Weekend Work: Time to tend to palms

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The Independent Online

What to do

Sudden oak death ('Phytophthora ramorum') is the kind of sneaky disease that keeps gardeners awake at night. Despite its name, it attacks rhododendrons, camellias, viburnums, pieris, kalmias, yew trees, beech and horse chestnut as well as oak. Though relatively few oak trees have been affected, hundreds of outbreaks have been reported on other host shrubs, especially viburnums. On rhododendrons (including the naturalised bully 'Rhododendron ponticum' with mauve purple flowers) the disease causes leaves to brown off and die. On viburnums, whole branches suddenly give up as a canker grows round the base. There is no known cure. Will the cold winter have slowed it down?

Palms have become standard kit in small town gardens, where they usually thrive in the extra warmth created by escaped central heating. One of the most popular is the chusan palm 'Trachycarpus fortunei', with handsome pleated leaves a metre wide and long. The dwarf palm 'Chamaerops humilis' is also reasonably hardy in sheltered gardens, but both need extra care while young. Wise gardeners will have already swathed their palms in fleece, a sheet of sacking or an old blanket. Meanwhile, we can only wait to see what tender plants have survived this winter. After all, it's our fault for planting them, not theirs for being unable to withstand nights of –8C.

What to buy

The market for ready-grown "plugs" or small plants of flowers and vegetables has grown very quickly. Buying plugs is a more expensive option than growing from seed, but there's much less risk involved. From Suttons, for instance, you can get masses of different petunias, geraniums, impatiens, begonias, as well as aubergines, lettuce and sweet corn. Plants are sent out from mid March in five different forms. Miniplants (5cm tall) come in packs of 50, easiplants (7cm tall) are supplied in packs of 20, garden-ready plants (9cm tall) are available in packs of 15 or 30, pot-ready plants (13cm tall) are the largest plugs, supplied in packs of 3, 5, 6 or 10, dependoing on variety. For more information go to suttons.co.uk.