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CRYSTAL GARDENS

Adding value to your home and workspace

GARDEN FLOORS

 

A garden, like a house has floors, walls and ceilings. Garden floors, which by far occupy the largest area of any given garden, include  lawns, paths, paving and walk ways which suffer heavy and foot and motor traffic, and the lawn and ground covers, which form living garden floors.

The layout, extent and choice of the material for garden floors are influenced by ones’ lifestyle, the size of the garden, the mood /style you wish to create and the maintenance requirements.

Naturally, spacious gardens will have room for free flowing curving paths that espouse an informal theme in a addition to a sizeable lawn. On the other hand, squeezed nature of small gardens calls for a formal look modeled on geometric lines. Indeed it is not uncommon to find gardens that are entirely hard and concreted with no provision for a lawn or ground covers.

Thus one is at liberty to go for a garden floor style that fits his lifestyle.

Lawn

Arguably the most popular floor style to be found in gardens. It offers opportunity for numerous outdoor living options. Grass adds a distinct appeal to a garden. A lawn, especially when designed with paths running through, almost always seems to invite a tour a round the garden. The only draw back is the routine maintenance activities of lawn mowing, watering, feeding and pest control that can seem very involving. Besides, one has to know which type of grass thrives in his environment.

A newly done lawn at the British Council

 

Groundcovers

 A popular option in most gardens. They can be massed in place of a lawn. The beauty with ground covers is that as opposed to lawns that need regular mowing, groundcovers, especially the hardy ones like succulents require less maintenance.

 

Drive ways & parking

Besides offering accessibility, hard surfaces can also be points of ornamentation.  This can be achieved through the way they are designed or plant accessories that adorn them.  One technique is to soften the hard surfaces through planting of shrubbery or hedges. In other cases, grass is planted in between the paving materials.  Because these surfaces hold heavy loads, it is natural that they be made from more resilient materials.  As such most will be done from   hard or medium quarry stone, concrete, bricks and carbro paving.

 

Walk way

Again, a very good option to add flair to the garden. Paths can be done with a variety of materials; stone, mazeras, ballast, saw dust among others.  To the novice, laying paths may seem such a big deal, in reality it isn’t. Actually, the beauty of paths is that since they don’t carry heavy traffic, they can be installed without professional help. Thus mazeras, bricks or stone can be simply laid down in a well marked out path, adjusted to fit proportionally, backfilled with soil or mortar.

Whatever style of garden floor or the materials one uses, the aim is to have a floor that is both functional and aesthetic.

                                    

how to grow a potted garden

Sprawling gardens are fast becoming a rarity. With acute shortage of urban space, apartments are increasingly becoming the norm.  This calls for innovative approaches to gardening. One such approach is the container garden. If you aspire to have a garden, and are space challenged, you need not worry.  By use of pots and other containers, you can still realize your desire for a lovely garden setting.

Container gardening can be fun if you are creative and develop a passion for it.

Containers-virtually anything a plant can grow in – come in various forms; pots, baskets, urns, planters, jars and glasses. The choice of material is equally wide and exciting, to suit everyone’s taste: beautiful ceramic, plain or ornate plastic, sturdy concrete, light and easy asbestos, terracotta-a form favourite, wire baskets and for a mellow look-wooden. And since containers are movable, they can easily be tugged along when moving house or interchanged to give a new look.

Most plants lend themselves well to container growing but be careful about those you select for indoors as only a few thrive there.

What are the requirements for successful container gardening?

Potting Soil

Potting soils are the medium in which plants grow and draw most of their sustenance. A good potting soil must be rich, light and have good drainage for moisture and nutrient retention. Potting soils are therefore blended to supply adequate physical and chemical structures for plant growth. Plain garden soils contain disease causing pathogens and must therefore be treated with soil fumigant or sterilized by heating. Ideal potting soil includes compost, top soil, peat fir bark and vermiculite. A selection of these is mixed as per the plant’s requirement. Premixed soils are readily available at garden centres.  To ensure proper drainage, drill holes at the base of the container for water outflow.

