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CRYSTAL GARDENS

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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 !

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