I have a tiny confession to make, and one that might shock many gardeners; I kinda like slugs and snails. They’re pretty cool! I remember my mother not being too keen on my idea to make a snail habitat when I was younger. Surprisingly very few snails every appeared…I’m sure she was squashing them when I wasn’t looking. These critters have cool tentacle eyes that can just collapse and disappear. They protect themselves from harm with a slimy coating. Snails – even cooler – they carry their homes around with them. That’s pretty amazing! And, even if you’re not a lover of the common garden snail, then you have to love those banded snails. C’,mon, admit it, they’re pretty!
The problem is, as my gardening passion has thrived, my love for these garden molluscs has had to waver. To start with I just tried to live alongside them. That didn’t last too long as my hostas disappeared and my seedlings became slimy eaten stalks. Now I turn a blind eye when I crush them, collect them in bottles to throw out, or – grossness – cut them in half (this has a way of attracting more slugs; cannibalistic freaks!).
2012 was an AWFUL year for gardening. There was too much rain, if you can believe it, and if you thought the snail problem was bad last year, then you just wait. All those well fed critters from last summer will have laid dozens of eggs, meaning that this year is going to be a nightmare. So, to cut a long story short, in 2013 I’m going to be battling like never before.
I’m not one for slug pellets. Most garden sheds around the UK probably have several bottles of this stuff, but whilst it’s a sure way to end a slimy slug, it’s also a good way to kill birds, amphibians or even your cat. So, no, don’t use them if possible. Instead, I’m going to dig out those old sauces and plastic bottles that have been stashed away, and I’m going in with a multi-pronged approach;
- The Slug Stomp
This, by far, is the best method of getting rid of slugs and snails but, like that pesky thing called exercise, you’ve gotta do it regularly. Every night, when the sun goes down and the molluscs come out, it’s time to stomp. I generally crush snails and slugs and then put them in a bottle (fabric conditioner containers are quite good). You’ll pick up loads to start with, and fewer over time, but don’t stop completely because if there’s one thing a neighbouring snail likes, it’s a garden full of healthy plants and no other competitors.
- The Slug Pub
It’s a G&T for me, and a nice bowl of beer for the slugs. Yep, they like booze as much as we do. You can’t be out in the garden every night doing the slug stomp, and you’re bound to miss some critters. By placing a shallow bowl of beer in your garden, particularly near highly vulnerable plants, you can simply pick up the slugs and snails in the morning as they’re dying of a hangover.
- The Slug Juice Bar
For those slugs and snails who prefer to be teetotal, going down the citrus fruit route is perfect. Simply cut some oranges or grapefruit in half, leave them amongst the borders as you do with your sluggy pubs, and you can collect up the health-kick molluscs in the morning.
- The Slug Snip
Okay, the slug snip is a bit gross. It basically means you just cut a whopping great slug or snail in half with a pair of secateurs and leave it where it dies. The slightly vile thing about slugs and snails is that they can’t help but eat their fallen kin, so if the idea of giving your snaily friends a night of joy with slug pubs or juice bars isn’t your thing, go to the other end of the scale and create carnage instead.
In my opinion, if you arm yourself with these four methods, then you’re onto a good thing. Copper rings, plastic bottles, coffee granule mulch and other variants, are actually pretty useless. Snails climb, halfway up the house if they need to, so put rings around the stems of plants is pretty useless. Even if pests don’t attack from below, they’ll simply crawl over from touching leaves. It’s the same thing with mulches…eventually there’s enough plant cover to allow slugs and snails to squirm their way from one slimy plant to the next.
It’s a shame that I have to kill these beasts, because they are pretty cool when you look at them on a biological level. But, alas, 2013 is the year of the mollusc war.
How do you protect your plants from slugs and snails? Any tips….feel free to share them in the comments.
I don’t know whether it’s just my patch but this year the garden has become rather void of butterflies. I’ve probably seen just one common cabbage white fluttering overhead, and the other day I raced into the garden as I noticed an admiral gently flitting about the escallonia. Other than these two guests, I’ve been left seriously wanting. On the plus side, attracting wildlife into the garden has proved successful in other areas, with the small pond that I set up earlier this year bringing in my first juvenile frog. The foxgloves have been sending the bumblebee’s absolutely wild, and every time I wander down the garden the sharp buzzing of a bee caught inside a flower resonates loudly. And as the foxgloves die over there are plenty of geraniums to feed eager mouths.
