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Weeds in awk­ward places, fruit tree ad­vice

The Daily Telegraph - Gardening - - Front Page - Helen Yemm an­swers your ques­tions

Weeds v. co­toneaster

How I can con­trol weeds that pop up among the mat­ted stems of a groundsmoth­er­ing co­toneaster that cov­ers a long bank? Or do I have to weed it by hand? GAVIN LICKLEY, VIA EMAIL

This is a tricky one. Your pic­tures showed wisps of grass, colonies of dan­de­lion and a few stray ten­drils of vetch. Not a se­ri­ous in­fes­ta­tion, but ir­ri­tat­ing and hard to deal with on a well-cov­ered slope.

The dan­de­lions are the big­gest eye­sore, and have the deep­est and most tena­cious roots.

I sug­gest that you cut away the co­toneaster around the colonies in or­der to use a weed killer. Ap­ply­ing ready-mixed Roundup on the “foam” set­ting dur­ing dry weather should weaken them, but an­other go may be nec­es­sary in the spring.

Al­ter­na­tives such as a tea­spoon of salt in the cen­tre of each leaf rosette or a spritz of vine­gar may kill the top growth but not the roots. The co­toneaster will re­car­pet the ex­posed soil quite quickly. The grass and vetch may need a con­certed ef­fort with gloved hand and small fork, I am sorry to say.

War of the roses

I have to re­place some wornout roses and have had con­flict­ing ad­vice. On one hand, I’m told to plant a new rose in the same site. On the other, I am told that would be dis­as­trous, and that I should find a fresh site (not pos­si­ble, as this is a for­mal rose bed), or dig out the old site and plant the new roses each within a card­board box filled with soil. GERALD GOUCHER, VIA EMAIL

This is all about what is known as re­plant dis­ease or, in the case of roses (which are par­tic­u­larly sus­cep­ti­ble), “rose sick­ness”, whereby re­place­ment plants of the same fam­ily fail to es­tab­lish. It is thought to be caused by mi­cro­scopic soil pests or pathogens.

You should ig­nore the first rather gung-ho ad­vice. In­stead, re­move the worn-out roses and re­place the soil they were in (to a depth and width of about 1½ft/45cm) with some from else­where in the gar­den, en­rich­ing it with or­ganic mat­ter and a fist­ful of rose fer­tiliser (or blood fish and bone). Plant­ing the rose with my­c­or­rhizal fungi (Root­grow) is also said to en­sure rapid es­tab­lish­ment. The card­board box idea sounds gim­micky, but it is favoured by many, and in­stead of us­ing gar­den soil, you could use John Innes no. 3 mixed with ex­tra or­ganic mat­ter.

Skim­mia ren­o­va­tion

We have a skim­mia bush that has out­grown its space. It looks healthy on the out­side, but is mostly bare-stemmed be­neath the at­trac­tive canopy of colour. Should we give it a hard prun­ing in spring to ren­o­vate it? FIONA MERRICK, VIA EMAIL

Lucky you. From your pic­ture, it is clear this is a splen­did self-fer­tile

Skim­mia japon­ica subsp. reevesiana, which has scented flow­ers as well as red berries, with no need for a mate. It would be a shame to lose it, but it may be too old to move.

You may have read else­where that skim­mias don’t like to be cut right back, but in fact there are few ev­er­greens that won’t even­tu­ally shoot out, even from bare wood, if thus treated. To give you some en­cour­age­ment, a happy and healthy Skim­mia x

con­fusa ‘Kew Green’ in my gar­den was sav­agely cut back to within inches of the ground and left for dead two years ago (I was clearly out of sorts and hav­ing an At­tila the Hun gar­den­ing mo­ment). Af­ter a la­bo­ri­ously slow re­cov­ery, it is now look­ing rather chip­per and will prob­a­bly flower next year. (You don’t have to do At­tila-prun­ing on yours, of course.)

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