Gardening Questions

If you have any gardening questions then send them in to us here at

Question from Ron:
"I have had a new fosse installed about 5 years ago(all the works being in the front lawn). I can not get grass to grow anywhere on the area of the fosse or a rainwater drain which was installed at the same time. Both these areas were topped up with new topsoil about 6 months after they had settled. I have two other areas ( I can't call them lawns) which will grow anything but grass. Another area I have just dug over and removed anything green is waiting for reseeding and I would like to be sure I am going to get the right seed this time.

Question from Judy:
"We have a large garden in Tarn-et-Garonne, which has a thinnish clay soil on limestone. Over the last year or so we’ve lost quite a few spindly ormeaux to Dutch Elm Disease (or something very like it) and as a result lost some on the defining ‘boundaries’ to sections of the garden, which were created by these trees. I’d like to plant some more trees, to re-create these loose boundaries & wonder if silver birch trees would grow on this type of terrain (fast-growing, pretty bark, offering delicate dappled shade etc). The area I’m particularly concerned about is on a shallow slope, south-facing & maybe 20 metres in length. And if you think they would grow there, how deep a hole would need to be dug for each tree, and what is the recommended spacing between young trees? I think I need 3 trees, or maybe 4 at a push, to create a boundary with spaces between the trees through which to enjoy the landscape beyond."


Question from Graham:
"We planted a Laurel hedge last spring (Prunus laurocerasus) Cherry Laurel and kept it watered throughout the summer giving it some general fertilizer at the back end. We bought 100 plants about 18" tall but some have now turned yellow and the leaves are dropping off, in a few cases all the leaves have dropped. The remainder are doing well and in full flower.

I have looked on the English web sites and diagnosed the problem as leaf spot fungi and bacterial shot hole but there is little help in the way of treatment. Can you suggest something I can try to resolve the problem with your experience in France. I have taken off all the affected leaves for disposal but fear that I will lose the plants totally"

Question from Sheila:
"Is there a palm type plant available here, which will tolerate our cold winters. I did have 6 in large pots - put them in an unheated greenhouse during the winter 2011/12 and the really low temperatures killed them and I lost them all. I have heard there is a palm type plant which will tolerate cold weather and I was looking to plant directly in the ground because pots do take up quite a lot of room during the winter"


Answer for Sheila:
Hi Sheila - There are two varities of palm trees. The first is called a "chamacrops humilis" and it's a small variety that resists up to -15°C. The second is called "trachycarpus fortunei" which is a taller version and can reach up to 10m in height, but it is not frost resistant. The winter of 2012/2013 was so exceptionally cold and many of the young chamacrops died - perhaps if you try another of this variety you should consider wrapping it in a voile d'hivernage just in case.

Question from Jane:
"Hi,I have a firethorn(pyracantha) hedge and want to get it more bushy from the ground up. When is the best time to prune it.
I am prepared to forsake all the spring blossom and autumn berries to achieve the best result."

pyracantha-hedge (1)

Answer for Jane:
With regards to your pyracantha hedge, March is the ideal time to prune it. If it's a young hedge (2 - 3 years old) you can cut it back to ground level - I know this sounds drastic but it's the only way that it will thicken up and bush out. If it's an established hedge then give it a very heavy prune. It won't look very attractive at first but will soon shoot away.

Question from Wally in Souillac:
"I have a Campsis which does not produce any flowers .It is a yellow variety planted in a large pot against a wall which gets plenty of light but no direct sun until the afternoon.There is alot of leafy growth but not one flower! I have to cut it back each year to keep it from spreading too far.What can I do to get it to flower?"


Question from Mel:
"I planted several dahlias 3 years ago and have been so happy with the constant flowering all summer. I have left them in the ground over winter - simply covering them with manure and compost to protect them. However this years flower were fewer and the plant didn't look as healthy. I've been told to take up the tubers and split them. Is this correct and when would be the best time to do this - dig them up now and re-plant or wait until the spring to do it?"

Answer for Mel:
It's always preferable to dig up the dahlia tubers late autumn and store them in a dry, dark, frost free place (cellar/garage).It's a good idea to note the colours on removing and store them accordingly in order to identify them next year. You can split the tubas early spring time before replanting.

What might have happened to your dahlias this year is that the severe cold (-18°C) damaged or killed part of the tubas. The damp spring-time may have cause some of the tubas to rot too.

How to split dahlia tubers:
Dig up your dahlia tubers with a shovel or garden spade. Be sure to start digging about 8 or 9 inches from the plant, as the tubers will have multiplied during the growing season.

Remove the tuber ball from the dirt and clean it gently. Do not remove the skin from the tubers and be very careful not to break any. Each tuber should have an eye, some will have a couple of eyes. They look much like the eyes on potatoes. A tuber will not grow into a plant unless it has an eye.

Using a sharp garden knife separate the tubers from the main plant. Be very careful that the delicate eyes don't break off. Discard any tubers that are shrivelled, rotten or without eyes.

Store your tubers in peat moss or vermiculite in a dry, cold location and check them periodically during the winter. A garage or basement is ideal, as long as there are no leaks. If they appear too dry or shrivelled, mist them with water. If there are any rotten ones, remove them from the box. Make sure that they are not stored in a damp location.


Question from Carole:
"I have a young peony which was planted in the spring. It's only had one beautiful flower this year but now the leaves are looking either brown and crisp or yellowy. Should I prune it back and if so when is the best time, now or spring. I also have the same problem with a magnolia, so the question is the same please."

Answer for Carole:
Which variety is your peony? A garden plant or a tree? If it’s a herbaceous peony then it's normal for the leaves to die in the winter. Once the leaves are dead cut the stems to 8cm above ground level.

If yours is a tree peony then the leaves will change colour and fall in winter. However, don't prune it as doing so you will lose part of the stems which create next year’s flowers.

Your magnolia is either a semi-evergreen or deciduous. The semi-evergreens leaves change colour in the autumn and shed some of their leaves during winter; whereas the deciduous shed all their leaves - So your magnolia changing colour is quite normal.


Question from Gail:
"We removed about 7 leylandii from our garden, about 5 years ago. I put green plastic webbing over the area, and planted it up. The plants aren't doing too badly, considering they're ignored whilst we're at home in England, but the stumps will obviously look very ugly when we finally remove the webbing. My question is: what is the best way to remove stumps without it looking too ugly for too long (we rent our house out)? I've looked up various methods and can't decide which is best."

Answer for Gail:
The easiest way to remove roots, (although not in your case unfortunatly) is to cut the hedge down to 1 meter above ground level and tie a rope or chain around the top then pull with either a tractor or winch or a crick, it works every time.

Here are a few other methods for removing stumps :

- If the stumps are small you can either dig around them, cut off the roots and pull them out. This method is hard work, messy and you will need soil to refill the holes.
- Or dig around the stump until 5-10 cm under ground level then cut the stump with a chain saw and cover with soil (use an old chain as contact with the earth with ruin it).
If the stumps are large, over 15cm, you can hire a machine to cut them out (try Laho rentals at Le Vigan). This machine can be quite dangerous to use, plus you must wear protective clothing, so it's best to call on the service of an "entreprise forestier".
There may be an alternative to all these methods. As the stumps are under webbing they may have rotted enough for you to hit them with a hammer and chisle and break them up.
It would have been easier, in the long run, to have removed the stumps before planting thus only making a mess once and to avoide damaging the newly established plants.
Conclusion -it's never easy to get rid of stumps but I hope the above will be of some use to you. Good luck!