Ask the Expert

I’m looking for ideas for ground cover plants. I would like to have nice blues and pinks in the bed with tall plants to the back of the bed, getting lower as we come forward.

Posted 29/06/2014 by Annette, Carlow

My favourite ground cover plants are the cranesbills or hardy geraniums. There are varieties for sun or shade, and most have pink or blue flowers. Other versatile and easy ground covers are the very low-growing Ajuga reptans, sometimes known as bugle, which has purple or mauve flowers; bergenia (pink or white spring flowers, and big, floppy leaves that give them the common name of “elephant ears”), Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus), with tiny, pink-tinged daisies, and the lovely old-fashione bridal wreath (Francoa), with pink flowers. Add a scattering of CHICKEN MANURE PELLETS at the roots when you are planting to get your new plants off to a good start. There are many other lovely ground covers, so why not pop into your local garden centre and have a look?

Do you know when the monkey puzzle seeds should be picked and are they of any importance, there are lots of them on my tree?

Posted 15/06/2014 by Kathleen Butler via Facebook

Monkey puzzles grow very well all over Ireland. There is a famous avenue of them at Woodstock House in Co. Kilkenny. They are notoriously slow to produce seed and may wait until they are 30 years old! The cones then take two years to ripen. The cones naturally disintegrate and the seeds fall to the ground in the autumn. If you want to grow your own monkey puzzles, plant one seed per pot. The seeds are edible and nutritious, and have been eaten for centuries by indigenous people in Chile. The seeds were first brought back to Europe in 1795 by Archibald Menzies, a naval surgeon and plant-hunter.

My Clematis (Bagatelle 'Dorothy Walton') has some leaves that are turning black! It was quite sickly two years ago and I dug it up, put in new compost and grit for drainage and last year it did great! It is twice the size this year, yet is now showing signs of black spots and entire leaves turning black. I have an organic garden, so I don't want to use chemicals. What can I do?

Posted 08/06/2014 by Mom in the Garden via Facebook

The most usual reason for discoloured leaves on a large-flowered clematis such as yours is the dreaded wilt — a fungal disease where whole stems and leaves collapse into a brown and ragged mess. This can happen quickly, and it often spells the end of the plant. The prompt removal of all infected stems and leaves might prevent it taking hold. Disinfect the secateurs afterwards. Wilt can be avoided by planting extra deeply at the start. However, the leaves on your plant look too plump for it to be wilt (although if they have collapsed by the time you’re reading this, then it’s wilt!). It might be that they are under environmental stress: walls and stone or slate mulches can reflect too much heat, and the soil at the base of walls is often thin and lacking nutrients. Clematis likes a good, deep root-run and plenty of moisture. Try cutting out all the black leaves (and don’t put them on your compost pile). Gently work a handful of Growise Chicken Manure Pellets into the top few centimetres of soil and water well. Let us know what happens next!

I have no greenhouse this year as it blew away in the bad storms. I was wondering if there are any suggestions as to how to make a "makeshift" or homemade type as I'm an impoverished student and can't afford another house but love growing veggies!

Posted 30/05/2014 by Dee via Facebook

My sympathies to you and your greenhouse! Nonetheless, this sounds like an opportunity to let your inner handyman/woman blossom. I’ve seen many homemade greenhouses over the years, made from all different kinds of materials, including salvaged windows. These can be propped up against a wall to form a small lean-to glasshouse, or raised on blocks to make a cold frame (a low, boxy-like structure for starting off plants). Just be very careful around glass, and avoid making any kind of structure that might be dangerous around children. You can also use bubble wrap or plastic sheeting stapled or nailed onto frames. Or, if you can get bendable PVC piping, you can build yourself a little polytunnel. Remember, though, that you don't actually need a glasshouse for vegetables. Most crops just need a sunny spot in the garden. If you can find a sheltered area, you can even grow tomatoes. Good luck with your growing — and let us know on our Facebook page how you get on.

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Posted 22/05/2014 by Roy, Dublin

Leafmould can be used as a lovely mulch around woodland plants or spring bulbs. The leaves take at least two years to break down, as they go through a different process from normal composting. If you have only a few leaves, then throw them into your compost bin along with your other garden waste. But if you have loads of leaves from beech, birch, oak or hornbeam, then it’s well worth making leafmould. If you have room, make an enclosure from chicken wire, and throw them into it. Water the pile if it gets dry. Alternatively, you can stuff damp leaves into a bin bag (or a large empty Growise compost bag), fasten the top and punch a few holes in it. You can speed up the decaying process if you shred the leaves first by running a lawn mower over them. The grass clippings will help accelerate the process. Adding compost may speed it up too, but grass would be better.

Can you tell me where I can buy seeds of lithodora diffusa?

Posted 13/05/2014 by Roy, Dublin

Lithodora diffusa is a pretty blue-flowered “sub-shrub”, (which just means a very low shrub). I’ve never seen it available as seed. This is probably because the varieties with the most striking flowers, such as ‘Heavenly Blue’, can only be propagated from cuttings. Try and get one in a garden centre, and you can take your own cuttings in mid-summer. Then, you’ll have plenty of new plants by next year. Growise Seed and Cutting Compost is perfect for rooting cuttings.

I plan to grow some vegetables and salads in a planter this year. What do I use to fill the planters?

Posted 05/05/2014 by Lorraine, Laois

Growise Peat Free Organic Vegetable Compost is ideal for containers. Aim for a pot or tub that is at least 30 centimetres across, as the compost will stay moist for longer. Window boxes work well too. Or, if you don't want to bother with a container, you can just use a Growise Fruit and Vegetable Planter, a Growise Growing Bag or a Growise Tomato Bag.

How much moss peat do I need per square meter? We want to have it worked into the soil before we plant trees and shrubs in beds covered with mesh and decorative stones. No grass - just beds about a metre wide all round the perimeter.

Posted 29/04/2014 by Jennifer

Shamrock Irish Moss Peat is a great soil conditioner: if your soil is heavy, it opens it up, and if it is dry and light, it helps it to retain moisture. Put on a five-centimetre layer and use a spade or fork to work it into a depth of 10 or 15 centimetres (or 50 litres of moss peat per five centimetres of depth). When you plant your trees and shrubs, add some Growise Farmyard Manure to the planting hole to get them off to a good start. For the first growing season, make sure they are well watered during dry periods.

I have a polytunnel and have been growing for a few years in it. Do I need to add more topsoil or what would you suggest?

Posted 20/04/2014 by Lorraine, Laois

Polytunnels are wonderful inventions, allowing you to extend the growing season at both ends, so that you can harvest crops earlier in the spring and later in the autumn. Some Growise Enriched Top Soil will rejuvenate your beds, as will Growise Peat Free Organic Vegetable Compost. In future, your plants will be healthier if you “rotate” them, that is, grow the different plant groups in different spots each year. However, in a small space such as a polytunnel, there probably isn’t room for traditional three- or four-year rotations, so just make sure not to grow disease-prone crops (such as members of the potato family — which includes tomatoes, peppers and aubergines) in the same spot every year.

My tomatoes are growing well but lots of them are green! What should I do?

Posted 13/08/2013 by Julie via Facebook

Hi Julie! I presume you are aware that tomatoes are always green before they ripen? If they are staying green for too long then maybe they are lacking nutrients! Try using a good organic tomato feed that is high in potassium. Also, seaweed fertilisers are great for tomatoes! Hopefully this helps!

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