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Those clouds of blooms that appear in spring aren’t just for show, says Monty Don 

This spring has been exceptionally cold and dry so far, but lovely for all that, with frosty mornings dissolving into bright, clear days. Normally late frosts – any time in April or May – are a disaster for the gardener as the tender new growth is the first to be damaged and blossom is reduced to brown rags. 

But this year there has been very little damage in my garden because the cold weather has meant that there was very little tender new growth and everything has gradually hardened off and become acclimatised.

The wonderful hanging white bells of the Great White Cherry, ‘Tai-haku’, are one of the first blossoms to appear for us and normally last for just a few days before being bashed by wind and rain, but this year they hung on for well over a week, gloriously preserved but not damaged by the cold.

Monty Don said UK gardens have had very little weather damage this year, however the purpose of blossoms isn’t just for show. Pictured: Monty in his orchard

As I write, the crab apples are swagged with pink and white flowers, pear blossom runs along the espaliered branches like glorious epaulettes and the ‘Morello’ cherries are opening with delicate white blooms. 

By the time you read this, the orchard should be smothered in flower, having reached peak blossom.

ASK MONTY 

Q Ants are getting at my strawberries. How can I stop this?

A Lloyd, Shropshire

A Ants can disturb the roots of plants by burrowing if the soil is very fine and dry, but usually their burrowing is beneficial, aerating the soil. They eat dead organic matter and insects, making them a vital part of the ecosystem – so stop worrying.

Q Our bed of hostas was suffering from honey fungus, so we moved them into pots and added sandy soil enriched with compost to the bed. Should we keep the hostas in pots, or get rid of them to prevent reinfection?

L Hutchinson, Norfolk

A Honey fungus won’t harm hostas, but they can be damaged by other fungi. Hostas thrive in damp soil and shade, so if it’s too dry or too hot they’ll be more prone to disease. Sandy soil needs a lot of extra organic material and an annual mulch.

Q Can I compost weeds with roots, or will they keep growing on the heap?

P Wright, W Midlands

A Most roots will biodegrade totally, but if they haven’t been broken down enough by the composting process they’ll grow again when the compost is spread on your soil. Roots of most pernicious weeds are best ‘drowned’ in a bucket of water for a few weeks and the resulting sludge added to the heap. Otherwise we burn the roots and add the ashes to the compost heap.

Write to Monty Don at Weekend, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT or email [email protected] Please include your full name and address. We regret Monty can’t reply to letters personally.

Blossom, of course, is not just the flowering of trees but the first stage of fruit – a wonderful fanfare to open out the seasonal harvest. Cherries, plums and peaches; apples and crab apples; pears, hawthorn, quinces, almonds and citrus… all have blossom. 

Technically roses are the blossom that precedes their fruit – the rose hips – although many roses have been bred so that they carry no hips at all.

All too soon the blossom is blown away by the wind, covering the ground in fallen petals. 

But often this is after its work is done, because the purpose of blossom (other than to delight us) is to attract pollinators who go from tree to tree, cross-pollinating and initiating fruit.

So why don’t all blossom trees (such as ornamental cherries) produce fruit? Like roses, many have been bred so that the stamens and pistils needed for reproduction have been replaced by extra petals, increasing their decorative value at the price of fruit.

Many such trees do produce fruit, but it is tiny and sour and very much an insignificant by-product.

If you have a fruit tree that has plenty of blossom but no fruit, it is likely you need a pollinator. 

Some are self-fertile, such as ‘Morello’ cherries, quinces, apricots, peaches, ‘Victoria’ plums and a few apple and pear varieties such as ‘Granny Smith’ and ‘Laxton’s Superb’ apples, and ‘Conference’ pears.

But the vast majority of apples and pears need a second tree to pollinate them. This does not have to be the same variety but it does have to be in flower at the same time. 

As the flowering season in apples can stretch from mid-April to early June, it is important to have an overlap of at least a week by choosing varieties from the same group of the seven recognised flowering groups.

Assuming there are enough insects and the blossom was not frosted before it could be pollinated, there are further hurdles for the tree. 

Weather hugely affects fruit formation – in particular drought, which causes fruit to wither or not develop. So there’s still a long way to go before our autumnal harvests. But for now, the glory of blossom seems like harvest enough.

MONTY’S PLANT OF THE WEEK: HIMALAYAN POPPY 

Monty said Himalayan poppy thrives in cool, humid conditions with a well-drained, fibrous, acidic soil

Monty said Himalayan poppy thrives in cool, humid conditions with a well-drained, fibrous, acidic soil

The incredible blue flowers of the Himalayan poppy, Meconopsis betonicifolia, are real stars of any garden lucky enough to host them. Blue is the rarest colour in the plant world and no flower is more blue than this poppy.

However, it is tricky to grow. It can’t stand hot, dry sun in summer. A woodland plant, it thrives in cool, humid conditions with a well-drained, fibrous, acidic soil. 

It also needs light shade and ideally a moist, humid atmosphere. If you can provide those conditions then it will reward you with its astonishing display for weeks in late spring.

THIS WEEK’S JOB: SOW DWARF AND CLIMBING BEANS 

Most problems are caused by sowing too early. Sow now and by the time seedlings are above ground, the weather will be warm. Sow dwarf beans 15cm apart, and sow two climbing beans per support; remove the weaker once one is growing strongly. 


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