Q: I planted garlic in the same raised bed for three or four years. Now I have removed the top five or six inches of soil. Is it OK to fill it with straight composted steer manure?
A: Sorry Beverley, it's not. Even though the manure is composted it's still straight manure. Composting produces old, gentle manure, but it will be overly rich feeding for garlic and it will still retain lots of moisture. Garlic likes to be well-drained.
Even though garlic is wonderfully pest-free, too much manure will encourage rots and fungal problems. You need to mix the composted manure with soil, not compost. It would be best to cover the excavation with an inch or two of composted steer manure, then borrow soil from elsewhere in your garden (or get some topsoil) and put this into your raised bed, mixing the soil and manure together.
Q: When should you cut back heathers and can you be brutal?
A: No, you can't be brutal with heather because those dry, brown inner stems won't make fresh shoots. You need to cut back only into the green parts of the stems. It's best to think of it as a haircut rather than a hard pruning.
This can easily be done with shears in just a few quick cuts. But it does need to be done every year, otherwise the heathers get long and leggy and develop bare patches in the middle.
It's best to do this right after the flowers die.
Q: How come yellow flesh potatoes don't keep as long as the others?
A: Potatoes with yellow flesh are smaller and sweeter than larger potatoes. This may limit their storage life.
One useful way of storing potatoes is to keep small, medium and large ones each in their own boxes. The small ones should be used first because they shrivel fastest, then the medium potatoes and last of all the big ones.
Q: I have a bad case of spider mites. I sprayed a soapy solution on the plant and will repot it into fresh soil and a clean pot. I hope I can save my plant.
A: I hope a soapy spray is all you need. But spider mites often need more intensive treatment.
If the problem recurs or fails to clear, try spraying your plant with plain, cold water once a day for two weeks. Be thorough. Spray under the leaves and in all the crevices on your plant where spider mites can hide.
Cold and wetness sickens and kills spider mites and it's hard for the more resilient ones to breed before they die, too.
In a couple of weeks it will look as if the spider mites have vanished, but be cautious because there may still be eggs in secluded spots. So taper off the spraying to once every two days and then cut back to three and so on.
Because the weather is getting warmer now (spi-der mites love warm conditions), it would be best to spray your plant with cold water once a week anyway as a preventative.
Keep checking any plants in the same room as your infected one because spider mites can spread from plant to plant.
Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to amarrison@ shaw.ca.