Weeds, Pest and Disease

Lily Beetles, pretty pest with destructive power.

This afternoon I was weeding a border that i've ignored so far this year.

Unfortunately the Lily beetles have been munching on my lilies while they've been hidden by weeds.


I managed to find 16 of the little blighters on just 3 plants, luckily their bright red shells are easy to spot.


They like to hide in the tightly curled folds at the middle of the lily, and there were quite a full couples making best use of my plants, in between munching holes. Over the next few days i'll have to keep a careful eye to make sure that none of those patches of "mud" turn into mini beetles.

You have to show no mercy to these pretty pests, as you'll loose your complete lily and daylily (hemorocallis) collections within days.

Happy hunting.

Buttercup and Celandine weeds & how to get rid of them

This week, the weeds i've been fighting against the most are Ranunculus varieties


This one picutred is Ranunculus Ficaria, - the Lesser Celandine, which usually covers borders that are a bit damp and shady. They have a yellow flower if allowed to get to that stage, and in my experience they can cover borders very quickly and swamp out other plants that are trying to get through at this time of year. - If you have a troublesome area, then you can use a systemic weedkiller on it. If it is in among plants or in isolated clumps, the only way to eradicate it is to dig it out.

In this case I do mean dig, as just hoeing off the top growth, or burning it off, won't work on these babies. - if you look at what's below the ground, then it becomes clear that breaking the top of the weed off will just create more.


The multiple bulbils are just waiting to break off as you pull it out of the soil!

In the same family is Ranunculus repens,- the creeping buttercup.


These are often mistaken for perennial geraniums and left in borders until they have spread and allowed their surface runners to colonise large areas. At this time of year, they can be easily lifted out of the ground with a hand fork. - Again, don't hoe these, as root left behind will reshoot.  Larger areas can again have weedkillier applied, but as this gets in amongst other plants, it usually means killing everything in the area to get rid of it. - This also roots in lawns, and because it is low to the ground is difficult to control with mowing.


(with thanks to Dana Leigh for shaming me into revising my latin names for weeds!)

Hiding for the winter

At this time of year as the garden winds down, it's tempting to shut up shop and retreat indoors. But that's what a lot of the pests in your garden are doing as well, - so if you can stay out there a bit longer and hunt them down, - you'll be streets ahead next year.

Snails and slugs like to congregate in hidden places. This bunch were hiding behind some crocosmia which was growing against a wall. Phormiums are another favourite hiding place, and long grass either around tree trunks, or in borders is another meeting place.

If you also check any pots you have sitting around, particularly lifting them up and looking in drainage holes, - that's where I can win at slug and snail bingo!

When you've collected them all up, - what you do with them is up to you, - My chickens are very partial to molluscs, so it's in my interest to get as many as possible, for them to feed on. A bucket of salt water or a well timed boot (yes I am brutal when it comes to my garden enemies) works well, - just don't be tempted to loft them over your neighbours fence, - recent studies have shown that they're likely to come back!

Lawn still looking poorly

This spring was one of the driest on records, - until it became one of the wettest Augusts! - so lawns were put under a lot of strain early in the year. Consequently there were lots of dry brown patches. Now though, with the rain soaking almost all of the country for weeks, your lawn should be growing and lush, - and if there are still bare patches, it could be down to this little fellow

The glove is there to give you some idea of scale, as this Chafer Grub can be as long as 2-3 cms. and its favourite meal is the roots of your grass.

This one was found at the edge of a border when we were doing some planting. The lawn nearby had several bald patches.

The solution, - well the lawn patches are dead, so you will have to rake out the dead thatch and reseed those areas, but the root of the problem is (pardon the pun) at the roots. So to keep you lawn looking good, a yearly deterrent against these fellows is needed at this time of year (and yes it is only usually the right temperature and weather conditions from the end of August to the end of September.)

Nemasys Chafer Grub killer contains microscopic worms which will do the job for you, so if you still have bare patches and the lawn is looking poorly, - get on and order this weekend.

Solanum nigrum, Nightshade deadly or not...

This week, i've spotted a lot of this weed.

It isn't Deadly nightshade, - but it is in the Solanum family and it is toxic, it's common name being black nightshade

It is Solanum Nigrum, and it seems to be seeding a lot this year in gardens i'm weeding, - particularly (worryingly) in those with young children. It likes disturbed soil, so if you've been digging it will love the turned over earth, and It's a fast grower, - getting to a foot high within a month to 6 weeks. The green berries are more poisonous than the ripe black fruit, - but I would suggest that this is one to remove with gloves and destroy whenever it is seen.

Making the most of your fruit crop, and preventing Silver leaf


These are borrowed fruit. Well to be more precise, the tree to which they belong doesn't start in my garden. This branch is hanging over from next door, - and the conditions this year have been so good for tree fruit that it is laden with Damsons. Loads of the Prunus (cherry) family are having a bumper crop this year, with Prunus Cerasifera, (common name Cherry plum) which normally has a few insignificant fruits, producing lovely big crops, of cherry sized and coloured fruits with an almond shaped stone in the middle rather than a pip.

