Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

Your Gardening queries - 3


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.



This month`s gardening problems  


Q: Forby asks:- Could you advise me on the best way to keep Dahlia tubers over winter?  (Forby, my attempts to reply to you were returned to me as being undeliverable: check out your e-mail address!)  

A: I`m not up to speed on Dahlias, but having been prompted by your e-mail, I just might try some this year. When I have grown them before, I have usually left them in the ground, but my father-in-law always dug his up in the autumn... I have found some information for you, copied below, which I hope helps...

Some gardeners choose to leave their Dahlia tubers in the ground over the winter. In certain regions, this can be very risky but if you have decided to follow this path, make sure that your Dahlias are growing in very well drained soil and apply a minimum of 6"-12" inches of mulch to the planting area before the ground freezes.

The best plan is to dig up the tubers and store them in a cool, dry place for the winter.

Prior to digging, your Dahlias will need about a week to produce new sprouts on the tuber. The production of these new eyes can be stimulated by cutting the stem back to a 6" stub, or will occur naturally when the majority of the plant has died back due to frost. The tubers will be easiest to divide if they are harvested after this one week period.
Using a garden fork to prevent damage, dig a circle about 12 inches around the plant stub, and lift the clump carefully out of the ground. (Be careful not to damage the tender new sprouts) Use a gentle spray from your hose to clean and remove the remaining soil from the clump. Allow the clump to dry for a day in a cool dry place. You are now ready to divide the clump, then store the individual tubers or store the clump and do your dividing in the spring. To produce a new plant, each tuber must have an eye (the new growth bud) which appears at the point where the tuber connects to the main stalk.
(Each tuber on the clump will not necessarily have an eye.) Using a sharp clean knife carefully separate tubers. Discard any damaged tubers and any that don't contain an eye. Place the tubers in a bed of sawdust or vermiculite, inside a cardboard or wooden box.
Store them in a dry area where the temperature will remain at about 40 degrees F.
Check your tubers periodically during the winter for signs of shriveling
(moisten the storage medium), or mildew (treat with a dry fungicide)**

Q: Sue asks:-  I have a yukka which has been indoors for the past 11 years but is now rather large.  Is it possible for it to go outside?  I live near Winchester so it is mild most of the year.

A: I assume that your Yukka is the indoor type which can live outside in the summer, but will need a minimum temperature of 45f in the winter. If there are any offshoots at the base you could remove them and pot them up, thereby starting a new, smaller plant. You could also cut down the tallest of the branches so the plant is a manageable size. Yukkas sprout all over the place usually. I have a cordyline which grows too tall for the room it lives in, so periodically I just prune it right back and it will produce twice as many new shoots... I also pot up the tops that have been removed and they easily root.

Q:  From Sheila:- I wish to move a Mahonia Charity and cannot decide on the best time to do this.  When I would normally think of moving a bush or tree (late autumn/winter) it is starting to come into bud and blossom.   Help please!

A:  I  move shrubs any old time of year as it is not always convenient to do so when gardening books tell us the time is right... Sometimes a shrub or tree needs to be moved even if it`s chances of survival are not good. I have only ever lost one shrub and it was really far too big to move. The size will be your main consideration with the Mahonia. If it is not too big to move, follow the procedures below and it will be fine:-

  • Choose a cool, damp spell for the move (not difficult with our weather!) 

  • Water it thoroughly the night before moving. I suggest leaving the hosepipe on for a few hours to soak the roots and surrounding soil.

  • Prepare the new hole, making sure it is a little bigger than you need and mixing in some fresh compost with the exisiting earth.

  • Dig around the Mahonia taking care not to break any roots off and disturbing the soil round the roots as little as possible. Move it into it`s new position. Backfill and support with a stake if required.

  • Water, water and more water until the plant continues to make new growth..

  • You could also prune the bush if it is fairly big and this will cause it less stress.




Q:   David asks:- I was at a show last week and there was a stand making paper pot from newspapers around a plastic pipe. I`m sure your site was mentioned, but I can`t find any information on making newspaper pots on the net. Can you help?

A:   Making paper pots is quite a good and eco-friendly thing to do and has many benefits for hobby gardeners. No plastic pots to pile up in the shed: bedding plants keep moist in their first crucial weeks, then rot away and there is nothing to buy. I have found a website link which explains how to make them better than I could.



Q:  Thelma from Oxford asks:- I have a small, second floor flat with a balcony 9' 6" x 3' 8" facing south-west, therefore lots of sun. Amongst other things I am trying to grow nasturtiums. The foliage is flourishing, almost excessively but so far no flowers have appeared. Can you advise please? Also, I should like to grow sweet peas, my favourite flowers. Can you offer any hints for success?

A:  I usually have the same problem with Nasturtiums if I grow them in hanging baskets or tubs. The ones that self-seed in the garden where the soil is not so rich, do much better.. They need full sun and good drainage, but the soil does not need to be especially fertile. Once plants are established, limit them to one deep watering every 7-10 days. Plants don't require supplementary feedings, and too much fertilizer will result in leaf growth at the expense of flowers. Frequent picking prolongs the flowering period, so cut flowers often. Flowering season can last into autumn, and the plants self-seed readily. Did you know Nasturtiums are an attractive and nutritious addition to salads,  with 10 times the vitamin C of lettuce?  I hope they flower their heads off now! 

You could buy some Sweet Pea plants from your garden centre for this year. The secret of success with growing Sweet Peas in containers is limiting the number of plants in each container, thereby giving them adequate growing room.

Use a large porous plastic (lightweight) container and a good potting compost.  Place the pots against a wall with trellis if possible so the sweet peas can climb. Failing that you could make a wigwam of bamboo canes, but put a soft rubber top on the canes to protect eyes.. The roots of the plants need to be kept cool and the flowers won`t like the scorching sun. Pick the flowers regularly to encourage new ones and deadhead those that have finished. Don`t allow seed pods to form.

 Q:  Finally from D Ritchie:- I want to replace my grass with chips, do I need to kill the ground so as any grass does not start growing up through the chips?  

A:  You should first remove the grass then lay a permeable weed suppressing garden membrane directly onto the soil, which will stop any future weeds growing. This membrane can be bought from your local B & Q or garden centre. Finally your chips can be put down. We had an area that was raised and difficult so we did what I have just described. If you want any planting in the area, just cut a cross in the membrane, peel back the four corners, dig in the plant and finally replace the membrane, covering with gravel/chips.. If you don`t want any planting in the chipped area and it is free of trees, shrubs etc., you can kill the grass with weedkiller and lay the membrane on top of the grass... 



Previous editions of your gardening queries:


Edition 1

Edition 2

Edition 3


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



Back to laterlife today

Site map and site search


Advertise on

LaterLife Travel Insurance in Association with Avanti