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Gardening Q&A – Sinks, Aphids and Beans

I have a Belfast sink but don’t know what to plant in it. It sits in the shade mostly. Ideas please!

A green and white composition of small ferns, miniature hostas and an evergreen sedge Carex ‘Evergold’ would complement the sink. The different textures and leaf shapes would create interest, and you could add Saxifraga stolonifera which has decorative leaves and dainty white flower spires for summer – it grows little babies on red runners which would spill over the edge. Squeeze in an Iris cristata – it is a small Iris that likes bright shade and has a purple flower.

Ferns that combine well with hostas are Adiantum pedatum (five-fingered maiden hair fern) or an Aspleniums (hart’s tongue ferns). If you select a plain blue hosta, choose the Japanese painted fern for contrast (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum). Miniature hostas to consider are the ones with white margins or glaucous blue leaves like ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ or ‘Baby Booties’ as these thrive in shade. Those with yellow leaves and green leaves require some sunshine to grow well.

Photo shows Carex ‘Evergold’ and the Saxigraga stolonifera both in deep shade.

We have had two years of black mites on our cherry tree, the leaves shrivel up and the tree generally looks unwell. We’ve sprayed the leaves we can reach but even then, ineffective. Any advice please?

I think that these critters are the cherry tree aphid Myzus cerasi. They are difficult to control and although they cause unsightly leaves, they should not damage the tree or the crop. Familiarise yourself with the lifecycle of the aphid – know your enemy – so you are looking for them at the right time. Intervention like spraying, works best during a critical period before the leaves curl and only small trees can be effectively sprayed. If the damage is not extensive, I would avoid chemical intervention, even a winter wash to kill the eggs can kill off beneficial insects as well.

Unfortunately, the natural predators of this aphid are not present in great enough numbers so early in the season and utilising biological controls only works in enclosed spaces. They have an extremely rapid asexual reproduction producing several populations in succession. A safe approach to aphids is to blast them off with water (you can use a pressure sprayer on a low setting but be careful) just as they get going and before the leaves are curling and do this more than once. As the first populations are wingless, once dislodged they should not find their way up again.

I would be happier with water spray and aphids falling on my head than any chemical (but I do wear a big Australian bush hat). Follow this link for further information from the RHS.

I bought some French climbing beans about a month ago and put them into a growbag. They’re growing but very slowly and not looking too healthy i.e.very small leaves and slightly anaemic looking. Could you suggest anything?

‘French beans’ Phaseolus vulgaris are fussier than runner beans. Both come from South America, but the ‘French’ beans need more warmth, and shelter. I am growing both types in big pots and the ‘French’ ones are slower to put on height and produce (see photo).

Your beans may also be sulking as they dislike being transplanted because of the root disturbance. Hopefully they have recovered as the weather has warmed up. Use a tomato feed and keep watered when in flower and pod. All climbing beans need a deep root run, so they are not the best choice for a growbag. Next year, grow the dwarf or bush ‘French beans’ in a growbag or the climbing ones in large containers.

Start off the seed in biodegradable peat pot or homemade paper pots in a warm place and plant the whole pot to minimize root disturbance. Use some soil-based compost in your large containers as this provides a greater amount of trace elements and soil bacteria.

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