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Your Gardening queries - 16


Mary Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?        

With silver bells and cockle shells,                    

And pretty maids all in a row....                     


If only gardening were as simple as that little nursery rhyme. But it isn`t, so we are putting some of the solutions here to problems you have written to us about, so everyone can have the benefit.


Please e-mail me with your garden problems, comments, or ideas for this section of  laterlife.  Click here for previous editions of Gardener`s Diary.



A selection of this month`s gardening problems  - August  2004    

A full postbag this month means that many of your queries had to be held back until next time. Some queries such as those for some yukka problems are repetitive and won`t be printed more than once. Search previous editions for solutions..

Q: Loretta has a problem with ants:-I have recently started a compost bin, and have just discovered that the bin interior has been turned into an anthill. I know there seem to be a lot of ant colonies in our garden but never anticipated this. Is there any environmentally friendly way of "discouraging" them?

A: Ants seem to like the goodness of the peelings etc., and thrive on the warmth, but they won`t actually do any harm. I find when I turn the compost heap, the ants quickly scatter.. You could perhaps try one of those tins of ant bait as you will see here: 


Q: Becky asks: I am hoping you can shed a little light on a problem I'm having with my 2 year old bougainvillea. I live in Austin, Texas (Central Texas) and my bougainvillea is growing like crazy, putting out green leaves, but not one pink bract yet. Last year it was covered in pink. About two months ago I have her a dose of Osmocote, and I water about once every two or three weeks, depending on the rain. Any idea why it's not producing bracts this year? I would really appreciate any help you can offer.

A:Not having grown these plants before here in the UK, I found the information below for you.. I hope it helps:-

"Bougainvillea is a plant that thrives on neglect. Give it lots of sun and let it dry out quite a lot between waterings (in containers). Protect it from cold and do NOT fertilize often. High nitrogen fertilizer will PREVENT blooms, not encourage them. Cut it back when it has finished flowering. It only blooms on new growth, so a good annual pruning will improve flowering the next year. It is not unusual for a Bougainvillea to droop or lose leaves in winter (and summer in some cases). It is a plant grown for it's colorful bloom, not foliage, so don't panic if plants look skimpy or bare at times. Give it sun and warmth and it will eventually bloom.
Finally, it is very important not to disturb the roots of Bougainvillea- especially in the case of young plants. When transplanting, do everything possible NOT to tease or disturb the rootball. Doing so can easily result in the death of the plant.
Bottom line is there are only three things that will kill a Bougainvillea - extreme cold, too much water, and root damage. Prevent those three things and your Bougainvillea will thrive."

Q: From Susie:- I'm not sure if there is a solution to my problem. Birds keep eating the flowers of my `Red Hot Pokers` and wonder if there any harmless solution?


A: Unfortunately there is not a lot you can do, apart from covering the plants with a layer of fine garden netting. I do this myself in the winter to stop the birds eating the Pyracantha berries.  

Q: Shirley tells me:- I have lost three clematis this year. They seem to come into growth and look healthy enough, but then I noticed they were covered in aphids. I sprayed them, and almost immediately they shrunk and turned black I have now cut them right back. Could you explain what happened. I have lots of clematis in my garden, some struggle but the others are fine. 

Could you also help with my honeysuckle which has yellowing leaves that are dropping. 



A: It sounds as if your Clematis plants have become the victims of `Clematis Wilt`.. I lost a perfectly healthy and established clematis last year and it was almost certainly due to this disease..  


If in the future you plant a new clematis, plant it deeper than the pot it comes in and the chances are it will survive despite the possibility of it succumbing to this disease. It gives new shoots a chance to form apparently.

Often honeysuckles drop some of their leaves in a spell of hot and dry weather. Try spraying the plant with a hosepipe set on fine mist and giving it a liquid feed.


Last year saw many honeysuckle problems for some reason. Many were as yours, with leaf drop and others had no flowers!


Q:  George wants some advice:- I have a very good show of Sweet Williams this year, the first time I have grown them for years. 

My problem is that they are all in full bloom together, so do I cut them in order to produce another flower, or once finished they will not reproduce? none of the books give the answer.

A:  Sweet Williams are biennials, sown one year to flower the next and then discarded. I tend to leave them in the ground until autumn and find they readily self-seed, thereby saving me the effort of sowing seeds.. Young plants produce the finest flowers, and it is advisable to raise a fresh stock every year.

If you cut off the dead flower heads they may be tempted to flower later in the year, but I doubt it would be worth the trouble as the flowers would probably be quite insignificant.

Q: Nate wants to turn over a new leaf!

I have a fig that I have mistreated about as much as
possible and would like to treat better.  Although it
is healthy again (relatively speaking) there is one
last trauma I would like to put it through so I can
use it in the house.  Is there any way to straighten
the trunk out so that it doesn't lean?  It's about 5'
tall and the bent section is about 1' from the bottom.


A:  Poor fig...If it leans forward, you could put a stake in the pot and tie the stem to it, which will encourage it to grow upright.
As for the kink in the lower part of the stem, you will have to live with
that I`m afraid.. I was going to say "Give the fig a break,"  but decided
you may take this literally!
I hope this helps and that the fig will be happy indoors..

Q: Carol wants to know:- When is best time to put out monkey grass, also evergreen trees such as white pine or spruces (blue & green)?

A:Choose a cooler time of year and keep everything well watered until established.. Keep an eye on the newly planted items for a couple of years until you can be sure they are growing happily away without any help from you..


Q:- I look after my neighbours garden and he has a yukka growing successfully, and has been for 3 years now. At the end of flowering last year I removed the dead flower stem. This year to our amazement 3 new stalks grew back.. Is this normal?
Also some of the leaves at the base seem to be dying should I remove these or will it leave the bottom of the plant bear?
If I do remove all of the dead stalks from this year, I cannot understand where new ones will grow.. 

A:- It is normal for a yukka to throw up numerous flower stems as it gets more established. You can cut them off after flowering and also remove the lower dead leaves to tidy up the plant. The yukka will grow new flowers next year from the top of the plant, or slightly to the side, and you might find that where the flower stalk was, the plant may then divide into two stems.. 

* Be very careful of your eyes on the sharp leaves, these plants are lethal. I used to cut the sharp pointed ends off when the children were smaller.

Previous editions of your gardening queries: 

Edition 1

Edition 2

Edition 3

Edition 4

Edition 5

Edition 6

Edition 7

Edition 8

Edition 9 

Edition 10

Edition 11

Edition 12

Edition 13

Edition 14

Edition 15

Edition 16



Please e-mail me with your garden problems, comments, or ideas for this section of  laterlife.

Click here for previous editions of Gardener`s Diary..  



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