I’m hoping that the buddlia, also known as the butterfly bush for obvious reasons, will attract a host of these beautiful butterflies. They can be rather unsightly plants, and very easily get out of control after a few years unless you dramatically prune back every autumn. Mine was in fact earmarked for removal, until last year a vivid whir caught my attention. A single hummingbird moth popped in for a five minute feed, a moment that almost had me as excited as when the flock of waxwings stopped by earlier this year. And now, laden down with flowers about to open, I’m hoping that hundreds of thousands of buds will be attracting wildlife in various forms.
Meanwhile, the shield bugs are most definitely enjoying the garden. Whilst these sap suckers are pests, I find it hard to dislike a bug as wonderfully weird and exotic as it is. Bugs of all types really grab my attention, their metallic looking thoraxes, spindly antennae, roving machine like eyes. They’re amazing creatures if you actually pay close attention to them and I’m afraid, for all the sap sucking these bugs may do, as long as I don’t have a infestation then they’re welcome to stay as long as they like – though, after what these two are up to, I may more than I bargained for soon.
Many readers of my blog or twitter will know of my ongoing battle with vine weevils. Their population seems to have soared in recent years, and with the hugely devastating consequences that they can have upon plants, I’ve made them a number one enemy. However, whilst battling these foes, it is important to remember that our friends the bees need as much help as possible. And therefore, the use of compost containing vine weevil pesticide should be strictly avoided. (Honey, Bumble and Mason bee’s are all at risk – picture above).
It’s at this time of year that I start preparing the borders of my own garden, and clients, for that splash of winter colour. Cyclamen, ready to burst into flower during the bleak, cold months of the year are a particularly tasty morsel for vine weevil grubs. As are primulas and polyanthus which are so commonly used in the late winter and early spring season to provide some vital garden cheer. And with such plants providing an important palette of colour during grey and dismal weather, the importance of saving them is high. However, with fat, white vine weevil grubs chewing their way through root, after root, after root, the stunning winter display can quickly wither and fade to nothing and once the effects are seen above the surface, there is little that can be done to save plants.
But, far higher above the priority of a few plants, is the importance of bees. Without them, the entire human population is doomed, for pollination of our cereal crops, fruits, animal feeds, would all but halt. And I for one enjoy the blissful sound of a bustling worker drone on a quiet summer’s day as it gathers nectar for its hive. However, the use of neonicotinoid pesticide in vine weevil composts has been raised as a possible reason for ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ in bees, and therefore should be avoided at all costs. Though not proven, several European countries including Germany and France have already prohibited its use in compost. Largely due to concerns over its role in the horrifyingly quick decline of honey bee populations. And as much as despise the wandering weevil, my friend the bustling bee is far more important.
So rather than opt for a pesticide, I’m afraid it’s back to basics. Destroy all compost and plants that have come into contact with the weevils. Place ‘trap’ plants, such as the ones mentioned above, between other vulnerable plants to entice greedy mouths away. Squish all adults you see. And whilst carrying out this labour intensive exercise, remember that bee queens and their colonies will be eternally grateful for one less hazard in their lives.
London is awash. Droplets of life falling on seedlings, winding their way down panes of glass, forming rivers in the street. And whilst life’s exilir is welcomed, especially by me due to my belief that I must’ve once lived as an amphibian or other aquatic gem, the constant dribbling has all but stopped play. One can happily prune and cutback to a certain extent in downpours, but mowing (which plays a pretty big role in any garden maintanance firm) is out of commission, and working with the soil in such weather can result in the natural structure simply breaking down to form a muddy slush.
However, as I sit in bed listening to the glorious sound of a falling sky, there are still gardening things to be getting on with. Any gardener knows that to be successful it takes time, experience, and a whole load of natural wonders. Where’d we be without our birds, our frogs, or bustling hedgehogs? Knee deep in snails for starters. And as our urban landscape becomes more hostile towards our garden friends, I, along with millions of others, will be doing my best to help out where I can.
