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ARTICLES / Gardening

July 2019:  Prolific Pests

by Pippa Greenwood

Gardening Boxmoor Direct

Bugs and beasties really thrive in warmer weather, so how should you deal with the most common problems you are likely to encounter at this time of year?

Aphids such as greenfly and blackfly can be a real menace as they suck sap from your plants, and can even transmit viruses – sometimes with disastrous consequences. Their sticky excreta or honeydew is produced in copious quantities and can leave plants and garden surfaces sticky.

Check plants regularly and then decide what to do. You can use a strong jet of water (perhaps by putting your thumb over the end of the hosepipe) to blast the aphids off plants, but unless you do a thorough job they will soon be back and causing damage! Alternatively, spray with a suitable insecticide or, if you prefer not to use this type of chemical, use a soap-based insecticide. I’m also a great fan of using biological controls to sort out greenfly and blackfly – options available include native two-spot ladybirds and their larvae, which you can introduce to help existing ladybirds get on top of the problem – see www.pippagreenwood.com/products/protect-your-crops for more information on these brilliant and very safe controls.

Aphids breed incredibly rapidly, so regular control is necessary. They don’t need males in order to reproduce and often have numerous generations all ready within the single aphid you see on your plant!

Caterpillars can do a lot of damage as they munch their way through your plants or the hearts of your vegetables such as cabbages.

One of the best things to do is pick the pests off where possible and either squash them or place them on the bird table. Many caterpillars feed in the evening, so are easier to spot at dusk – or very early in the morning.

You can buy a mixture of nematodes to spray onto your plants and kill the caterpillars without harming humans or pets.

Some caterpillars – in particular the tortrix moth caterpillars – produce quantities of fine webbing that they use to bind leaves or other plant parts together to create safe shelters. They are difficult to control as it is hard to get a pesticide or nematodes mix to reach them, so for these hand-picking or squashing is often best.

For vegetables that are particularly caterpillar- susceptible, such as calabrese, broccoli and other brassicas, stop the adults laying their eggs with horticultural fleece, netting or very fine Micromesh, either as pull-out tunnels or sheets of material you cut to shape and peg down. This will help to keep a wide range of pests, including caterpillars, away from the plants.

These little creatures are rarely responsible for doing that much damage in their own right as they simply do not have adequately strong mouthparts. They can cause damage to soft new growth or occasionally to soft-fleshed fruits such as strawberries, but can’t tackle tougher plant growth. They are rather like vultures, in that they clean up the debris created by other creatures after they have fed and damaged your plants. I say leave them be.

Earwigs cause quite a bit of damage, particularly on the flowers of plants such as clematis and dahlias, where they can nibble out large quantities of petal or occasionally leaf. They can be controlled with contact insecticides but a lot of gardeners prefer to trap the earwigs. The advantage of this is that no pesticide is needed, which can be difficult to spray onto open blooms without risk of damage. One of the best ways of trapping earwigs is the traditional method using an inverted flowerpot – stuffed loosely with hay, straw or similar material – on top of a bamboo cane, and positioned amongst susceptible plants. The earwigs climb in there to hide and the pots can be emptied out regularly.

Powdery mildew is also a problem at this time of year, coating plant leaves, stems, buds and sometimes even petals with a white flowery deposit. Sometimes the mildew can prevent fruits from swelling normally and cause the leaves to become distorted and in some instances even to fall early. Prompt action is essential and, if you are happy to use chemicals and have not managed to get the problem under control by picking off infected leaves and using other cultural controls, there are suitable fungicides available.

Keep the damage to a minimum in the first instance by ensuring that the plants are kept well-watered – plants which are dry around the roots seem particularly prone to mildew attack. In addition, try to ensure a good flow of air around the plants, as stagnant, moist air seems to have a similar effect and can make matters worse very quickly. Careful pruning or weeding often solves the problem.

Visit Pippa’s website www.pippagreenwood.com  and join ‘Grow Your Own with Pippa Greenwood’ for great vegetable plants and weekly advice from Pippa, stylish cloches, the fantastic SpeedHoe, gardening tools, Grower Frames and signed books! Or book Pippa for a gardening talk at your gardening club.

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