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Ask Alfie – September 2016

Alfie Bines advice

Q.Why have my 2 blueberry bushes only given me 10 berries between them when my uncle’s single bush has fed almost all of Church Stretton?!

A.To answer your question I started by Googling “Church Stretton Soils” and without any proof as to why your uncle’s blueberries do so well and yours less so, I at least obtained some clues.

Apparently the indigenous soils to Church Stretton (Shropshire) are brown podzols, and as you all know these are normally acidic, free draining and with a high organic content.

Now it may of course be a coincidence but this corresponds very well with the requirements for successful blueberry production. They certainly need ericaceous soil, preferably with a pH of around 5.5 or 6 and they thrive in a well-drained situation, although they also like to be kept moist.

It is also a good idea to feed regularly with an ericaceous liquid fertilizer, particularly from April to July and then if they are in the ground, mulch with rotted manure in the winter to add humus, also with an acid tendency.

Finally some varieties are better croppers than others and some (evidently such as your uncle’s solitary bush) are self-fertile so I wonder if he knows his variety?

Your uncle may have additional secrets to pass on, but if any of these factors are missing from your own regime it might be worth taking them on board.

Q.I’ve had a good display of summer bedding plants this year and it seems such a shame to throw them all away. I know many are simply not hardy but can you suggest bedding plants which will survive and are worth keeping for next year?

A.You don’t say what you have planted or where but there are many plants sold as bedding plants which are technically perennial and are therefore capable of growing from year to year, so the determining factor as you imply is hardiness. Although I could fill up the Muswell Flyer / Crouch End Connection with an expanded answer, here are four which you can leave in the ground and which will generally survive average North London winters. Osteospermums, known as African daisies are sold as bedding plants but can be used in a herbaceous border. Infact if left in the ground they can flower in advance of the ones in the garden centre in May! ; Felicia another daisy, but low growing and with cute blue flowers with a yellow centre; Bacopa – a splendid white or pale pink flowered trailing plant, and finally Diascia; one of my troughs is full of this prolific flower machine, now in its fourth year and continuing to perform all summer. I would define this as a semi-trailer available in quite a few different colours – pinks, reds, peachy tones and white.

If none of these are in your scheme this year get in touch again and I can help you decide  if you’ve anything you can keep to save a little time and a few pence next year.

Alfie Bines
About Alfie Bines (24 Articles)
I have been tending the gardens of North London for longer than I care to remember accumulating a huge amount of horticultural knowledge along the way.