Gardening: Cuttings

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The Independent Online
Weekend work

NEW SPEARS of hosta foliage will need protecting against slugs. Polyanthus flowers are also getting chewed. Between slugs and sparrows they have a hard time. Black cotton stretched between twigs foxes birds, but is a fiddly chore.

Thin out flowering shoots of mophead and lacecap hydrangeas, cutting a few of the scraggier stems out at ground level. This makes them produce larger flowerheads.

Freshly planted evergreens may need a temporary screen to prevent the foliage drying out and browning. Some evergreens recover better than others. Yew can look very sick and still recover. Cupressus is not so forgiving.

Well-sprouted early potatoes can be planted where the ground is not too soggy. I am still waiting for my onion bed to dry out sufficiently for planting, which is three weeks behind last season. Broad beans, parsnips and peas are all waiting for the right conditions.

Plant sweet peas if you did not do so in autumn or winter. Set three seeds in a 4in pot, to do it the lazy way; at planting-out time, just tip out the pot and plant the seedlings as they are, together.

Sulphur tonic

THE Clean Air Act is rightly thought of as a Good Thing, but some plants, particularly lime-hating ones, relished the sulphur dioxide that belched from factory chimneys. Now they may need a helping hand. Sulphur chips added to the soil change the pH level gradually, making it more suitable for plants such as rhododendrons that hate lime. They are available from Greenacres Horticultural Supplies, PO Box 1228, Iver, Bucks SL0 0EH (0895 835235). A medium pack costs pounds 7.75, a large (1.25kg) pounds 12.50.

Going by the book

SNAPPIEST title of the year is from Ivelet Books' spring catalogue: A Treatise on an Improved Mode of Cultivating the Cucumber and Melon, so as to produce Early Melons and Cucumbers All the Year, with Less Trouble and Expense than by the Methods Usually Practised. With directions for Growing and Forcing Asparagus and Sea-Kale; and for Destroying Woodlice. This is the book's second edition, written circa 1843 by the prolix George Mills, pounds 85 from Ivelet's, 26 Church Street, Godalming, Surrey (0483 418878).

Give seedlings a start

R D McARTHUR of Tiverton writes of the advantages of pre-germinated seed for the vegetable garden. His method is suitable for parsnips, all beans, aubergine, tomato, peppers, cucumber, squashes and sweetcorn. 'Cover the bottom of a standard plastic seed tray with a double thickness of kitchen paper. Spread the seeds evenly over the top. Spray with water until the paper is well moistened and seal the tray in a transparent plastic bag. Store in a warm place (70F/21C) until the seeds have germinated.

'Pot on seeds of crops that need protection (tomatoes, aubergines, etc) and plant out the sprouted seeds of vegetables such as parsnip in very shallow drills.'