"My Bramley and Cox's apples have been lost due to brown spots under the skin that go through almost to the core. I did some research and have come up with the possibility it could be lack of calcium. This seems strange since I always use mushroom manure and that has lime in it."
Marie via e-mail
Bramley apples are very susceptible to bitter pit. So are many other apples, including Jonagold, King, Gravenstein and Northern Delicious. Yes, it is caused by lack of calcium, but the underlying question is why is calcium lacking in these particular apples.
Fruit growers sometimes spray susceptible apple trees with calcium chloride, but there are simple things that you can do to help bring your tree into a better nutritional balance.
It's important to avoid heavy pruning or thinning. That's because trees respond to this by producing large amounts of young growth that draws a great deal of calcium. The calcium they use isn't available to the apples.
Some pruning in the dormant period is fine, but if your tree needs a great deal of pruning, do some in August. At this time trees respond with much less young growth than they do with winter pruning.
This is also a good way to reduce water shoots.
High nitrogen fertilizer also tends to produce heavy leaf growth. So do large quantities of manure.
Mushroom manure does have lime in it, but mushroom manure ingredients are quite variable. You could be using mushroom manure that contains a relatively low amount of lime.
If you use the same type of manure each year, you're opening up your garden to a buildup of whatever anomalies exist in that particular manure. You might want to consider switching to a different manure each year, or sometimes substituting compost.
"I purchased four clematis plants in two-inch containers at a garden centre this past summer. They were just little twigs with no names attached. I planted them in a 10-inch pot. They have all grown happily together and are now three feet tall. Some leaves are small and some are larger. There were two beautiful lavender-coloured flowers.
How do I take care of them though the winter? Do I cut them down, cover them, keep them out of the rain? How hardy are they?"
Elana via e-mail
Most clematis are very hardy in southwest B.C., even when planted in containers.
But any with evergreen leaves are less hardy and need a sheltered place. Anything planted in a container needs to be one zone hardier than the same plant in the ground.
Clematis love moist soil, so they should all stay uncovered where rain can get to them.
Give them some rich, balanced fertilizer (all numbers the same) when growth starts in spring.
Pruning back to a pair of strong buds is done at different times, depending when the clematis bloom. Pruning ensures they fit their support and produce blooms at eye level.
Your new clematis should be pruned back to two strong buds this spring. In later years any that bloom in early spring or in early fall should be cut back after flowering.
If they bloom in summer, prune them a foot (30 cm) from the ground in late winter or early spring.