Susie’s Garden Q&A All your gardening questions answered
From hanging baskets to tulip displays, our My Weekly gardening expert, Susie White shares her expertise to keep your garden looking beautiful...
I’VE NOT HAD A LOT OF SUCCESS IN THE PAST WITH MAKING UP MY OWN HANGING BASKETS. WHAT CAN I DO TO CREATE A REALLY WONDERFUL DISPLAY? To create a fabulous hanging basket you need a few key things: the right choice of plants, regular watering plus a really good compost. A big basket gives a bigger display and dries out less quickly. Adding water-retaining granules helps too. It’s worth spending more and using Dalefoot Wool Compost, a premium potting compost made from Herdwick sheep’s wool blended with bracken. The wool releases a steady stream of nitrogen and other essential nutrients, providing a long term feed. The wool also traps water so the basket stays moist for longer.
For a gorgeous effect, tr y ivy leaf pelargoniums (geraniums). These are the kind that are used in every French window box and are amazingly free flowering. Or plant it up with purple petunias and trailing blue lobelia. I WOULD APPRECIATE ANY SUGGESTIONS ABOUT WHAT I CAN DO TO TREAT BISHOP’S WEED? I’VE TRIED WEED KILLER, BUT IT’S ALL OVER MY GARDEN AND REALLY DIFFICULT TO GET RID OF. Bishop’s weed or ground elder is so invasive it can creep through borders and take over. To eradicate it, you have to get out every last bit as the smallest piece will re-root.
One gardener I know used barley straw to smother ground elder and has written about it at gcplants.co.uk. The rhizomes of bishop’s weed run close to the sur face and I’ve found it easier to dig up if given a thick mulch of leaf mould. There is also a pretty form with variegated leaves, but also invasive! WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO TAKE GERANIUM CUTTINGS? I HAVE NOT HAD MUCH SUCCESS, SO WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHAT I AM DOING WRONG. There’s a difference between pelargoniums (informally known as geraniums) which are
annuals and true geraniums which are perennials and hardy. It all goes back to when they were first introduced from South Africa in the 17th century and they were wrongly named!
It’s very easy to divide and propagate hardy geraniums and early spring is the ideal time. I think, though, you are referring to pelargoniums. Short cuttings root easily at any time of year but need good light and warm compost. If possible, give them bottom heat and don’t cover them. WE RECENTLY MADE A POND IN OUR GARDEN USING A LINER BUT THE AREA AROUND IT LOOKS VERY BARE. WHAT PLANTS COULD YOU RECOMMEND TO SOFTEN THE EDGES AND PROVIDE US WITH COLOUR? Putting in a pond is the best way of encouraging wildlife to your garden. Having planting around it will make it not just more attractive visually but provide cover for that wildlife. You can soften the edges with frothy green lady’s mantle and golden creeping Jenny, both plants that will flop over the edge and hide the liner. And for brilliant summer colour, why not plant a selection of candelabra primulas? They are good for insects and come in a range of yellow, orange and rich pink.
WANTING TO HAVE SCENT AT MY FRONT DOOR, I PLANTED A LAVENDER BUSH A FEW YEARS AGO. UNFORTUNATELY, I WASN’T SURE WHEN TO CUT IT BACK AND IT HAS NOW BECOME OVERGROWN WITH MORE WOODY STEMS THAN FLOWERS AND GREEN LEAVES. WOULD IT GROW AGAIN IF I CUT IT RIGHT BACK? OR WOULD I BE BETTER STARTING OVER AGAIN WITH A NEW PLANT? IT’S NEVER HAD MUCH OF A SCENT, EITHER. If your particular plant hasn’t had much scent, then perhaps it’s an opportunity to buy a new one. The most fragrant varieties are ‘Grosso’, ‘Provence’ and cultivars of English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) such as the deep purple ‘Hidcote’. There are also the lovely French lavenders (Lavandula stoechas) which have frilly tops, though these are less hardy.
Prune the new plant after flowering to keep it compact. If you do want to revive your old plant, it can only be cut back to where you see tiny leaves on the stems; if you cut into old wood without these signs of life, that branch will die.