Anyone got any ideas of what to do with all this extra bounty? - I don't do jam, - (Mainly because my mum is rather good at it, so I leave it to her). So any other suggestions to use up this great crop would be greatly appreciated.

Oh and if your bumper crop has been so weighty that it has damaged any branches, - make sure that you prune them this month. The Prunus family are susceptible to Silver leaf disease if pruned at other times of the year. Silver leaf disease is caused by fungal spores which generally break out between September and May. As this can kill trees very quickly, and gets in through new cuts and breaks in the tree branches, only pruning in the summer months for the prunus family is highly recommended.

Don't know if you tree is a prunus? - All this family have horizontal lines on the bark like this


What's up with my Acer?


In the garden I was in yesterday, there is a lovely feathery Acer  - (proably Acer palmatum Garnet) -tucked in by the front wall of the driveway.

It looks fairly healthy at a first glance, but being a nosy gardener, I tend to give most plants more than a first glance, and so I noticed that this one wasn't as well as it first looks

All up the trunk were little brown spots and white fluffy stuff, - that's the non technical way of telling you what Scale looks like.

There are lots of different types of scale, but they are mostly Brown, mostly waxy curved spots that cling to the trunks and branches (or sometimes the underside of leaves). They are an insect that, like aphids, feeds from the plant. The white fluffy stuff is their excess residue from their feeding. They are unlikely to kill the plant immediately, but over time they will make your plant look lacklustre.

I had an Acer at my last house which got this every couple of years, so I have a solution. - Contact insecticide (organic or not) will have no effect on the waxy cover of the scale, - Systemic insecticide is not on my agenda, although it would probably work in the long run. My solution is fairly low tech

5 minutes of scrubbing the trunk, (not too hard, you don't want to take the bark off) cleared the lot.

If you've got an Acer in your garden, give it a 2nd look this weekend, and check it hasn't got Scale insect.  - It also likes Vines, Horse Chestnut, Oleander, and Pyracantha.

Help with Blackfly control on Broad beans

I'm a lazy organic gardener, - i.e. i'm organic because I let nature take it's course and don't have time to add any chemicals into the equation, - but I still love to see things like this. - because of the hot and humid weather the blackfly are particularly abundant on my broadbeans this year. - A squirt with a hose jet (supporting the bean with your hand) gets rid of lots of them, - but i've got ladybirds by the dozen helping me out this year, - and the beans are so tasty, even my 6 yr old loves them.

Nightmare of Marestail

During the year, I spend a lot of my time weeding. Each month there is another enemy to fight, another variety to beat back with the aim of giving the plants and flowers room to do their "thing"

Early June is the time for Marestail to be at it's peak.


Equisetum Arvense,(Horsetail, or Maretail) is a weed that i'm very familiar with, as my childhood garden had a lot of it. My parents didn't require my help often in the garden, but removing it was a chore every now and again when it started taking over. Maybe that was always in early June, but my memory of that garden is mostly centered on the Cherry tree that I built a treehouse in, and the Raspberry canes and apple trees I could scrump from regularly.

This weed has been round since the time of the dinosaurs, and is capable of exploiting weaknesses in concrete to push its way through to the light, so i'm afraid there is no way that you are getting rid of it completely, But, you can reduce it to the point where it doesn't bother you too much , and you can just do an annual (late May,/ June) attack to overcome it again.

1st thing to know is that the roots go very deep, so don't bother trying to dig it up, 2nd is that if pulled sharply, it will snap cleanly, at or above ground level and this often makes the plant grow back with branched growth (i.e 2 strands of weed where there was one). If hand weeding around other plants, then pull each strand of Marestail gently, so that it stretches, and breaks off below ground. This gives the longest time for a weed free border.

If you have a large patch with no other plants that you want to keep, then I would recommend either Glyphosate application at this time of year, - or the organic method of smothering it with black plastic or carpet.

This doesn't get rid of it, but will bring lots of the roots to the ground, where they can be pulled out in winter.

Never put Equesetum in the compost bin, and never rotovate ground that has Marestail in it, - this is the fastest way to get a lovely prehistoric carpet of ferny strands.

One Handed Weeding

By May, the evenings are long and light, the garden is looking and smelling gorgeous, and evening /after work wandering outside with a glass of something soothing is possible.

Unfortunately the weeds are also doing their hardest to overtake the garden, and seed all over your precious borders.

The good news is that most (not all) of the fastest growers are annuals, and are shallow rooted, which means you can pull them out with one hand, while wandering.

Sticky Weed , is one of the quickest spreading, but can be easily pulled out.

weeds with rosettes like these are easy to pull out, and speedwell and chickweeds can also be destroyed one handed


Herb robert, which is a geranium is also one which grows to a large size very quickly, but can be yanked out from the centre. Just getting rid of these can clear your borders out very quickly.

getting together a pile of weeds in 5 minutes each evening can be very satisfying, but better than that, it prevents the annuals seeding, which means you'll have more time for drinking later in the season.