Water

A tricky area with potted plants is watering. Too often the plants are either overwatered or under watered. Too much water causes root rot eventually killing the plants while too little water causes the plant to dry up. For best results, let your soils dry to a depth of 3cm before watering. Once plant start losing their vigour and turgidity, it’s time to water. Newly potted plants should be watered twice a week until they rare established while for mature plants, a once a week watering is sufficient. A tell-tale sign that you are overwatering is the presence of green moss and algae covering the soil.

Some plants like Africa Violets (Saintpaullia) detest water on their leaves and are best watered by standing the pots in a basin filled with water-they will draw water through the drainage walls

Location

Where you place your potted plants depends on the effect you want to create with the choice of indoor plants as they rarely flower indoors. An exception is the Peace lily (Spathiphylum) which can bloom indoors and tolerates low light conditions.  Ficus and Yucca on the other hand, need high to medium light conditions. Schefflera, with its attractive shiny foliage, falls in this latter category.

Use plants with different leaf textures to create interest and form on the patio or balcony. To create depts., use pots with fine textures leaves in front of bigger pots with large leafed plants

Feeding

This is the supply of nutrients which may not be available in the potting mixture. Foliar feeds (Liquid fertilizers) are highly recommended. Apply them once a month alternating them with bone meal. For fruiting and flowering plants, apply potassium for a prolonged flowering season and enlarged sweet fruits.

Repotting

Sooner or later your plant will outgrow its pot. This calls for repotting which involves moving it to a bigger pot. You can know your plant needs repotting due to slowed growth and frequent need for watering. To repot, soak the new pot in water and simultaneously water the plant. Soaking lets the clay pot absorb water cushioning it against sudden fluctuations in temperature that cause it to crack. To remove the plant, turn the pot upside down with your left hand over the soil surface and gently shake it out.

Remove coiled roots and transfer the plant to the new pot, taking care not to damage it. Fill around the root ball with potting soil to just one inch below the pot rim. Firm down the new soil, then add water. Keep newly potted plants in shade for a week before returning to its normal position.

 

 

ADD CLASS TO YOUR GARDEN WITH ORCHIDS

 

In the world of flowers Orchids are the undisputed champions. Most varieties are beautiful and long lasting fragrant and very long lasting, qualities that usually mean that they are very expensive. A single leopard orchid in bloom for instance can for about Ksh 2,000 ($20).

What are Orchids?

Most orchids species are rhizomatous epiphytes (Have rhizomes and grow on other trees) from the tropical rainforests. Often they have fleshy, aerial roots fully or partially attached to the host trees. These roots attract moisture from the atmosphere. Most Orchids you see in your flower shop are complex hybrids.

While most orchids are epiphytic, we also have terrestrial orchids (on land growing) which are native to the temperate regions. They have underground rhizomes and tubers.

 

Epiphytic Orchids occur in two groups, Sympodial and Monopodial epiphytes. Sympodial epiphytes are mainly from the rainforest at sea level or low altitude and arise from horizontal rhizomes. Each season growing buds on the rhizomes produce pseudo bulbs-erect swollen stems that store water and food and bear leaves and flowers.

 Monopodial epiphytes are native to dense, rainforest at higher altitudes. Instead of pseudo bulbs they have extended stems that produce new growth from the shoot tips and growing points.

The Orchid family   is then largest in the plant family in nature and orchids take amazingly different shapes, forms and growth habits. Some orchids produce blossoms as tiny as a mosquito while others are as large as a plate. The plant takes its name from the Greek word Orchis which means testes. Orchids were so named because of the resemblance of their root bulbs to testicles.

Are orchids difficult to grow?

Contrary to popular perception, not all orchids are difficult to grow. If you can grow house plants, you can rear orchids. Some orchids are demanding, especially those that require exceedingly warm temperatures. These would inevitably require a green house in which heat conditions are regulated.

But generally, for the homeowner interested in orchids, keenness and attention to detail {light and temperature) are all that is needed. If you go for the two common types, which are the least demanding: Cymbidiums and Phaleanopsis . They are almost similar growing conditions with the former requiring 70 degrees Celsius. They thrive indoors as potted plants or if placed outside, under shade.

Like any other plant, an orchid must have the growing conditions it needs although some are very sturdy and resilient.

