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Facebook Questions and Answers for the 26th October 2012

Hello Facebook fans, thanks for your questions this week, here are Carly's replies:

Marie Songhurst

I have a dwarf clematis how do I prune it? It was planted spring 2012.

Hi Marie, there are three main groups of Clematis, all with different pruning requirements. It’s best to establish which type of Clematis you have before pruning - you’ll normally find this information on the label or you can look it up online. We’ve put together an article about Clematis and the different pruning groups, including when and how to prune - click here to view it. I hope this helps, let me know if you need any further help.

Eileen Hurst

When can I dig up established rose bushes to move to a higher border? I have already done nearly all the pruning as we have had a couple of frosts.

Hi Eileen, you can dig up your roses now - autumn is the best time as conditions are favourable for root growth. The soil is still warm, moisture levels are high and the air is cool. You can also carry this out in late winter provided the soil isn’t frozen. Prepare the new planting hole before you begin lifting them from their current position, and make sure you water the roses well the previous day.

Choose a cool overcast day to prevent the roots from drying out too quickly. Give the main stem a wide berth and aim to lift as big a root ball out as you can so as not to disturb the roots. Any large roots that cannot be lifted should be cleanly cut with a knife or saw. Re-plant the roses in their new home immediately. If you can’t do it straight away wrap the root balls in a damp hessian sack to hold them together and prevent the smaller roots from drying out. Dig plenty of organic matter such as well rotted manure or garden compost into the new planting hole. Firm the rose into its new hole and water well. I would also recommend mulching around the plant to retain moisture at the roots. I hope this helps Eileen, best of luck.

Julie Goodwin

Hi Carly & VM. When is the best time to move rhubarb? I have two varieties which I think are Victoria and Temperley Early and they are both now fully dormant. Is it ok to move them now or wait for new growth early next year? Many thanks in advance.

Hi Julie, it’s perfectly alright to move your rhubarb now - autumn is the ideal time as the soil is still warm, there’s plenty of rain and temperatures are cool. I would improve the soil in your rhubarb’s new home with well rotted manure or compost before planting, as rhubarb loves rich soil. For the quickest establishment, try to lift as much of the root ball as you can, and make sure the crown sits at or just below the soil surface to prevent rotting. I hope this helps Julie, good luck!

Nigel Smith

Hi Carly, do you have any ideas or suggestion with what to do with Chicken manure and straw? I clean the chickens on the allotment once a week and remove old used straw and shavings etc and the compost is getting very full do you have suggestions on how I could make the most of this? Thank you, Nigel.

Hi Nigel, composting is the best thing to do with poultry waste. Chicken manure itself is very strong when fresh (due to ammonia) and if spread on the garden can burn plant roots, and attract unwanted visitors such as foxes and rats. Straw and wood shavings will take a long time to break down if spread on, or dug into the soil, and would not add any nutritional benefit for some time. The only suggestion I can make is to set up an additional compost pile on an area of your allotment! Turning your compost at least once a month will keep it aerated and help it rot down faster, although as we’re approaching the winter months, decomposition will probably slow until next spring. Try and add a good mixture of green materials such as weeds, grass clippings or vegetable waste in addition to straw and wood shavings (aim for 25-50% green waste, and the remainder brown, such as straw or woody prunings). Also, I know that my local council accept animal bedding from rabbits/hamsters/chickens etc - at least it’s being recycled even if you don’t benefit from it yourself. I hope this helps Nigel.

Nigel Bean

Hi I planted my fruit trees 2 apples 1 pear 1 plum last week end while it was mild this weekend they talk of frost is it worth covering them up with fleece or just leave to harden up? Thanks.

Hi Nigel, what a wonderful investment for the garden! These are all fully hardy trees and will be fine left to their own devices. As their root systems are still small it may be worth mulching the soil around the newly planted trees with a thick layer of well-rotted manure, compost or council green waste compost. Keep a collar of about 10cm (4 inches) free of mulch around the woody stems to prevent the bark rotting. The mulch will insulate the soil from frosts and protect the roots this winter. Just as an extra note - in frosty springs it can be handy to have some fleece ready to cover plum blossoms. Plums flower early in the year and if the flowers get frosted they tend to fall, resulting in poor fruiting. I hope this helps, good luck.

Lisa Thomas

Hi we have lots of leaves everywhere can I bag them up and keep them as leaf mulch? How do I do it properly and is it worth doing?

Hi Lisa, yes you certainly can! Leafmould is a fantastic soil conditioner, aerating the soil and helping release nutrients for plant growth. For potting and fine compost you’ll need to leave the leafmould to rot down for two years; however for mulching and digging into the soil you can use the leafmould as early as one year after starting. It’s also a good idea to shred thick leaves such as sycamore and horse chestnut before using - oak and beech leaves are fine to go in whole

The simplest method is to gather the leaves into bin liners and loosely tie the top, piercing a few holes in the side with a fork to allow for air circulation. If the leaves are dry add some water to dampen them. You can then stack them somewhere out of the way for a year or so for the leaves to rot down. Alternatively you can make a basic leafmould bin out of chicken wire wrapped around stakes or bamboo canes. Fill the bin to the top if you can and turn the contents periodically to speed up the rotting process. You may want to fashion a wire lid so the leaves don’t blow away. It’s also important to keep the leaves damp at all times. I hope this helps Lisa, best of luck!