The importance of health in your garden
How often do you walk around your garden and check plants for pests, disease or broken branches?
It’s a necessary exercise in order to ensure a garden has healthy plants and soil.
Autumn’s shorter days and fading blossoms are a sure sign the growing season for this year has reached its expiry date.
When coupled with the recent hurricane, it warrants the need for close inspection.
That’s especially important for plants with ‘damaged’ foliage and branches and, more importantly, emerging soft new growth, as the latter is a sumptuous meal for insects.
The end of the growing season also means it’s time to remove old, fallen foliage from surrounding areas of soil and either burn them or place them on the compost heap.
It is not commonly realised that pests and diseases have life cycles, so the need to be vigilant all year round is paramount to ensure a healthy environment for garden plants.
The life cycle of a pest can be of various timelines, from eggs being laid to adults evolving, with damage being carried out at several stages of development and generally caused by insects biting or chewing, rasping and burrowing.
Damage is oft seen on new soft growth which is ideal for young insects.
Aphids, also known as greenflies, are often seen in young foliage on the tip of branches. After a while the foliage can be seen to be ‘curling’, which is when the insect is sucking its sap.
Caterpillars also like soft young growth and can chew their way through soft foliaged plants such as pentas, datura, bougainvillea et al quite happily; with pentas, nothing is left but skeletonised foliage.
Caterpillars can also play havoc with annuals when cutworms chew young plants at ground level.
Spider mites are found on the underside of the epidermis of the foliage and are very difficult to see with the human eye.
Nematodes, or roundworms, are soil-borne insects which attack roots and thus follow with a top-growth problem — the result is a poor, weak plant.
Insects often have preferred plants, known as host plants, in which they populate and breed.
Identification of the pest will determine the type of chemical to use; it could be the contact type, which kills the insect once it is ‘covered’ with the chemical.
Translocated chemicals are administered to the foliage and absorbed into and through the plant. Once the insect eats the foliage it absorbs the chemical and dies.
Diseases are found in various forms and can attack most parts of the plant — from the roots to the growing point and stems and foliage.
Many diseases can be recognised as a problem when lesions or spots are seen on the foliage; other signs of a disease are ‘wet’ patches on foliage and stems, and the appearance of pustules or spores.
A plant that appears to be ‘flagging’ can be suffering from root problems which, depending on the extent of damage, are not always easy to treat.
At the first sign of a disease, it is important to identify the problem in order to determine the type of fungicide to apply. There is no ‘one size fits all’ chemical.
Fungi are spread by spores through wind or dispersed by water droplets or, worst of all, infected horticultural debris left lying around the garden.
Control of pests and disease should begin as soon as the problem is seen. Prior to application read the label to determine the ratio of chemical to water and the best method of application. Never spray during hot periods, on a windy day or, especially, when the soil is dry and plants are under stress.
I am not a proponent of mulching for several reasons; it can reduce the penetration of rain into soil, it can look tacky if not maintained regularly and it can be a host of pests and disease.
Whether you maintain the garden yourself or have a landscape company, cleanliness really does matter.
It’s always a good idea to keep your eye on your neighbours’ property and the health of their plants.
If they are “sick” there is a good chance they could pay you a visit, so a word in your neighbours’ ears would be worth your while if you want to keep your plants looking healthy.
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