Ask an Expert
Welcome to our Ask an Expert page where our Gardening Angels are always on hand to answer any questions you may have about growing your own.
If your an experienced gardener or just starting out, our friendly expert can provide a wealth of tips, advice and guidance to get you growing.
They can help you with ....
1. What to grow and when
2. Variety choice
3. Sowing, growing and harvesting
4. Pest and disease control
5. Our growing kits and propagators
Just give us a call on 0845 602 3774 or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will reply and publish your question below.
“Paul is our Head Gardening Angel, he is responsible for the plants in our visitor greenhouse, works with our product development team, conducts our product trials and ensures we are all providing good advice. He has 13 years professional horticultural experience and a background in plant genetics. Paul has a particular interest in tomatoes and he grows huge numbers of heritage varieties every year and has entered and won competitions. Paul is also responsible for growing the plants that we displayed in Chelsea Show Gardens which were awarded Gold Medals.”
What is the best soil to use in your planters?- Jean Smyth
For use in the Quadgrow, Octogrow , Chilligrow, Windowgrow and Vitogrow Mini Allotment planters we would recommend any good quality mulit-purpose compost that you can buy in your local supermarket or DIY store, sch as John Innes no2.
Hope this helps!
What's the best way to Propagate and grow strawberries?- Katie Savage
Slugs and snails adore strawberries, so they are better planted in pots than in the ground, and window ledges and hanging baskets are ideal spots out of reach of these slimy pests. Strawberries in full sun will produce the most fruit and they should be planted out of the wind.
If you want to buy new plants each year you can plant 3 or 4 in a hanging basket or 5 or 6 in a windowsill planter, so that you get maximum fruit from your available space.
If you are growing in a raised bed or directly in your garden give each plant 35cms of space so that you can keep the same plants for 3 years; when the last strawberry has been enjoyed, simply cut the leaves back to around 10cm.
We would recommend the Vitopod Propagator for getting your strawberries off to the best start. Our Vitopod Propagator has won many awards from magazines such as BBC Gardeners’ World, Gardening Which and Garden News, and is much loved thanks to its thermostatic controlled base which distributes heat evenly throughout the base avoiding any hot or cold spots. You can control the heat with the digital thermostat between 5c and 30c, you can also increase the height of the Vitopod Propagator as your plants grow with the extendable layers, allowing you to leave you plants propagating for longer, really giving them the best start.
The Windowgrow is great for strawberries. With space for 4 or 5 strawberry plants which will typically produce 1.5kgs of strawberries!
The lid keeps your compost warm so that your plants get off to a flying start and the SmartReservoir ensures your plants always receive the right amount of water, no matter how hot your patio or windowsill, so there’s no coming home from work to find the strawberries wilting or water-logged and there’s no need to worry about holiday watering cover . You will be harvetsing within weeks!
Hope this helps!
How do I propagate using rockwool cubes?- M.Cleary
The following are instructions to grow using the Rockwool cubes - which is another option to propagating using the traditional soil methods, this is especially fantastic when using our Hydrogrow NFT kit.
1. Sow your seeds into trays of compost using the normal method in a Vitopod Propagator.
2. When your seedlings are ready for pricking out, soak the propagation cube and 3" cube in a solution of 3ml of Nutrient A and 3ml of Nutrient B per litre of water, drain off any excess water, do not squeeze the cubes.
3. Half the propagation cube diagonally using a scalpel or Stanley knife.
4. Sandwich the seedling between the two halves, with the stem three quarters of the way down the cube and roots dangling from the bottom.
5. Insert the propagation cube into the hole of the 3inch cube.
6. Only water when required using the solution of 3ml of Nutrient A and 3ml of Nutrient B per litre of water.
7. When the Cubes are root bound they are ready to go into your growing kit, remember to remove the plastic cover before adding the Rockwool to your Hydrogrow NFT.
Hope this helps,
What is the best way to sideshoot a tomato plant?- Jim B
Bush varieties require no sideshooting and just tying to a cane should provide enough support.
Cordon varieties do require sideshooting - this involves removing the new shoots that grow between the leaf and the stem. All side shoots must be removed cleanly, without leaving any stubs or damage as this will lead fungal growths such as botrytis.
Hope this helps!
How do I over winter my chilli plant?- Mr Gairn
Hello Mr Gairn
If you sow your seeds later than mid April, your chilli plants will not be as strong and developed as you would hope and might not have time to develop flowers and fruit.
This is because they need several months of good light and warmth in order to reach their full fruit production potential. This doesn’t mean that you won’t get any fruit at all. If you already have flowers you may get some fruit especially up until the end of October.
Even if you don’t get flowers or fruit this summer don’t worry, if your plant is healthy you can keep it going over winter.
Simply bring it indoors as soon as the weather turns colder and before the first frost. It will need to be kept warmish, a kitchen or lounge is good, conservatories are often too cold.
Find a sunny spot for it and care for it as you would any house plant, take care not to over-water it because the low light levels will mean that it won’t actually grow much, if at all, though it may produce flowers. If you are feeding it a plant food, stop this in the late autumn/winter too.
If you are particularly attached to your Scotch Bonnet plant and you live in a house as cold as mine (it’s very old and impossible to keep warm) you could use a Vitopod Propagator to keep the chilli plant warm. We do this with ginger, but you will be fine if you have a light, warm spot in your home.