Launching a huge biodiversity drive, the RHS are doing their part with a Chelsea biodiversity garden and loads of information on how to encourage wildlife into the garden. As you may have seen, my bee retreat proved highly successful with a group of female mason bee’s last year, and the RHS have a fantastic plan on how to construct your own. Half way through my own I realised I didn’t have enough larger stemmed rods, and with imminent grey clouds I’ve put off a scavenging expedition to Epping Forest. And whilst we await the emergence of our spidery friends and red ladies, now is an ideal time to make your bee’s welcome, throw down a few logs, let that little patch of nettles grown on a little, and plan to incorporate a few more nectar delights in your patch of green this year. And, with parts of Britain expecting snow later this week, continue pampering you’re feathered friends, they’ll return the favour with a glorious dawn chorus.
*UPDATE* Please do NOT use Levington Plant Protection Compost, as it contains a pesticide which could be a contributing factor to Colony Collapse Disorder in bee’s*
At this time of year I’m largely busy creating winter planting schemes and hanging baskets/window boxes for clients. Its not hard to create a bit of colour through the bleak winters (see my top ten plants for winter) but over the past couple of years a growing prevalence of vine weevil’s has caused complete destruction to multitudes of Cyclamen and I’m afraid it’s fallen to chemical control. Much as I hate to use chemicals within the garden unless it’s completely necessary, creeping around clients gardens at night in search of beetles might lead to an arrest or two. In addition, the lack of natural predators to this weevil plague means that, unless you’re willing to lose a few ‘sacrificial plants’, the chemical’s have to come out.
You have to admire these beasts in some way. There are no males, yes, that’s right, its a fully female world for the vine weevil. Reproduction is through producing eggs without the need to fertilise, and some 1600 eggs can be laid over a two month period by ONE female. Additionally, the adults feed at night, are quick witted and hard to spot. The larve spend their entire life underground, stripping plants completely bare of all roots until it’s too late to save most. And with very few naturally occuring predators, vine weevils are having a ball!
One sex only, Female’s rule the weevil world
Eradication can be difficult. The normal nocturnal pest collection regime is particularly hard as they are difficult to spot and drop to the ground at the slightest disturbance. ‘Sacrificial plants’ can be used, i.e. those that are more preferable to the little darlings, which entice them away from favourites. Polyanthus, Primula’s and Cyclamen are particularly tasty, but if, as I am, you’re actually trying to grow these species then you have to take further action. ALL compost the plant was in MUST be thrown away, with the roots being thoroughly washed and all grubs removed. Levington Plant Protection Compost can be used to kill grubs as they hatch and begin to feed. Alternatively use Provado, a chemical insecticide which will kill the grub army in their tracks.
Grubs have all but destroyed this Cyclamen’s root system
I’m afraid I’m now truly at war with these critters, I can’t even tolerate them in small doses. However, it does remind me of a funny story from a friend about pest control of aphids. Having a very bad infestation of the sap sucking insects, my friend’s husband got terribly excited when he ordered, from eBay, pest control. £20 spent and a few days later, the mysterious parcel turned up which was going to prove to be the turning of the tides in the aphid battle. Intrigued, my friend opened the packet, shook out the ‘biological control’ only to find that her husband had spent £20 on, wait, LADYBIRDS! I could have died laughing. For that price, I might start selling Harlequin’s and become a multi-millionaire!
Most people in Britain have probably heard of the deadly battle taking place over our fertile green shores. The war is a fight to the death, and it seems already certain that Britain’s humble and native ladybirds are to take a severe bashing from Asia’s latest immigrant – the Harlequin Ladybird. Introduced as a pest control to Europe, they have spread far and wide and exceeded all expectations for their success. However, many experts are citing that they spell certain doom for native inhabitants, our iconic 7 spot, or the little orange beauty, as they both out compete and predate on Britain’s fauna.
