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Growing pains: how to relieve your plants from stress

Giving of your best for long periods is hard going — especially when you are left to fend for yourself — but that is essentially what we ask from our garden.

Mother Nature portrays herself in many guises — from hot, dry scorching days to raging hurricanes and everything in between — and yet we still manage to recuperate and grow, flower and fruit!

With growth comes the increased uptake of moisture and plant nutrients essential to the betterment of future plant growth. It also brings sustainability, which is, in essence, regular maintenance based on an as-and-when-required programme.

Plant maintenance can be broken down accordingly: weed control, deadheading of flowers and seed, pruning of unwanted and irregular growth, fertilisation, irrigation, pest and disease control. Plants are living entities that react to external influences in numerous ways; sunlight and light intensity including shade can affect growth. Shade-loving plants are intolerant of direct bright sun, while plants growing normally in full sunlight will develop a variable foliage to the norm when grown in full shade.

Leaf shape and size will show the extent of tolerance levels when presented with wind strength and salt spray intensity with hardier plants such as the bay grape (coccoloba uvifera) showing much more tolerance owing to the thicker leaf cover than plumbago for example, which has a much less dense leaf covering.

Flower production will be hindered by constant pruning and location and by extremely strong winds, especially when salt-laden. On a lesser note, excess rain and pest and disease can also be a factor. Drought can create early bud drop, a slowing of flower opening, petal drop or disfiguration of bloom.

To grow well plants need attention. It will help them to produce their best, to develop a healthy, strong, open growth as well as a good root system — the most important part of a plant's progress through its life.

Roots act as an anchor for the top growth. They are the suppliers of water and nutrients to sustain good growth, while securing a stabling effect on the plant’s growth in the ground. With shrubs, the initial attention to growth development by correct pruning will ensure a good open branch structure. This allows light to enter through the branch system thus assuring potential all-round growth which aids development for the foundation pruning in the future. This is important especially in the face of hurricane season when an open branch system, after correct pruning, will reduce wind damage by allowing a filtering of the wind through the open growth.

Fruit and seed production are inextricably tied in with the above issues, hence the need for understanding the need of a plant and location, to give of its best. Remember, good growth with correct pruning and the right location — ie, for light and protection — will produce flower and hopefully thereafter seed and/or fruit, the ultimate proof of success!

Deadheading and thinning out "bumper" crops to reduce the possibility of branch collapse are all part of the total programme for good maintenance practice.

One should follow the same approach for lawn maintenance, with the height of the cut being the determining factor of the finished product. A rule of thumb when mowing: fine-bladed grasses — especially zoysia and fine varieties of Bermuda grass — should be mown with a reel mower.

Broad-leaved grasses such as St Augustine, including floratem, should be mown with a rotary blade. Mowing fine-bladed grasses such as zoysia with a rotary blade often scalps or creates an uneven cut and can drag clumps of grass from the sward. Weed control can be tackled by creating a thick healthy sward which crowds out potential weed growth. This exercise involves verticutting, perhaps top dressing and fertilising; if weeds are prevalent the use of chemical control is warranted.

Many problems with plants can be found above ground — on the leaf, stems or fruit/flower. If the problem is not one of these then what is below ground is the root cause!

Malcolm Griffiths is a trained horticulturalist and fellow of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture in the UK. He is also a former president of the Bermuda Horticultural Society, Bermuda Orchid Society and the Bermuda Botanical Society

Heavy rain, and pest and disease, can hinder plant growth

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Published October 25, 2021 at 7:59 am (Updated October 25, 2021 at 7:56 am)

Growing pains: how to relieve your plants from stress

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