Pest patrol

Are plagues and pestilence raining down on your garden, asks Geoff Hodge?

Aphids attack so many different plants.
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Do you sometimes think you must have seriously upset someone very important when your plants seem doomed to be munched away by pests or discoloured and distorted by diseases? When, in truth, it’s probably all your own fault!

Slugs and snails love a meal of hostas.

Sadly, yes, some plants are martyrs to pest and disease attacks. But as forewarned is forearmed, to make your life easier and your plants’ lives healthier, you need to keep an eye out for them. And that’s especially true for those plants you know are going to be attacked – or were attacked last year. These include blackspot on roses, sawfly on gooseberries and Solomon’s seal and of course slugs and snails on hostas – and just about everything with young, succulent leaves!

At a talk I gave last week, someone asked me what to do with the plants in their conservatory: “They’re all completely covered in scale insects and mealybugs.” “What?”, I replied, “Then it’s all your own fault.” How did they get so badly out of control? By ignoring them. Checking regularly and looking for early signs makes it much easier to control a few pests rather than a major onslaught.

Pest patrols

Walking your garden for five to 10 minutes on a regular basis means you can stop things getting out of control and becoming a problem. Squashing one aphid, carefully removing one diseased leaf and even hoeing one weed seedling can stop any of these becoming a nightmare issue.

Aphids attack so many different plants.

Plant pests can breed at a phenomenal rate. A single aphid in your garden at the beginning of the year could, in theory, be responsible for a total of up to 600 billion aphids by the end of the year. That’s up to 1,200 tonnes of aphids each year! Squash that one and all the others go away. Otherwise, you may not be able to get out into the garden with that mountain of aphids pushing against the back door!

A blight on both your houses

OK, I know the proper wording is “A plague on both your houses”, but it’s near enough!. While the term “blight” is sometimes wrongly used to describe all plant diseases, blights are specific diseases – the worst and most commonly known being potato and tomato blight, the disease that caused the Great Famine in Ireland in the 1840s.

Many pest and disease outbreaks are very much dependent on weather conditions and can be worse some years than others; this year has been awful for peach leaf curl, for instance, judging by the number of enquiries we’ve received via Richard Jackson’s Gardening Club.

Blight watch

Sign up to Blight Watch to get alerts as to when blight is likely to occur.

Interestingly, potato and tomato blight can actually be accurately forecast when it will appear in a certain postcode. Blight will occur when there is a “Full Hutton Period”, that is when minimum air temperatures are at least 10C and relative humidity is 90% or above for at least six hours on two consecutive days. And thanks to the Met Office this can be worked out.

Because this disease is so financially important to farmers, Blightwatch Alerts are available to give warning of when it will occur. Luckily, we can also sign up for these free alerts – simply go to the Blightwatch website. Blight is going to be bad this year; normally I don’t get alerts until July/August, but this year they started at the end of May.

Geoff Hodge

About Geoff Hodge

Geoff Hodge is a freelance garden writer, writing for various national
gardening magazines and websites – as well as lots more besides! He answers the questions submitted by Richard Jackson's Gardening Club members. Previously, he was the Web Editor for the Royal Horticultural Society, Gardening Editor of Garden News magazine and Technical Editor of Garden Answers magazine. He has written eight gardening books and broadcasts on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and is a regular guest on Ken Crowther’s gardening programme on BBC Essex.
www.gardenforumhorticulture.co.uk
@Hodgerow
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