Landscape gardener and Life columnist Justin answers your questions.
I at last have a frangipani, which I have wanted for many years, but it is being eaten by monarch butterfly caterpillars from the swan plant next to it (I thought monarchs were fussy) and by small snails which are pale brown and almost translucent. How can I protect my valued small frangipani from them? Also how can I get rid of these small snails from the swan plant to save it for the monarchs who can strip it without the snails' help!?
The first thing I'd recommend is relocating the swan plants. Secondly, I'm going to presume the caterpillars are moving from the swan plants to the frangipani across the ground. Put a ring of scrunched up bird netting, in a ring, around the base of the frangipani. The netting will prevent the caterpillars from climbing up the trunk. This also works well with slugs and snails, but to make doubly sure, remove any midden or dried leaves near the frangipani. Then check the plant at night as snails are more active in the dark. As a last resort use Quash to deal with the small snails. The caterpillars may be proving a problem for you, Beth, but monarch butterfly lovers up and down the country will be most interested to find an alternative food source to the swan plant.
I would like to grow coriander but have had problems in the past. It seems not to thrive and then goes limp, browns off and dies. Any suggestions?
Coriander will bolt in summer and so seems to do well in summer shade or during spring and autumn. During winter you may need use a polly tunnel which you can buy from Kings. Alternatively try growing coriander sprouts or micro greens that you can snip off and eat all year round.
I am a senior citizen who has had a lot of fun and pleasure from domestic gardening, usually being successful but by no means an expert. For years I have grown a Yates seed tomato "Big Beef" with great success. However, over the past four or five growing seasons the tomatoes have been afflicted with cat face, with a resulting poor crop and certainly severe loss of tomato flesh. I have sought help from the internet and other sources without much, if any, improvement. I live in southern Takapuna. The early crops in my present garden were as good as gold as but all has now turned to custard.
- Ken Gilmour
In my experience cat face is caused during flower formation. This can be for many reasons but the two most common are because of excess nitrogen in the soil or extreme temperature fluctuations during the critical flowering period. Firstly, to combat the nitrogen issue I recommend following a crop rotation cycle. This will ensure that the nitrogen component in your soil has depreciated enough to encourage maximum flower potential. Also, try dressing the plants with potash just before flowering. Secondly, keep your powder dry and don't be in too much of a rush to get plants in. They'll grow very quickly in warmer weather. Remember the goal is not to grow big, early, green plants; it's to grow big red tomatoes. When I've finished with my tomato plants they look like a bad dried flower arrangement but I'm still getting fruit.
* Prepare the ground for garlic and onions. I trench in seaweed, which I dress with gypsum and potash, then I mulch the ground with crushed-up dry leaves or leaf mould.
* Plant cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips.
* Dress citrus trees with blood and bone then mulch with seaweed or pea straw. Epsom salts is also a fast-acting tonic for yellowing foliage and poor condition. Alternatively dress with citrus fertiliser from Kings.
* Cyclamens can be planted in shady spots to give vibrant winter colours, as can hellebores. Make sure they are in a free-draining soil.
* Dead-head red-hot-pokers as the flowers finish. Mark their position with a stick once the plants have finished flowering. This will make dividing and transplanting easier in spring.
* Remove patio plants from pots and change the soil with fresh potting mix. (Kings have an excellent rage of potting mixes available) either pot them into larger pots or remove the old soil, trim the roots and replant in the same pot.
* Last chance to plant bulbs and lift dahlia tubers. Give your dahlias a soft brush down and store them in a cool dark place ready for spring planting (same as spuds). Doing this will greatly improve their flowering (for how to, see my article on dahlias).
* Clean up tree midden and other slug and snail habitat in the garden to reduce the chance of an infestation, especially during spring.
* Trim trees to reduce shade and remove the branches and leaves. Now's a great time to hire a mulcher.
* Plant stone and pip fruit now.