Q&A: Make the most of your outside space

Matt solves your gardening dilemmas, sharing his tips and advice on caring for and making the most of your outside space

I want to screen off my courtyard from neighbouring gardens, but don’t want to block out too much light. Any ideas?

Depending on your garden’s aspect, hiding eyesores or neighbouring gardens while maintaining maximum light levels can be tricky. For immediate impact, use lattice or louvre-style fencing, instead of putting up solid barriers. These let in more light and offer privacy while still partially screening. Off-the-shelf and bespoke screens are available, the latter obviously costing more, but trellis is an inexpensive option, letting in light while keeping out unattractive views. Note the size of the holes before you buy – the wider they are, the more you can see of what’s behind them. Be aware that any boundary erected over two metres in height will need your local authority’s permission.

Convex timber trellis fence topperConvex timber trellis fence topper, (H)183x(W)46x (D)4cm, £14.99 per sheet, Forest 

What can I use instead of slug pellets? I’ve tried seashells and bran to control slugs, with little success.

I use copper slug rings extensively. Place one around the base of each plant and watch as slugs try to climb them, only to get an ‘electrical charge’ from the copper. The key is to make sure that the band remains in contact with the soil (or slugs will slink underneath) and to remove lower leaves that hang over the band (making a very effective slug bridge).

Copper slug ring starter kit (three small/three large rings) £19.25, Slug Ringscopper slug rings

The bottom of my garden always floods after heavy rainfall. I live in an area where the water table is high, so I’m considering putting in raised beds – is this a good idea?

This sounds like an excellent idea, but only if you intend to grow fruit and vegetables that hate standing water, otherwise the costs and construction work involved aren’t necessary. Instead, grow plants that thrive in boggy soil. Many have larger-than-life characteristics: Rheum, Rodgersia and Gunnera manicata have gigantic leaves, and Ligularia and Iris laevigata have huge flowers.

Superior scandinavian softwood raised bedsSuperior Scandinavian softwood raised beds, from £66 for (W)60x (L)60cm, Harrod Horticultural 

Our new house has a fairly steep, sloping garden, and we’re toying with the idea of terracing it. Can you advise?

Sloping sites can be a challenge, costing more to adapt as they often need drainage work and retaining structures. If making significant changes, get a structural engineer or experienced landscape construction firm to advise on site. To keep costs down, avoid terracing the whole area and try to build on, rather than dig into, the slope where possible – decked platforms need no major earthworks, unlike paved terraces. Whether choosing ramps or steps, seek professional help to avoid mistakes.

Trex Transcend recycled wood composite decking in Spiced Rum, £72 per m2, ArbordeckTrax transcend recycled wood composite decking

I have a wood-burning stove. Can I use the wood ash in the garden?

Yes – if the wood is untreated, fresh ash is a source of soluble potassium that helps plants make fatter fruit. It can help to slightly raise pH and will also improve soil structure. Sprinkle it sparingly around plants, and add it in thin layers to the compost heap, too.

Zeno Barro steel outdoor fireplaceZeno Barro steel outdoor fireplace, (H)230x(W)120x(D)45cm, £3,195, Garden House Design

Why has my healthy apple tree not fruited this autumn?

Either the flowers were frosted in spring, or you have a pollination problem. Many apples need a different variety growing nearby, flowering at the same time. If another apple tree has been removed, that might be the problem.

Can I still plant tulip and daffodil bulbs?

It’s the ideal time for tulips especially, as planting between late October and early December helps avoid a nasty disease called tulip fire, plus they need cold weather to root. Late planting also stops early shoots getting frost damaged. Plant to a depth three times the height of the bulb. Dig a hole using a trowel or bulb planter and pop the bulb in nose-end upwards, crumbling soil on top.

Daffodil bulbs, £3.99 for a pack of up to 10 bulbs (5-10 bulbs per pack depending on weight and size), Wyevale Garden CentresDaffodil bulbs

My decking’s looking really tired. How can I revive it?

Avoid bleach and harmful detergents, and instead paint on Algon Organic Path and Patio cleaner (£9.99 for 2.5ltrs, greenfingers.com) or Cuprinol decking cleaner – no scrubbing required. If you then want to bring it back to its original colour, use Cuprinol Total Deck (£25 for 2.5ltrs, B&Q). A gentle blast with a pressure washer will help, too.

What’s the best way to help see the tree ferns I’ve planted through winter?

In mild areas, a few fistfuls of hay stuffed into the crown will protect young shoots. Elsewhere, you’ll also need to wrap plants with horticultural fleece, tying up the leaves into a point and working down the trunk before tying off securely at both ends, checking for any gaps. Don’t use plastic sheeting as plants will sweat and rot.

garden fleeceStandard Scandinavian softwood raised beds, from £28 for (W)60x(L)60cm; Garden fleece (W)20x(L)100cm, £9.50, all Harrod Horticultural