Best results

Getting the soil mixture right is crucial for trouble free orchids. As they require free draining.  medium, they can be grown in pumice, bark, a mixture of both or either with charcoal. Pumice will absorb water five times its weight. It also aids in aeration and drainage; bark retains moisture and nutrients when wet, yet allows complete flow of air to the roots; charcoal is useful for absorbing any dissolved soils and keeps the soil neutral or slightly alkaline.

Rather than congest a pot at planting, the initial bulb should be placed at the very end of the container leaving plenty of space for the new pseudo bulbs to develop as the plant grows. For feeding, use ordinary plant feed at half the strength recommended on the label.

When using liquid fertilizers, dissolved salts may be in the soil mixture. To tackle this, break from using fertilizer   and instead use plain water.

Plant care

Orchids are not only exceptional but also long lasting. As the flower spikes develop, it’s necessary to support them with a cane, as they are unable to bear   the weight of blooms. Cymbidium blooms will last for eight weeks while   Phaleanopsis blooms last three months and are perennial. Cut two nodes below the top of the two spent blooms to encourage further flowering.  Occasionally, you may need to place the orchids outdoors to encourage flower development. Slowly acclimatize b the plants to outdoor to conditions to avoid scotching.

Orchid Cultivation

 You can increase your Orchid stock by division removal of back bulbs or from stem cuttings.  For division get a plant that has overfilled its pot and split the rhizome. For backbulbs detach from the rhizome and pot up singly in a 6 cm container, the cut. surface against the rim.

To grow from stem, use 7 cm long stems with at least one   dormant bud. Store on moist moss in direct light until rooted.

 

 

CLIMBING BEAUTIES

 

Got a small garden?

The smaller the garden the more important the vertical surfaces around it. Vertical surfaces consisting of wall, pillars, poles and tree surfaces offer as much growing space as the ground area, sometimes even more. Climbers, also referred to as creepers or vines, provide the quickest and most efficient way of attaining vertical coverage

A tree could take five years or more to reach maturity, but most creepers will cover a wall in two years, or even less if you use fast growing climbers.

Where to grow the climbers rests squarely on the design problem you wish to address or the effect you wish to create. Generally most people grow creepers to soften hard surfaces and introduce a touch of greenery to an otherwise bare surface. This is mostly applicable to the perimeter or house wall where the rough and rugged finish needs tempering.

Screens in form of trellises or fences   meant to demarcate sections in the garden or screen out unsightly views rarely achieve their purpose unless backed by creepers. Their foliage creates a barrier while the flowers serve to detract from the plainness.

For decoration, climbers come in handy. A profusion of foliage and flowers clambering up pillars or around your window bars will not only give your house a graceful look, but also bring colour to your doorstep. Some like Jasmine have the added advantage of emitting delightful scents. In putting up sheds, carports and pergolas one needs to set up the framework as creeper foliage provides shading.

You can also raise climbers that provide fruits like passion or grape vines.

Choosing a climber

In selecting a climber, knowledge of how it anchors itself against a surface is vital. While some climbers are clingers, others will need to be supported up a wall or pillar surface. Some  clinging  climbers like honey suckle use the  growing tips of stems  to grip, while  clematis, grapevines and sweet peas use tendrils growing like side shoots an. Ivies and  ficus have aerial roots for cling.

Clinging roses use their thorny stems for hugging surface although they may occasionally need tying up. These clinging types are appropriate for high walls, as they will propel themselves.

Wires, hooks, nails and netting along which the climbers will be guided need to be installed before the planting is done so that the young plants are not treaded upon.

Protective measures

When using pillars or poles, growing climbers need not present difficulties. Never tie them unprotected, as this will cause chaffing whenever there is a strong wind. Similarly, use of a hard metal strips is discouraged as they can cut into the plant stem. Instead, tie a leather strap or soft clothing around the pole and attach the climber to it with a loose note.

Some climbers grow very fast and will colonize a given area in no time. For a small garden, this could be a nightmare and your options could be limited either planting  in a container to limit root growth  and consequrently its upward growth or regular pruning so that it lies flat along the surface.

Watch out for ivy and ficus as the two are known to pull out mortar from the wall, hence weakening the structure.