The worst that would happen is that the plant might not be established enough to survive the low light of the winter and it could die, if you leave it outdoors or in a cold conservatory it will not survive. Your other risk is from providing too much or too little water because the water needs of the plant will be much lower in the colder, darker months and many people find this adjustment difficult to make.
The good news is that we over-winter our Trinidad Scorpions each year and many people report that the second year of a chilli plant produces more fruit than the first. This is our experience too.
In summary, keep it warm and take care with your watering.
Hope this helps!
How do I grow Lavender?- Audrey
Some varieties flower from mid-June to September. They keep themselves neat and tidy with a single annual pruning and they are relatively free from pests and disease. The final bonus is that they withstand drought extremely well. There are in excess of 50 species of Lavender plants which come in a wide variety of sizes, hardiness, flowers and foliage.
How to Grow Lavender - Site and Planting
Lavender likes for warm, sunny conditions and a slightly alkaline soil that drains well. If your soil is heavy, dig in as much well-rotted compost as possible to improve the drainage of the soil. The best time to plant lavender is in early autumn or mid-spring. If the soil is dry at planting time, give the lavender some water. To help them lay down a good root system and develop foliage cut off all the flower stems after planting. Allow enough room for the lavender when it is fully mature.
Planting and Care of Lavender
Pinch out the tops of leaf and stalks which are taller than the rest of the plant. This will encourage lavender to become bushier.
In the UK only during a prolonged drought where the plant is wilting, will you need to water lavender in a plant bed. Lavender in pots and tubs will require watering a little more frequently but be very sparing. Only water when the compost has dried out for a couple of days. Do not feed lavender when planting it. Each spring after that apply a general purpose liquid feed, no further feeding is required.
How to prune Lavender
Firstly, do nothing for a complete year's growth. Then each year after flowering has finished in autumn, cut off the top six inches of growth. After about six years or so your lavender bush will start to get woody at the base and foliage will progressively only appear at the top of the plant, the best solution is to take some cuttings and grow them on the next year. Dig up the old plant and replace with the new one.
Propagation in the Hydropod Propagator
- Cuttings are the easiest method and the chances of success are high. The best method is to take a heel cutting in spring. This can also be done in autumn but the cutting will take longer to root. Our Hydropod Propagator is perfect for growing cuttings.
- To take a heel cutting, identify a healthy looking shoot which is about 10cm (4in) long and pull it down and away from the main stem. You will end up with a shoot which has a "heel" of the main stem at its base. If the heel is too long then trim it with a sharp knife.
- Slide the cutting into a sponge disk, using the slit to avoid damage, and then place the sponge disk into one of the mesh pots in the Hydropod Propagator.
- Using just water run the sprinkler continuously, when roots are visible add 40ml of Nutrient A and 40ml of Nutrient B. When the plant has shown obvious signs of growth, top up the reservoir and add a further dose of 40ml of Nutrient A and 40ml of Nutrient B. Approximately one week later the cutting should be ready to transplant.
- You should be ready to transplant within 3 to 4 weeks.
Hope this helps!
Do you have any tips for successful germination?- Miss Rattigan
Hello Miss Rattigan,
Avoid erratic watering – seedlings only need a little water – but do need to be watered regularly so the compost does not dry out. Using a spray bottle lightly spray your compost until it becomes damp but never saturated as plants need their roots to have a good access to oxygen to breathe properly, if your soil becomes waterlogged there is no oxygen available for your roots. Before you spray your plants, test the compost, if it feels damp you do not need to spray your seedlings at this time. We aim to check our seedlings at least twice a day to see if they need spraying with water, but don’t worry if they don’t require watering for a day or so. If you do ever forget to water your seedlings, don’t saturate them to “compensate” for this, just spray them as usual, but perhaps check them again a little sooner to see if the compost has dried out.
Good long hours of high quality Light – seedlings don’t like to be in direct sunlight – but do still need good light levels, if the light is not of a high enough quality the seedlings will “stretch” to try and get better light and then they usually flop over as they cannot support their weight. Ideally they need a good source of natural light not only from one direction for a good proportion of the day.
Correct Heat levels – most plants propagate at between 18 – 22°c, but your seed packet will have instructions for your individual variety. Too cold and your plants will not grow as quickly – if subjected to a cold frost this may kill them completely, too warm and again your seedlings will not grow. Our Vitopod Propagator is designed to provide even heat throughout the base and has a digital thermostat giving you greater control over the temparature with a range from 5c-30c. Obviously use your Propagator to keep the heat high during the colder temperatures, but likewise during the hotter days, open, vents remove lids and open doors to the greenhouse to keep the temperatures down.
Lastly, check the use-by date on your seed packets – the seed’s only have a limited live on them – if they are older they may not germinate or grow as expected.
Hope this helps!
How do I grow Bananas?- Julie Redfern
Ornamental banana plants can be an attractive addition to flower beds and garden areas in warm climates but can also be grown as a houseplant in more temperate areas. Proper care of the plant will help it grow into a healthy adult plant that may even produce fruit or suckers for new banana plant propagation.
Banana plants need to be watered often – they cannot be allowed to dry out. Feed regularly with a complete feed. They grow best in a good quality potting soil that drains well. It prefers a pH level between 5.5 and 6.5. Banana plants must be protected from frost.
Our Exotic planter, the Hydrogrow Solar provides the perfect conditions for Banana plants and which we use to grow our own in our Visitor Greenhouse in Mawdesley so they grow strong and produce gorgeous fruits.
Hope this helps!