger­mi­nate.

Q Is it pos­si­ble to over­win­ter my sum­mer bed­ding? Pam Ewing, Wood­bridge, Suf­folk A Lots of sum­mer bed­ding plants would nat­u­rally be peren­ni­als in their na­tive sites where win­ters might be mild, but in this coun­try, when grown out­side, they die with the first frost.

Whether your leu­can­the­mums and chrysan­the­mums sur­vive out­doors de­pends on which species or va­ri­eties they are, and where you live in the coun­try.

East Anglia can have se­vere win­ter frosts. Peren­nial leu­can­the­mums, known as Shasta daisies, are hardy, but bed­ding types die back with the frosts and might not emerge next spring.

The sim­plest op­tion is to lift them, pot up and place them in a frost-free green­house or, if risk­ing them out­doors, place a layer of bark mulch over the roots to pro­tect them.

You need much the same ap­proach with your chrysan­the­mums. Many will be hardy or bor­der­line hardy so may re­pay the lit­tle ef­fort needed to pro­tect them over win­ter. Q When should I start hy­acinths in vases for Christ­mas? Grant Rivers, South Ock­endon, Es­sex A You’re just in time. You need to buy ‘pre­pared’ hy­acinth bulbs. The time needed varies ac­cord­ing to the va­ri­ety.

‘Anna Marie’, for ex­am­ple, needs eight weeks in cool tem­per­a­tures then 18 days in­side. How­ever, oth­ers need up to an ex­tra two weeks of cool tem­per­a­tures.

The bulb should be slightly smaller in di­am­e­ter than the vase, so it sits snugly with the wa­ter level just be­low the base of the bulb. Place in to­tal dark­ness at a tem­per­a­ture of 9C (48F) in a shed or cup­board.

When shoots are 5cm (2in) high, bring the pots into a cool room, but keep out of bright sun­light. Once the shoots green up, move them near a win­dow, but not by ra­di­a­tors. If leaves de­velop faster than flower buds, move to a cooler place, in dark­ness, for a cou­ple of days. Q What are the best climbers to use for an ex­ten­sive screen? Joan Charl­ton, Bos­ton Spa, Lin­colnshire A There aren’t many hardy ever­green climbers, but the large-leaved ivy, Hed­era colchica, is one op­tion. Oth­ers not of­ten seen in gar­dens in­clude Hol­boel­lia co­ri­acea (sausage vine) and H. lat­i­fo­lia. Al­though de­cid­u­ous, Clema­tis mon­tana, grow­ing to 12m (40ft), is very tough and the mass of stems make a good screen in win­ter. New growth in spring tends to be at­trac­tively bronze tinged. Both white and pink flow­er­ing selec­tions are avail­able. Other vig­or­ous de­cid­u­ous climbers to con­sider in­clude Ake­bia quinata (choco­late vine), Schizophragma

hy­drangeoides and S. in­te­gri­folium (Ja­panese hy­drangea vine). Jas­minum

of­fic­i­nale is an­other op­tion, to 6m (20ft), of­fer­ing late­flow­er­ing in­ter­est.

Q What’s wrong with my cu­cum­ber leaves? Pat Cas­sell, Farn­bor­ough, Hamp­shire

A The mot­tling on the leaves is due to glasshouse red spi­der mite. This sap-suck­ing in­sect is only just vis­i­ble to the naked eye and, de­spite the name, is yel­low­ish-green in colour. When present in num­bers, quite ex­ten­sive web­bing can be seen on the leaf un­der­sides.

Reg­u­lar spray­ing of cu­cum­bers with wa­ter and damp­ing down the floor to main­tain hu­mid­ity will re­duce at­tacks, but won’t con­trol it.

Edi­ble plants can be sprayed with in­sec­ti­cides based on plant Q Why have my to­ma­toes de­vel­oped ‘noses’ and ‘horns’? Harold Toyne, by email

These pro­jec­tions look quite dra­matic but are sim­ply a phys­i­o­log­i­cal dis­or­der caused by high tem­per­a­tures. To­ma­toes like warm con­di­tions, no more than 25C (77F), and suf­fer as tem­per­a­tures ap­proach 30C (86F), which is eas­ily achieved un­der glass or in a poly­tun­nel.

If you slice a tomato in two, they have four or six seg­ments or locules. Ex­tended tem­per­a­tures above 32C (90F) dur­ing the day and 27C (81F) at night ap­pear to cause a ge­netic de­for­mity where the cells di­vide oils, plant ex­tracts or fatty acids.

The most widely-used bi­o­log­i­cal con­trols are preda­tory mites phy­to­seiu­lus and am­bl­y­seius, which are avail­able from a va­ri­ety of mail or­der sup­pli­ers such as Agralan (01285 860015; www.agralan.co.uk).

To re­duce over­win­ter­ing mites, re­move plant de­bris and dis­in­fect the green­house, canes, stakes and plant ties with a glasshouse dis­in­fec­tant. to form ex­tra locules as pro­jec­tions from the nor­mal sur­face. Older heir­loom va­ri­eties ap­pear to be more prone.

The fruit is per­fectly OK to use and, once tem­per­a­tures mod­er­ate, sub­se­quent fruits are un­af­fected.

For a wild­flower meadow that re­ally thrives, there are some hard and fast rules

Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety gar­den­ing ad­vi­sor and pod­caster

Clear off veg­e­ta­tion and work the soil un­der­neath

En­joy win­ter flow­ers and scent by forc­ing hy­acinths

Ake­bia quinata (choco­late vine) is rather a fast grower

No­tice any web­bing? It may be red spi­der mite

‘Nosey’ to­ma­toes are still good to eat!

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