To get the best out of your climbers, particularly the flowering and fruiting type, ensure that you regularly fertilize them with potassium rich fertilizer

SHRUBS IN YOUR GARDEN

 

Shrubs are prized for the diversity of their ornamental features. These include architectural habits, attractive foliage, fragrant and showy flowers and striking fruits. Add on the decorative stems   and their year round presence and the gardener has an infinite choice of plant material. Whether deciduous or evergreen, shrubs are prized as essential elements in most garden designs.

Hibiscus yellow-at its prime

What are Shrubs?

Shrubs are woody-stemmed plants normally free branching from the base. A shrub has many stems arising from near ground level. This differs from trees which usually has a single stem. On average Shrubs will rarely grow to more than 5-6 metres high. Indeed mant shrubs  attain an even smaller stature.

A few shrubs like the Lilac can be considered as trees as they grow on a single stem and at maturity attain great height. Some subshrubs-those woody only at the base-like Fuchsia are, in the tropics cultivated as herbaceous perennials to fill borders.

How to Use Shrubs in a garden?

Shrubs offer a long time framework for the garden due to their structural forms and woody stems. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from clump forming, to mat and prostrate.

Flowers

Shrubs are cultivated for their flower features.  Their flowers range from small flowers of the Fuchsia to large displays of Bougainvillea Hawaii that can stir up a garden.  These flowers occur in virtually all colours. While some shrubs bloom only for a few weeks, others like Hibiscus and Bougaivillea flower over several months. Others may be  remontant- regularly flowering twice a year.

Foliage

Shrubs are also cultivated for their colorful foliage, mostly occurring in the shades of green, yellow, red grey, silver and purple. Some shrubs with colourful foliage include; Acalypha. Mussaenda and Croton.

Border

To apply Shrubs in your garden, you can use them in a shrub border or in a mixed border. A shrub border entails a dedicated planting of an assortment of shrubs. This call for planting shrubs that will come into flowering at different times of the year keeping the garden in flower all through. A mixed border will on the other hand be where the shrubs are grown among perennials and annuals, occasionally standing out as specimen plants or seeking associations of colour and foliage. Whatever choice of planting you go for, be sure to first establish a theme. Do you want to display your favourite plants at a corner? Or do you want a display of purely arresting foliage? Be aware of the eventual size of the plant at maturity so as to space accordingly when planting.

Container

In a pot, shrubs also thrive very well. If you have a small space or roof terrace, many shrubs lend themselves well to growing in containers. You can group containers in different arrangements for variety or use a single shrub in a pot as a focal point.

 Cultivation

Given the right growing conditions, shrubs can thrive for many years. Though not too choosy about the type of soil, many however do prefer well drained fertile soils.

For planting ensure the planting hole is 2-3 times the width and deep enough for the roots to be buried to their original depth. As you backfill the hole, add generous amounts of manure to the soil and firm in. In clay soils plant the shrub a little higher than the surrounding soil so that water will run off; in a sandy soil leave a little depression around the plant so that moisture is retained. Water and mulch well with dry grass or bark chips. Support shrubs from strong winds by staking.

Shrubs are propagated from seeds, cuttings, layering division or grafting. Hybrids will only grow from vegetative propagation as they do not come from true seed.

TREES IN YOUR GARDEN

The Cape chesnut tree (Calodendrum capense) in its glory

No garden worth its salt can be without a tree. Indeed, it’s unimaginable to have a garden lacking a single tree even if it’s the tiny of the tinniest gardens.

Trees are the largest and most prominent of all garden plants. As such they establish the long term frame work of the garden. Besides by their shapes and colours, they influence the selection of other plants. What are trees?

Trees are long lived woody plants, either deciduous or evergreen usually growing on a single stem (Although a few like birches do grow two or three stems.

Influence in the garden

A tree’s shape and size can influence the style of a garden. Tall narrow trees like the Italian cypress and Polyantha can give a formal appeal while those open and spreading types like Nandi flame   give an informal look. Weeping trees present a graceful look while conical trees are strong and sculptural.

How to choose a garden tree?

