Ask the Expert

Could you please give me some advice on how I can win the war on briars invading my shrubbery? I like briars but they are outdoing my other shrubs and roses at the moment. 

Posted 05/06/2013 by Liz, Louth

Brambles can be a real pain! The best natural way to control them is to cut them off 30cm from the base, loosen the soil and dig up as many underground roots as possible. Getting the new seedlings as quickly as possible is also important as well as a thick layer of mulch. You can also buy bramble weedkillers. If you buy a weedkiller make sure it's suitable for lawns etc if it's close to other growing plants.

What can I put on tree stumps to kill them off? 

Posted 05/06/2013 by Josephine, Nenagh

There are many ways to get rid of tree stumps - from chemicals to grinding the stump down. I believe that it is always good to avoid chemicals, particularly in natural habitats. Any good tree surgery company should be able to help you with this. 

My nandina domestica is starting to wilt. Is there a probable cause for this? Is it possible for vine weevil? I have treated it for that already.  

Posted 05/06/2013 by Anne Marie, Waterford

You say that you have treated it for vine weevil already. If this has not helped then it sounds like it may have a plant virus of some kind. Unfortunately there are no treatments for viruses.

I never have any success growing sage. What are the special requirements for growing this herb?

Posted 05/06/2013 by Liz, Drogheda

Sage is a tricky one in Ireland as it is not a fan of too much moisture. It occurs naturally in hot mediterranean countries where the soil is sandy and rocky and needs little watering. Make sure you have well drained soil and don’t allow the plants to become too woody. Also, make sure you don’t cut the plant right back to its woody stem as it may not grow back. 

We are trying to grow some banana plants in our garden. Not as much for the fruits but for the exotic look of the red leaves. As banana plants are prone to root rot, we need well drained soil. Which products are recommended to get as close as possible to an easily draining soil mix? Also, would you recommend planting out or to leave the plants in a container and to take inside over winter?

Posted 27/05/2013 by Torsten via Facebook

Bananas in Ireland are tricky at best. Bananas like warmth and as you mentioned are prone to root rot. The plants don’t like heavy soil and the best product to use would probably be a good mix of sand and compost soil as well as a little bit of grit.The mix should have a PH of about PH5.5 - PH7. Anything higher is not suitable. Keeping the plant topped up with a healthy amount of compost is a good idea as well as a good mulch for weed control as well as nutrition. As for the indoor/outdoor question, banana leaves tend to get pretty shredded in the Irish climate and would do poorly with frost so I would recommend keeping them indoors during the Winter and in a sheltered spot in Summer. A frost free glasshouse would be ideal for Winter. Finally, some banana plants do get quite large so maybe it would be wise to invest in a container with wheels!

I have a globe artichoke plant that I grew from seed. It is 5 or 6 years old and it has not produced any heads fit to eat in the last two years. It is completely covered with ants at the moment. Do I need a new plant or is there anyway I can save this one?

Posted 27/05/2013 by Emer via Facebook

It seems that artichokes perform best in the first 5 years so sadly your plant may have reached its performance limit. It looks like you may have to replace it if you want fruit from it. The pest problem also sounds like the plant is losing its strength so perhaps before replacing the plant with a new one use a natural ant deterrent. Lemon juice, cinnamon oil or ground cinnamon works well.

I have ladybird poppy seeds and want to know if it’s ok to sow them now and if so, how?

Posted 27/05/2013 by Natasha via Facebook

The papaver commutatum or poppy ‘ladybird’ is a beautiful and quite striking flower. The best time to sow them is from March to May. Prepare your soil by raking it and then scatter the seeds where you want the plants to grow. When the seedlings are large enough to handle thin them out to make sure thee have enough room. Remember to water well as poppies can dry out fairly quickly.

Do you know how long it takes for cucamelon seeds to germinate? I sowed them about 3 weeks ago, at the same time as my melon seeds. The melons have germinated nicely but no sign of the cucamelon. 

Posted 27/05/2013 by Sarah via Facebook

Cucamelons generally take about 3 - 4 weeks to germinate. They are best sown in a propagator and kept at about 20 degrees. They need a good mild spot to perform well and well draining soil. Remember, what grows well in a Southern English garden, or in Southern America where they originate, may not do so well in our climate. So, depending on where you are as well as the quality of your soil cucamelons vary in success like all seeds. Try using some Bord na Móna Growise Multipurpose Compost with John Innes on the soil.

Can I plant a rose plant in the same spot as an old rose I have taken out?

Posted 27/05/2013 by Mary, Cork

It is not a good idea to plant a rose plant in the same spot as a previous rose. Make sure the ground has had a good rest before planting another rose plant. Perhaps consider replacing the old plant with a few pretty flowers such as lupins which not only look pretty with roses but also improve the soil structure. I would recommened using some Bord na Móna Growise Enriched Top Soil on the old area while resting it.

Can chicken manure be used instead of farmyard manure? Also, can it be used on year old ornamental trees and year old beech hedges? 

Posted 27/05/2013 by Eddie, Kilkenny

Chicken manure is a great source of organic top dressing in Spring, particularly for plants that needs lots of nitrogen. Try using Bord na Móna Growise Chicken Manure Pellets as they can be very effective. Since the pellets raise the PH in soil check the tree for its PH needs. Beech trees like a PH soil level of about 7.5 so it should be fine. Remember it is not suitable for lime-hating plants or ericaceous plants such as azaleas and rhododendrons. 

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