VIDEO (Week 3): How to protect your plants from infections

Peter Dowdall

Buds are bursting into growth now in front of our eyes. The freshest of the year’s growth pushes unfurling leaves out of swollen leaf buds on trees and shrubs throughout the garden. 

There is something translucent, even magical about the new leaves of Japanese Maples (Acer palmatums) as they catch the light of mid spring.

Copper Beech trees (Fagus sylvatica Purpurea) seem to change colour every day over the next few weeks starting off nearly pink in colour and then making the journey to a rich dark purple before they once more fade and fall in the autumn of the year.

Keep an eye out for Whitebeams (Sorbus aria Lutescens) now as whilst they are a welcome addition to the garden during all seasons it is truly during these weeks that their magic is visible.

Whitebeams really sum up spring for me, the leaves are so new and bright, the freshest of pale green and pure silver in colour.

They are at their spring best for merely a few days but as with so much of the beauty in the garden, they are worth growing just to enjoy that most fleeting of spring displays.

The leaves soon fade to their summer look, a more dull grey green, still beautiful but nothing like the display they give during these spring days.

Fruit trees, Herbaceous perennials, deciduous shrubs, all these too are once more awakening now from their winter slumber.

Our warm and damp climate provides ideal conditions for the development and spread of fungal infections.

Apple scab is a fungal infection, Venturia which manifests itself in brown scabby patches on the skin of the fruits, normally just unsightly and not harmful to eat. Pears too can suffer from a similar condition.

Apple Canker is a fungus Neonectria which attacks the bark of apple trees and will eventually kill the tree.

Powdery Mildew, again fungal can affect the leaves of many plants, fruit trees, currant bushes, gooseberries, grape vines, Vegetable plants, roses, Rhododendrons, Camellias.

The leaves of infected plants are covered in a white powdery type fungus which will lead to leaves shrivelling and dropping and will reduce the ability of the plant to photosynthesise and generally weaken the plant.

Sooty mould too will severely limit a plants ability to photosynthesise and weaken the plant. It tends to be a particular problem of Bay Leaf (Laurus nobilis), Camellias and Holly. (A plant suffering with this complaint can look literally like it is covered in soot.

The problem here is two fold and needs a double pronged solution. Leaf sucking insects such as aphids and scale insects leave a sticky honeydew residue behind them and the fungal spores develop on this honeydew. It results in a blackening of the leaves which is difficult to clean off.

Over the last number of years many fungicides which had been available to gardeners have been taken off the garden centre shelves for health and safety reasons. I know many gardeners will moan and groan about this and grumble about beauracracy gone mad.

I, on the other hand am delighted to see dangerous chemicals being removed from circulation if they are harming the local environment and interfering with the biodiversity of an area.

One of the few fungicides still available is Bordeaux Mixture and the good news it is one of the best and the solution to a wide range of fungal problems.

It is certified for organic use under guidance. What that means is that it is safe to use on edible crops but don’t be too free and easy with it.

Use it carefully and at the right times, not something to be applied every week or even every month. It’s important when using any garden pesticide or fungicide to familiarise yourself with the correct rate and timing of application.

Important because over-use of these products is not good gardening, damaging the local environment and also one of the main factors attributed to the decline in bee populations. Not to mention being a waste of money and correct use will simply be more effective use.

Bordeaux Mixture is mixed at 35grammes to 1.5 litres of water. The active ingredient is Copper sulphate and is powder in form.

Mix the correct amount of powder with a small bit of water at first to make a paste and then add the required amount of water to make up the correct amount of mixture.

This will help to prevent Apple scabs, canker, mildew, many fungal rusts, potato blight and the best time to apply the Bordeaux mixture is now during the wonderful period of bud burst before many of these fungal infections can get a hold on the leaves and the plants.

One application at this time of most beautiful bud burst will hopefully ensure continued good health and vigour for the at risk trees and shrubs.


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