First know the size of a tree at maturity. That struggling seedling may erupt into giant tree creating havoc within your small landscape. A bombax tree would overwhelm a small garden but look perfectly normal in a larger garden. Besides some trees cast dense shade causing  problems for other plant growing nearly. Consider too the root system. Trees like Ficus will unravel parking yards due the action of their roots.

Ornamental features

Many trees are highly ornamental. Tree leaves are usually decorative, and vary in shape, size and texture. The Aleurites molucca  has dramatic bronze foliage  turning yellow  as the seasons change. Leaf textures can be smooth or glossy, wooly or hairy and they add further interest to a garden.

Trees can also be cultivated solely for their flowers. The Nandi flame can be very arresting when in bloom. Tree barks can also be a point of ornament. For instance the Eucalyptus pauciflora and Bracleania huillensis have fascinating textures.

Garden uses of trees

Trees are mostly grown as specimen plants to be viewed from all angles within a lawn or under-planted with a ground cover. Ensure that your specimen tree display several features at different times during the year. You can also grow trees in a large shrub border as focal point. When changing levels in a garden or entry points, a single tree can be used to mark the transition. If your property is exposed to strong winds, trees come in handy as wind breakers. In addition, trees also serve as hedges or barriers to screen out eyesores, to act as sound barriers, to frame a view or to line a drive way. Equally important trees in your garden serve as home for wildlife.

Cultivation

When grown in the right in the right soil, they can thrive or decades. Some trees have lived for centuries. Ideally all trees should be planted away from pipes, drains, walls, cables and buildings.

When planting on a slope, place your trees halfway. This area is normally warmer and less windy.

 Planting hole for a tree should be 2-3 times the size of the root ball and one and half times deep. If you need to stake the tree, this is the time to drive the stake in the ground off-center so the tree and stake are support from the same base. Place the tree and backfill with soil properly mixed with organic matter, firm the soil and water well. A layer of mulch around the hole will help keep moisture. Attach the tree to the stake and be sure to use a stem guard. Water trees regularly until fully established. Keep weeds 3 feet away from the tree trunk to avoid food competition.

In propagating trees, you can use either seeds, cuttings, air and root layering or grafting. Pure species must certainly come from seeds while hybrids and cultivars rarely come true from seeds and are usually reproduced mostly through cuttings.   

 

 

 

HOW TO DROUGHT PROOF YOUR GARDEN

The new Year   period is always a trying period for homeowners   and their gardens.  Not only has the garden suffered bouts of neglect in the preceding holiday season but the dry season soon sets in with a vengeance. This period is regularly manifested   by stooping trees and shrubs and dusty indoor plants. The lawn will have scattered patches and a resurgence of weeds. However, when caught between such extremes and you have the water bills to think of a few gardening techniques can come in handy to tide you through the tough dry patch.

We offer a few suggestions on how to drought proof your garden so that issues of plant care don dampen your new year cheer

Prioritize

Certainly not everything in the garden is worth fighting for. There are plants you may have always wanted to get rid off, some may be diseased or scraggly, while others may simply have fallen out of favour with your tastes. There is no point wasting your energies and water on such and they may have to be sacrificed. Instead focus on the more valuable and irreplaceable shrubs and trees.

Pots

Your potted plants can stay long without watering if you use water wise containers and regularly feed then with compost. Glazed terracotta or plastic pots have higher water retention capacities. Even if your pot is not glazed wrapping with plastic sheeting will give that same desired effect of moisture insulation. For smaller pots place them inside large ones. Similarly burying larger pots into the ground up to the brim.  and covering with compost will save water 

If you have been regularly feeding your pots with compost, they will have a higher threshold for drought-stress as compost conserves water. Heavily feed your plants with organic compost and water thoroughly. Since it is organic   it cannot scorch plants but will be released gradually, holding water for a long period.

Mulching                                                                 -                                                                                      

Be sure to mulch around your shrubs and trees in the garden. Use of shredded bark, grass clippings or straw as mulch will keep moisture loss at a minimum and suppress weeds which rob water and nutrients from plants.

Watering basin  

Where you have young trees and shrubs like roses that have not yet established themselves and still require regular watering, build water basins around such plants to help hold water. Building basins will ensure water uptake is sufficient as water slowly soaks in. This slow and deep watering limits waste due to run-off and encourages plants to develop deep roots system that can withstand drought.

