From covering septic tanks to tackling slugs and snails, Diarmuid Gavin solves your garden problems

Throughout the year I’ve been doing nightly gardening Instagram shows, I’ve been answering the same questions over and over. This week I’ll summarize some of the most common questions … and the answers.

1. How do I hide my septic tank?

This is a problem that only applies to those lucky enough to live in the countryside. Waste is disposed of in septic tanks, but often the service point is an above-ground concrete or plastic slab that is usually in the middle of a lawn. The best way to cover up something like this is with more plants. Use plants that cover the ground and grow in the often barren, flat soil used to fill these tanks, like Ceanothus repens or California lilac, which has the added benefit of being evergreen. Persicaria Darjeeling Red is another great plant for covering flat ground. Geranium Rozanne is a fantastic ground cover plant, although any hardy geranium would work.

2. Which vegetables are easiest to grow?

This is difficult because most vegetables are relatively simple with a few exceptions. The only thing I would hesitate to hire a beginner to grow is asparagus as it takes years to harvest properly and is an investment in the garden. The best answer to this question is to grow the vegetables you like. When growing vegetables, it’s so important to only plant what you know you will eat. Radishes, for example, are extremely easy to grow, but they share taste buds, and there’s no point in having an abundance of plants that you don’t want.

3. Something is eating my cabbage plants … Help!

This is probably one of two things. Cabbage and its relatives are very tasty for snails and are often the first plants to be attacked and often stripped off. Beer traps and nighttime patrols are both ways to control them organically. You can get organic snail pellets, but try to avoid them outdoors as birds, hedgehogs, and other animals can still ingest them.

The other culprit of the eaten cabbage is the cabbage white caterpillar. These bright white butterflies are often seen around cabbage plants on summer days, but be careful, they are about to lay their eggs and when the caterpillars hatch they will eat their way on the leaves. A good net over the cabbage is the best way to keep the butterflies away from your precious crop.

4. How can I let my plants bloom longer?

Everyone wants to have a color kaleidoscope in their garden for as long as possible. When a plant is in bloom, the best way to ensure the maximum number of flowers is to constantly cut the plant off. This is especially true for annual plants like cosmos and sweet peas. Simply cut off any dead flowers so that the energy can flow back into the plant instead of producing seeds. Good forage will also help plants bloom. Tomato foods are high in potash and are a great quick feed when you want a plant to produce lots of flowers.

5. Can I leave the ground bare in winter?

Ideally no. In the vegetable garden it is sometimes difficult, but always try to have a cover on the ground, either a live or a mulch cover. A living cover could be something like a green manure that is grown to be dug back into the ground to improve it. Often times they germinate quickly in the fall and allow the soil to grow a little throughout the winter. Mulches help retain moisture and reduce leaching, which is a problem when the soil is exposed over the winter.

Plant of the week

Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis is still in bloom and is a loyal summer, the clouds of sweet purple flowers soaring over the edges. It enjoys the sun.

Questions and answers to the reader

What can I do with a garden full of rose hips in bulk this year? What are they used for? It would be a shame to let them go to waste.
Mrs. S. Dunne

Rose hips are the fruit of the pollinated rose and if you break them apart you will see the seeds inside. They are very high in vitamin C and were used to make rosehip syrups during the war when citrus fruits were scarce. You can now harvest them and make jam, tea, syrup, and jelly. But if you leave them on the bushes, they will certainly not go to waste – your local bird population will enjoy them all winter long. And of course they also adorn them – some roses, such as Rosa moyesii and Rosa rugosa, which are known for their beautiful hips, are deliberately left untrimmed so that the autumn splendor can be admired.

Submit your gardening questions to Diarmuid via his Instagram @diarmuidgavin using the hashtag #weekendgarden

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