MY GRANDDAUGHTER LOVES EXPLORING OUR GARDEN. I’M A BIT WORRIED ABOUT ALL THE CHEMICALS WE’VE BEEN USING ON THE GRASS AND PLANTS AND DON’T WANT HER TO TOUCH ANY. IS THERE ANYTHING SAFE OR ORGANIC THAT WE COULD USE? As a grandmother myself, I know what a delight it is to watch a child exploring the world. I’ve gardened without chemicals for years and have found that, once you get the natural balance right in your garden, there isn’t any need.
I use a biological control called nematodes against slugs and find it very effective. For snails though, you could try beer traps, hand pick snails at night, or reveal their hiding places so that thrushes can eat them.
There’s a product called Mo Bacter Organic Fertiliser which feeds the grass and kills moss. We hand weed dandelions but we just accept moss and other plants as part of the green space that is the lawn. I PLANTED A SALVIA ‘HOTLIPS’ A FEW YEARS AGO AND IT HAS REALLY THRIVED. I’VE CLIPPED OFF THE DEAD STEMS BUT NEVER CUT IT BACK AS IT SEEMED SO HAPPY. HOWEVER, IT’S GETTING TOO BIG FOR ITS SPACE NOW, BUT I’M WORRIED ABOUT CUTTING IT BACK AS THERE ARE SO MANY BARE STEMS IN THE CENTRE. HOW CAN I BRING IT BACK TO ITS BEST? This delightful woody sage from Mexico is free flowering and aromatic. It needs well drained soil, is drought tolerant but can suffer in wet and cold winters. It’s relatively short lived so, when the plant becomes leggy, you could take cuttings from it and start a new generation of plants. If you can see shoots near the base I think I would risk pruning it hard back. I AM HELPING OUT AT A LOCAL SCHOOL AND WOULD LIKE SOME SUGGESTIONS OF FLOWERS THAT ARE EASY TO GROW FOR CHILDREN. HOW ABOUT A BUTTERFLY BUSH? What a lovely idea. I think it is so important for children to gget earlyy experience of gardening g. Although buddle eias attract lots of bbutterflies, and ye es, I would in nclude one, they t will probably flower in i the school holidays. Sedums are equally good insect plants and flower in early autumn when the children are back at school. And lamb’s ears have softly furry leaves that they will love to touch.
If you show them how to grow from seed, choose fast growing annuals so that they get quick results. Colour ful ideas are candytuft which comes in purple, mauve or white, vibrant nasturtium which has edible flowers, and sunflowers so that they can see whose gets tallest!
LAST YEAR I PLANTED LOTS OF TULIP BULBS AND HAD A MAGNIFICENT DISPLAY IN THE SPRING. THIS YEAR, HOWEVER, THE TULIPS HAVE NOT COME THROUGH AS STRONGLY - SOME APPEAR A BIT STUNTED WITH THINNER STEMS AND LESS GLORIOUS HEADS. WHAT COULD I DO TO IMPROVE THESE FOR NEXT YEAR? The bedding types of tulips never provide such a good display after their first year and are best replaced. You can lift and dry them after flowering, but I prefer to grow species tulips or cottage varieties such as “Apeldoorn” which can naturalise. After flowering, let the leaves go completely brown so that they feed the bulb. It might also be worth checking that they are not suffering from tulip fire. This disease makes the leaves look withered and covered in brown spots. Affected bulbs need to be removed and you shouldn’t plant tulips in the same spot for three years.
OUR BIGGEST PROBLEM IS ONLY ONE OUT OF 10 SEEDS HAS POPPED THROUGH SO FAR. HOW DO YOU GUARANTEE 100% SUCCESS RATE? IT FEELS A BIT LIKE A LOTTERY EVERY YEAR. IT’S FEAST OR FAMINE. Germination issues may not be down to you, but to the age and quality of the seeds supplied. If you have very low germination, try writing to the company in case other growers have reported the same. Remember there is reduced viability after the “Sow By” date as well as from packets that have been opened for a while. Keep seed packets in an airtight box and sow as fresh as possible.
Use a seed compost, not a general purpose one, and don’t over-sow. If seedlings are too close together they can be affected by “damping off” diseases that cause them to collapse and die. For large seeds such as nasturtium or courgette, I sow only two seeds to each pot. I don’t sow too early in the year, preferring to wait until it is warm and germination happens quickly.