Lawn

If the lawn needs mowing during this dry period, you are better off raising your cutting level. Cutting level exposes the grass roots and consequently dehydrates them.  Cutting at a level of 3-5 inches will help shade the roots and therefore reduce water demand. Check to confirm that your irrigation system is working fine. Inspect your pipes for any leakages and sprinklers for any leakages. Reduced pressure could be due to any of this in the system. These wastes water while giving a false sense of security that the garden is well watered. Where pumps arte involved the waste is double; both for water and power for which you will nevertheless be billed.

A properly functioning irrigation system will give you breathing space as water usage is optimum as you await the wet season.

Whatever your case and however difficult the January-March season may be, the consolation is that no season is permanent as we soon glide into the rejuvenating season of the long rains.                                                                                                                               

 

HOW TO SELECT THE BEST CHRIStMAS TREE

 

Folks, the Christmas season is here! And so is the festive mood. So now, we hang our garden tools in the tool shed and throw our feet up the foot stool!

One of the highlights of the Christmas season is the Christmas tree. Depending on how well you are prepared, selecting a Christmas tree can be a delightful experience or a headache. During this time, most people have a congested diary which includes; visits, holidays, makeovers and shopping, the Christmas tree is among the very last items on the to do list. Inevitably, last minute buying costs money.

 

The Christmas tree is rich in legends, all attributed to the treasured value of trees in ancient cultures. At the arrival of Winter early Egyptians brought green date palms into their homes to symbolize life’s triumph over death. For the Romans Winter was a time to honour Satarnus, the god of agriculture. During this festival referred to as Satarnalia they decorated their houses with greens and lights and exchange gifts. In the middle ages the Germans and Scandinavians placed ever green trees in their homes  to show hope in the upcoming Spring.

However, the Christmas tree can be traced to Martin Luther. Around 1530 he was struck by the beauty of small evergreens whose branches dusted with snow shimmered in the moonlight. At home he set up a little evergreen tree indoors and decorated it with candles attempting to simulate the reflections of star lit heaven, the heaven that looked down over Bethlehem on the first Christmas eve.

Today the Christmas tree is a universal practice.

Choice of trees

There are four types of trees:

  • Artificial
  • Precut and Cut
  • Live (Bagged)

Artificial trees

While   the artificial trees have their distinct advantages, they hardly jell with the spirit of Christmas which symbolizes renewal and eternity.

Precut trees

They offer the convenience and are easier to carry and set up. The downward is that they are not fresh and many having been cut weeks before Christmas. The variety is limited, majority of them being from the cypress and pine family 

Cut trees

Cutting down your own tree means your tree will be fresh. It will retain needles/leaves longer. Besides you will be choosing a healthy and well cared for tree that should add some evergreen scent into your home. The only challenge is that you have to cut and ferry the tree to your house, a not so inviting task.

Live potted (Bagged) trees

Live trees that are in pots or bags remain all-time favourite Chrismas trees. They are available all year round which means you can acquire them much earlier, for less money long before Chrismas rush hour. They offer the freshest tree choice and can be re-used for several years. You can later plant them in the garden.

 

What to look for

Trees always seem smaller in the greater outdoors than when we get them into the house. So before you even leave the home measure your the space your tree will occupy  both height and width. This will help save money. The bigger the tree the more it costs.

Go for freshly cut trees when buying pre-cut trees. Fresh trees will look green and healthy. Check for freshness by running your hand along the branches to see if the needles come off or stay on. A gentle bouncing of  the tree on the ground will also serve the same purpose. In addition if the base of the tree is sticky with some resin, this is an indication that the tree was recently  cut and should hold well through the holidays.

Most people look out for the perfect conical shaped trees but in reality, a fuller and bigger tree is better. However, if you have many ornaments you wish to hang onto a tree, a tree with shorter branches might be a better fit. Trees with long branch  like pines tend to snap even with  small weights.

Tree types

What tree should one go for? Many evergreens can be use as Chrismas trees and some nurseries specifically shape trees for this purpose. The common Chrismas trees include varieties   of Cypress Pines,Cedars  Araucarias and Ficus.

