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Pic of leeks attached for roundell

Plan for summer colour

A good way to add colour to a border during the late summer and early autumn is to plant a selection of dahlias.

These popular garden flowers grow in most garden soils, but for the best flowers they need a sunny spot. Whether you are growing them purely for decoration or as cut flowers, dahlias are easy to grow and are available in a wide range of colours and shapes, allowing you to plant varieties to compliment your garden. Existing growers of dahlias will more than likely have tubers saved from last year, but if this is your first year at growing, then the easiest way to get started is to buy a selection of small tubers. These are in garden centres now and there are some really good varieties available for garden and container use. Although dormant tubers can be planted directly into the garden in early May, I prefer to start them off in pots to encourage early growth. Pot each tuber into a small pot of multipurpose compost and stand them in a light, frost-free place. In a few weeks time shoots will appear and these can either be taken as cuttings to raise several new plants, or you can allow the plant to develop ready for planting out into the border in late spring. Taller plant will need some support and you also need to protect young plants from slugs, but other than that they are easy to grow and come July they start to flower and flower and flower.

Readers’ Questions

Steve from Knaresborough would like to know why around half of his leeks planted last summer for winter use produced a tall spike from the centre of the leaves which left a hard core in the middle of the leek.

I’m afraid your leeks like many other people’s leeks, including some of mine, produced a premature flower spike, which is often referred to as bolting. Leeks are biennial which means under normal growing conditions they produce a leafy plant in their first growing season and that is what we eat. If left in the garden for a second growing season they would naturally produce a flowering spike from the centre of the plant, in order to set a crop of seed. Once the leek finishes flowering, the plant would die. However, bolting sometimes occurs in the first growing season and is usually triggered by a check in growth such as a cold spell or excessive wet weather. This makes the plant think it is the second season so it flowers. The tough core in the centre of the leek is in fact the flower stalk. If this happens again, harvest and eat the leeks as soon as the flower stalk starts to develop.

Following on from my mention of snowdrops a couple of weeks ago, Brian Bradley Smith has contacted me to ask about a clump of taller growing snowdrops growing in his garden? These are roughly twice the height of normal snowdrops and he wonders what they might be?

The majority of snowdrop varieties grow between 10-15cm (4-6in) but a few do grow taller, including Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’, G. plicatus and G. elwesii which all grow to 20-15cm (8-10in) in height. I suspect the clump of tall growing snowdrops in your garden is one of the above species and in some circumstances if the plants are in shade or growing under a shrub or tree, they may even grow a little taller due to lack of light. I have seen them grow to a foot or more in the past!

If you have gardening question for Martin Fish please email him at martin@flowershow.org.uk and we’ll print a selection of questions and answers for readers to share. Or, write to Ackrill Media Group, 1 Cardale Park, Harrogate and we’ll pass on your question.