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An ounce of prevention really does pay off

The growing season is an integral part of the garden calendar, another part of Mother Nature's cycle; heat combined with rain creates abundant growth, but there is a downside at this time of year hurricane season.

As I mentioned in an earlier article this year, it not only makes sense and is cost effective to carry out maintenance on an “as and when required” basis but also to be pro active on a seasonal basis. With a prolonged drought from spring to summer, plants were stressed to the limit; many large trees not producing flower until late June a month later than normal.

Four tasks are important in the basic maintenance programme, with observation being the key to implementing each task, these being, weeding, pruning, fertilising and pest and disease control.

Weeds cause numerous problems. They create unnecessary work, use water that garden plants benefit from especially in drought conditions often host pests and if of an ephemeral nature, produce and disseminate seed to surrounding areas. I am a great proponent of weeding when no weeds are showing; this is simply a case of using a Dutch hoe to break the soil surface once a week. This will knock out any germinating growth before it becomes established and is a more efficient method of weed control than waiting for a batch of weeds to appear then spending twice the time removing them and often leaving the root system to develop into a stronger plant/weed!

Pruning is a good exercise at this time of year to thin out excessive growth developed during the summer months; heavy growth is easily destroyed by strong winds and thinning out heavy growth reduces the wind impact by allowing a filtering of the wind through the branch system. Large trees should be given a thorough examination by an arborist to check for rot or other potential problems not easily seen from ground level. Large trees should have a fairly uniform shape to the canopy, extra large branches can be potential problems during strong winds, removing size of branch therefore weight will reduce such problems.

Fertilising is literally food for growth especially after such a long drought during the spring and summer period. Heavy rains can wash granular fertilisers out of the soil whereas coated granules allow a slower release up to a period of three months which is far more beneficial to plant growth in the long term. Purchase fertilisers containing trace elements i.e. manganese, magnesium, iron etc. as these are required in very small amounts but are important to good growth.

Pest and disease problems are more prolific during the growing season especially after heavy rains and production of new (soft) growth; immediate action should be taken when problems are first noticed otherwise they can get out of hand and spread to neighbouring areas. Pest and disease problems can affect all parts of the plant from roots to foliage therefore at the first sign of a problem check for the source of the problem. Many problems are immediately obvious, however other problems are a more difficult to identify e.g. if foliage is wilting the obvious re-action would be the plant needs water, but this is not always the case as the root cause could well be the root system!

Lawn care is an important element in any garden as it covers more of the “open space” than the flower beds; it should be viewed as part of the garden but with its own maintenance schedule. The reason most lawns look untidy is simply weed growth be they broad leaf or grass grow faster and have a different habit than the lawn grass. Weed control is therefore the key to a lawn with a thick healthy sward of grass contingent on proper maintenance which when cut at the correct height has a uniform appearance.

By scheduling an “as and when required” approach to maintenance not necessarily popular with landscape companies you are taking control to a degree of what tasks are needed doing at that point in time. Even through the drought conditions experienced from April to July one could still observe brown dusty “lawns” being mowed into dust storms, simply because it was part of the maintenance contract! Flowering hedges are reduced to skeletal remains of their former glory, whilst the 'creativity' of the machete evolves shapes out of what once were shrubs.

An ounce of prevention makes life easier and can save time and money in many areas of the garden: I often see money being literally wasted when I visit properties that are so overplanted it begs the question why! Plants by their very nature grow usually in a symmetrical manner, therefore understanding a plants growth habit will in the long term create a landscape that matures naturally.


It's a good idea to prune back heavy growth among trees and shrubs before any big storms arrive.

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Published August 05, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 05, 2011 at 10:20 am)

An ounce of prevention really does pay off

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