In setting up the tree, choose a location away from heat sources like heat vents, wood stoves, and fire places. Heated rooms dry out trees rapidly. For cut trees   get container that can hold the tree trunk and enough water. Dont trim the sides off as this is where the tree take up its water. Check the tree daily and water as needed.

What do you do with a tree once Christmas season is Over

Branches can be cut into smaller pieces and spread as mulch over flowerbeds, while the tree trunks can be carved into candle sticks. Live trees can be turned into garden ornaments by hanging bird seeds, popcorn strips, stale bread or dried fruit that attracts and feed birds

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CONFRONTING TROUBLE IN PARADISE

For any plant lover, the emergence of the plant pests and diseases is enough cause for alarm. Having invested heavily in the buying and care of our plants it is only natural that that anything that degrades them draws our immediate concern.

However as veteran gardeners will attest managing – and sometimes confronting – pests is what adds thrill to the art of gardening. Indeed many gardeners will readily admit that having a trouble –free garden rarely means a complete elimination of all pests and diseases. Rather it only means keeping them at manageable levels. How do you eliminate bugs that crawl over from your next door neighbors?

Whatever garden problem that you encounter it is important to know that your first line of defence is a straight forward common sense approach. First begin by practicing prevention. This is by far the easiest and most durable solution. By keeping your plants healthy and vibrant you cushion them against insect and disease attack. Strong and healthy plants tolerate environmental and natural challenges better than those that are malnourished and stressed. The first step in maintaining healthy plants is fortifying the soil with organic compost and selecting strong and uninfected plants when plant shopping.

Then practice scouting. This is the regular inspection of your plants. It is important as it helps you to monitor and identify trouble spots in the garden early. Earlier detection of pests and disease can let you sort out the infestation before it becomes an outbreak. While for the casual observer  the lone aphid on  a rose bud may seem harm less, for the keen gardener it could signal trouble in the making; the presence of sap resulting from some sort of plant stress. Routine scouting deepens your knowledge of plants problems equipping you with the ability to know what to look for when ferreting  out saboteurs.

 

In general bacteria and fungi invade leaf cells and form new spots. As such most spots on plant leaves represent disease caused by either fungi or bacteria. If your plant leaves has edges of a different colouration from the middles, more likely it is a disease. Chewed leaf edges or holes between leaf veins could be due to insect attack. Leaf suckers like aphids and spider mites – usually found on the underside of leaves- will leave small yellow dots on leaves.

 

Of course it should never escape one's mind that if all pests were trouble some, no plant would be left standing. Indeed over 90% of all insects in your garden are either beneficial or downright harmless. So the spiders you see crawling about are actually working hard to keep your plants insect free. The ground beetles that swagger around the mulches are out eliminating soil pests. The bottom line of all these however is that one should avoid the gung - ho cowboy mentality of shooting every thing in site – with a spray gun. Instead first learn to identify your foes and allies in the garden. Once you know the good guys from the bad ones you can then concentrate on tackling the bad guys. 

 

Some insects like beetles, aphids and caterpillars can easily be controlled. For aphids spray them off with a stream of hosepipe water while beetles and caterpillars can be picked by hand and dropped in a bucket of soapy water. If caterpillar infestation is high you can use the organic product Bacillus thuringiensis that distorts their digestive system. A more common garden problem is the ant invasion. These crawlers like to dine on honey left behind by aphids on trees.  So looking for and tackling their food source- the aphids is one easy way to get rid of them. For ants that scramble up your fruit trees spreading a sticky substance or glue around the tree trunk will check their mobility upwards. Anti hills in the garden can be destroyed by dousing the colonies with hot water. In reality though most ants outdoors- termites excepted- are just but a nuisance.

 

For fungal diseases that leave spots on leaves and cause root rot, their control is ideally through plant management. Damp leaves encourage their spread- so keeping leaves dry will limit its spread. Powdery mildew, a nasty fungal disease can be   prevented by ensuring full sun and ample circulation of air around the plant. Thin out and prune plants to reduce congestion and avoid getting the plants wet. Pick off and burn infected leaves to stop the fungi from spreading. Unless fungicides are used as preventives they are rarely helpful in combating fungal outbreaks

 

Occasionally a plant will die after shriveling .This may indicate a root rot trouble. For such the best approach would be to change the soil through addition of compost and a soil fumigant to kill soil pests. Then replace the dead plant with a different species because the pathogens in the soil may plant specific.

