Even the most green-fingered of growers will experience the occasional blip, so BBC Good Food Facebook fans pitched their common garden headaches in a live Q&A session with the expert team from Gardeners’ World. They came back with some troubleshooting tips- here are your top 10 grow-your-own issues and how to solve them…
Q: My tomatoes are taking so long this year- they’ve only grown two inches in two months- what should I do with them?
A: Tomato plants can be damaged by the cold, and it doesn’t even have to be frosty for them to suffer. Have a look at our information about the way tomatoes look if they’ve been affected by the cold. Unfortunately this year the weather has been so dreary that many plants, including fruit and veg, haven’t put on much growth. If you decide to put them outside, keep an eye on the forecast and cover them with fleece if cold weather looks likely. Good luck, I hope you get a good crop despite the poor start. (Answered by Emma Crawforth, sub editor)
Beating slugs and snails
Q: Do you know any deterrents for slugs and snails? I’m trying not to use chemicals.
A: You have a few options for reducing slugs and snails. Firstly, you can surround your plants with chicken grit or crushed shell. Secondly, you can protect container-grown plants with self-adhesive copper tape, stuck around the rim of the pot, which snails hate as it sends out electrical charges- follow our video on how to attach it. Finally, a more dramatic but really effective way of limiting their numbers is to install a wildlife pond – however small – that will be home to frogs and toads, which like nothing more than to munch on molluscs! (Answered by Emma Crawforth, sub editor and David Hurrion, horticultural editor)
Q: Why can’t I get my garlic to grow any bigger?
A: You need to buy your garlic cloves from a horticultural supplier, not a grocer, as they’ll have been treated to keep disease at bay. Plant them just below the soil surface before Christmas. Place them 30cm apart. Weed regularly, and only water if it’s very dry in spring or summer. Always grow your crop in a different spot each year to help avoid possible infections. For more details, have a look at our project (Answered by Emma Crawforth, sub editor)
Protecting strawberries from woodlice
Q: I’m having really serious problems with woodlice attacking my strawberries- any suggestions?
A: Woodlice don’t cause much damage to growing plants, but they do like strawberries. However squirrels, mice, slugs and birds will also eat strawberries, so watch out for them too. Woodlice like dark and damp places, so keep your strawberry plants tidy by cutting off dead leaves and remove anything nearby that they can hide and shelter under. Although there are chemicals to control woodlice that invade houses, they’re not suitable to use with edible crops. Next year you could try using a hanging basket or grow alpine strawberries in a pot. But hopefully the weather will not favour woodlice so much as well. (Answered by Emma Crawforth, sub editor)
Q: Cats getting into my vegetable patch is my biggest problem- how do I deter them?
A: Love or them or loathe them, domestic cats can cause havoc in the veg garden, but there are a few things you can do. Try to keep the ground well-watered, as cats prefer dry soil, or scatter a pepper-based repellent over the soil weekly. Bare soil is attractive to cats so sow a green manure or plant bedding in any gaps that appear. It’s also worth sowing veg seed in trays or pots, rather than direct into the soil- you can then grow plants on safely in pots and plant them out when they’re large enough to withstand the attentions of your local moggy.
Finally, there’s no substitute for a sturdy cloche or fruit cage. Not only will it keep out cats, but will also protect your precious veg from pigeons, butterflies and other large pests. And look out for the August issue of Gardeners’ World magazine, which has a special feature on cats. (Answered by Ross Bayton, horticultural writer)
Getting rid of blackfly
Q: I have hundreds of teeny black flies on my runner beans- how can I get rid of them?
A: This sounds like a type of aphid called blackfly, that coats shoots and the underside of leaves. Try rubbing them off between finger and thumb while spraying gently with water from a hose to wash them away. Alternatively use a soap-based organic insecticide (available from garden centres). This spray will have to touch the blackfly to kill them, but residues will not enter the crop, which is safe to eat. Ladybird populations will eventually build-up to eat aphids, but, as yet, there hasn’t been many around this year. (Answered by Adam Pasco, editorial director)
Q: My raspberries have loads of runners, am I meant to cut these off?
A: Raspberry plants are vigorous and quickly grow out of control if left un-pruned. Use a hoe to cut off any suckers that develop away from the main plants, as this will stop them spreading and focus the plant’s energies on producing fruit. If you want to grow some more plants, perhaps to give to friends and family, then carefully lift the runners – they should have some roots of their own – and pot them up in soil-based compost. Of course, new canes should be appearing at the base of your plants now, and these should be tied carefully into their supports, as they will bear fruits this autumn or next summer. (Answered by Ross Bayton, horticultural writer)
Warding off pigeons
Q: How do I stop pigeons nibbling my Brussels sprouts?
A: Winter vegetables, and especially brassicas such as Brussels sprouts or cabbage, are a favourite food for pigeons in cold weather. Scarecrows, wind chimes and other deterrents may work for a short while, but these canny birds quickly learn that there’s nothing to fear. So move deterrents around the garden every week, so the pigeons don’t get used to them.
The only sure-fire way of protecting your crops is to exclude the birds using netting. Stretch it over robust bamboo canes or poles, so that the netting is well clear of the foliage, and remember that many brassicas grow up to 150cm tall, so give them plenty of room. Alternatively, you can buy a ready-made veg cage, which can be lifted off the crop easily for maintenance. (Answered by Ross Bayton, horticultural writer)
Dealing with whitefly
Q: Whitefly on my strawberries are ruining my crop- what can I do?
A: Whitefly are usually a problem on greenhouse crops, but can also infect outdoor ones. There are no natural predators outside for whitefly. Small infestations can probably be ignored, but if they are increasing in number try regularly spraying with a suitable insecticide. I use a soap-based plant stimulant and pesticide called SB Invigorator, but several others are available. Sprays must touch adult whitefly, so use a pressure sprayer to get right under leaves and into the new foliage. Repeat spraying every 7 days to kill the next wave of whitefly that hatch. (Answered by Adam Pasco, editorial director)
Q: I’m growing cucumbers in my greenhouse but a lot of them are withered. Is it to do with how I’m watering them?
A: Be very careful not to overwater cucumbers, especially early in the year when plants have only just been potted up. Lots of cold, wet compost surrounds the roots, and this can cause rotting. Water individual pots from above so that water soaks down into a saucer below. Don’t leave young plants standing in water, and don’t water again until compost appears almost dry – push your finger down into it to test. Remember, cucumbers like warm, humid greenhouse conditions. Also, feed them weekly with a solution of liquid fertiliser. (Answered by Adam Pasco, editorial director)
For more inspiration check out our top 20 herb garden ideas.
Has your query not been answered by the team? Then take a look at the Gardeners’ World website and flick through their extensive problem solving section. If you do actually manage to haul an abundant crop and need to use your fruit or veg up, take a look at our recipe collections.