In the Garden: How to keep pests under control

As the temperatures are now up, it is important to be vigilant in the control of pests, so says Olive Ryan in her weekly gardening column
In the Garden: How to keep pests under control

Alliums on display at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018 in London. Picture: RHS/Suzanne Plunkett

GROWTH abounds in the garden as the soil has finally warmed up and moisture is plentiful, and now all of the groundwork laid over the spring is coming to fruition.

It was a strange spring, with low temperatures and a very wet May here in Cork. Hopefully a spell of settled weather will allow plants to get going and produce colour or edibles, depending on the garden.

Slugs and weeding need to be monitored if damage is to be avoided to young plants newly planted out in the ground. Keeping weeds at bay will allow less cover for our slimy adversaries and also provides better ventilation and air movement around cultivated plants, enabling them to establish well.

Monitoring for slugs is crucial in the days after planting tender young plants — our winter was not particularly cold last year and this bodes badly for slug populations as their eggs have a better chance of over-wintering during a mild winter.

Slugs can make short work of the plants in your garden. Picture: Stock
Slugs can make short work of the plants in your garden. Picture: Stock

There are a number of controls for slugs, one of the best is encouraging their natural predators like hedgehogs, beetles, centipedes and ducks, which all love to dine out on slugs or their eggs. 

Beer traps are effective but need to be checked and refilled regularly, while night time patrols will result in slug encounters and they can be relocated or destroyed.

Create slug traps by placing a slate or piece of cardboard on the soil, which can be inspected during the day. It will most certainly have a collection of slimey friends gathering as they like a moist, dark location during daylight hours. Egg shells will deter slugs, but again the re-application is important as they break down in the soil and are less sharp. Constant monitoring and vigilance is key to getting this pest under control.

Looking particularly lovely at the moment are foxgloves, lupins, cow parsley, sweet rocket and alliums. All these epitomise early summer for me, being some of the more showy colourful perennials and biennials to emerge from the soil after a long winter. These early flowering plants are often used to produce displays of early colour in show gardens at garden festivals.

The latter have suffered again this year and are missed for the display of early flowering plants like these, which inspire and give great hope for the season ahead. Memories of Bloom in the Phoenix Park will have to suffice for this year.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show , 2018. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Wire
RHS Chelsea Flower Show , 2018. Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

For the first time in its 108-year history, the Chelsea Flower Show, normally held at the end of May, has been postponed until September 21-26. It will make for an interesting show as plants used for the display gardens will need to be looking their best in September instead of May!

An autumn plant palette instead of a spring and early summer one will be an interesting change in proceedings and give an opportunity to showcase plants not normally centre stage at the famous Chelsea Flower Show.

Now is a good time to consider sowing biennial plants like wallflowers, sweet rocket, honesty, sweet william and foxgloves. They flower early in their second year and sowing plants now and letting them bulk up for the summer will mean they will be ready to go next spring.

The Chelsea Flower Show always reminds me to undertake the ‘Chelsea chop’ on some of the perennials in the border that may get too leggy and blousy. Reducing their height now while they still have time to grow back and flower will result in less staking and some staggered colour in the borders. It is worth experimenting with this process and it has been tried and tested, working to good effect, on plants like phlox, catmint, sedums, achillea, campanula, aster, helianthus and heleniums.

Essentially, what you are doing is removing the growing tips of the plant and this encourages a bushier habit and ultimately more flowers, which will be later in the season.

It is a good idea to water and feed after completing ‘the chop’ and do not undertake severe chopping during drought condition as the plants may struggle to recover.

Fruits are beginning to swell on trees and fruit bushes where pollination has been completed... fingers crossed for a good harvest this year.

Sawfly caterpillars.
Sawfly caterpillars.

We need to be on the look-out for the gooseberry sawfly from now on if we are to get any fruit for our jam! These lay their eggs on the under- surface of gooseberry leaves and when they hatch out they devour every leaf in sight, sometimes stripping the bush of all foliage. The best control is monitoring regularly and squashing eggs or caterpillars.

As it has been slow to heat up this year, pests have been slow to get going also, but as the temperatures are now up, it is important to be vigilant in the control of pests.

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