 

All in all try to be tolerant when dealing with pests.  Learn to think fast and spray last.  Even when you have to spray against pests and diseases, opt for insecticides that are organically derived as they are less persistent in the environment. And whatever remedy or ideas you may think off or come across don’t be afraid to try them out. In gardening you never know if if your ideas will work unless you try !

How to solve Lawn troubles the Organic Way

Even in a well maintained lawn, serious troubles can arise.  In the dry season, the soil could be low in nitrogen causing rust on the blades. Maybe mounds of soils have developed due to mole action. Whatever the issue, resist the urge to blast away your lawn troubles with fungicides or insecticides. While weeds, insect infestations and diseases  are normal lawn problems, they certainly indicate trouble within the lawns ecosystem. For a healthy lawn, and a safer you-organic solutions are the best approach.

Common lawn problems and how to solve them

Weeds

Some weeds in your organic lawn is a normal occurrence. However a particular weed type overtaking your grass should alarm you. This means that your lawn isn’t competitive enough and you are best advised to investigate the cause in order to tweak your lawn care practices. Oxalis is the number one weed trouble in Kenyan gardens. It has a long stalk with 3-heart shaped leaflets and 5 petaled yellow flowers and thrives in full sun or shade .  Oxalis will invade lawns that are poorly fed, thin and improperly cared for.

The best way to remove oxalis is to weed manually ensuring that the bulbs are uprooted and burnt. Then top dress the lawn with compost to increase fertility. Replant or reseed  bare patches. Prevent growth of oxalis by leaving the grass clippings  on the grass  and applying a slow-release organic fertilizer.

Shabby, worn-out  lawns

Sometimes your lawn appears weak, but you can’t put a finger to it. Check out the depth of thatch- a foam-like mat of roots and stems on the soil surface. A half inch and below of thatch is  perfect mulch.  A deeper layer prevents nutrients and water from reaching the grass roots. Contrary to popular opinion, thatch is not caused by grass clippings left on the lawn. You are likely to experience mat if you excessively use fertilizer. To tackle thatch give your lawn a good raking. Then strive to prevent its occurrence by  applying a layer of compost  to encourage the burying action of earthworms that will break down and decompose the dead grass stems and root.

Soil Mounds

If you see mounds of soil in your lawn, trouble is brewing underground. As moles tunnel underground in search of worms and grubs, ridges and mound will appear in your lawn. Flatten out the ridges and soil mounds for ease of mowing and to restore root contact with the soil.  Then eliminate the food source and the moles will move on!

Brown Grass

Site conditions, poor maintenance practices, soil compaction, drought and nutrient deficiencies are the primary causes of brown grass. Carry out regular spiking to treat compaction and raise your mowing height to between 4-6 cm. Sometimes however brown grass can be due to white grub  or sodwebworms . The former  causes irregular  dead, brown patches by  chewing  on grass roots while the later  severs  grass blades on new lawns. Fix trouble with white grub through application of parasitic nematodes  and Bacillus thuringiesis (BT) in the lavae stages.

Whitish grass

White grass indicates trouble. It signals the presence of powdery mildew that causes small patches of gray or white patches on the grass. Powdery mildew is more common wet,shady areas and succulent awns resulting from over fertilizing. A solution of nine parts water and one part milk sprayed at the affected area should sort this out. Do not overfertilize your lawn and plant the appropriate grass for partially shaded areas.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms are fungi and their presence is a sign of a fungal mat under the soil coming up. If you have mushrooms in your lawn, be prepared for the long haul in fixing the trouble.  You will have to dig up the area with mushrooms to a depth of 2 feet, incorporating well rotted compost in the process.  This will assist in breaking the fungal mat and improve the soil nutrition.  Preventive measures include discouraging the build up of mat, watering deeply once a week for deep root development and using only slow release fertilizer to avoid a succulent lawn that is susceptible to infestations

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