The Harlequin invasion is in full swing
As a gardener and keen naturalist, there are stark arguments on either side of the debate. it is indeed true that the Harlequin ladybird out competes any British species, is spreading like wildfire, and also predates on the larvae, and to some extent the adults, of our own natives. Indentified by their brown legs and sometime ‘M’ shaped white plate placed before the wing cases, many are doing everything possible to eradicate the Harlequins from their area, without much success. This time of year, when they are searching for dry, warm places to hibernate they come into particularly close contact with us as, in their hundreds, they find windowsills, attic spaces, dry spots to sleep the winter away.
A native Seven Spot ladybird snacks on aphids
However, whilst some conservationists advise strongly for the eradication and destruction of this species, as a gardener I have a hard time listening. The state of my Broad Beans this year especially indicates that there is more than enough blackfly around to feed all species. A ladybird has universally, up unto now, been a gardeners friend and therefore I find it difficult, no, unbearable to even contemplate squishing one. If I notice a severe decrease in the native varieties around my gardening routes and allotment I may well change my mind, but for now I’m just going to be happy that little sweet delightful aphids are being snacked on by a growing population of brightly spotted friends.
The tiny Orange ladybird is also under threat
Friend or Foe? Well, you decide.
Roses are off course quintessentially British. The typical British garden is incomplete without a rose, whether it’s scrambling over a trellis, featured in a formal rose bed, or simply poking its blooms through a modest gap in a cottage garden delight. They repeat bloom, they smell delicious, and though relatively inexpensive they have become the world?s most tender romantic gift. Even I, who isn’t an avid fan of this British gem, have four plants in my garden. However, far be it for Mother Nature to let them get away scot free. The rose sawfly is on the attack and there’s hidden horror behind a rather innocuous looking pest.
I’ve been busily squashing these for past few years without an knowledge of their true mission. Easily spotted due to their vivid orange abdomen, the rose saw fly comes in a variety of species, albeit looking very similar. Selecting new, soft shoots, the female can be seen laying eggs into the small wound that they create. After the female leaves, this wound often becomes woody, split and bulbous typically causing problems for any shoots trying to grow above the inflicted mark. I had previously thought that this was the worst of the saw fly problem….I was grossly wrong.
Rose Sawflies are easily distinguished by their bright abdomens
This is the least of damage that the rose sawfly causes. Upon hatching, the army of freshly hatched larva march over the plant, quickly stripping leaves to all but a sorry strand of green. Moving in family groups and looking similar to caterpillars, the larvas grow rapidly as they strip the plant before moving into the soil to pupate. With up to 3 generations occurring between May and October, real and permanent damage can occur to beloved roses.
By far the easiest solution is to nip the problem in the bud by preventing the larva from hatching in the first place. Adult females, easily spotted by their yellow/orange colour, will attach themselves to roses in an attempt to lay eggs. By looking closely at growing shoots and tips, individual females can easily be squashed, as once egg laying has started the flies find it difficult to fly away. Keep an eye on the area of the rose where she was seen. If the stem starts to darken, split or turn brown cut it off several inches below the damage to prevent hatching larva spreading through the plant.
If larvas are already present on the plant, there are a number of options. If not sentimental over plants, let nature follow its course and you’ll soon notice birds taking the young away to feed to their fledglings. This does mean a certain amount of damage to the plant first though, so alternatively remove the larva either by picking off individually, or pruning off the infested stem and disposing. It’s always going to be an ongoing battle in a garden without pesticides. There’ll always be new critters moving in to replace those you’ve squashed, diced, fed to the chickens. But a little extra attention when wafting past your roses, a quick pinch here and there, and your roses will be eternally grateful!
As I’m out and about between gardening clients, allotment or just walking the streets, I often notice strange bugs and interesting wildlife. For anyone that says British fauna is not interesting, they need to stop talking and start looking. We are surrounded by creatures, even more so as we encroach on their habitat forcing them to live among us. From the larger urban foxes and snuffling hedgehogs, to the small insects such as damsel flies and ants. When you take the time to actually stop and notice, it suddenly becomes apparent just how much is actually there.
I always have my phone on me and have started to record what I see, more out of sheer curiosity more than anything else. I fact dear Leone has now started to call me Wervert (Wildlife Pervert) because I always have my phone at the ready and spend ages inspecting even the tiniest of creature. But why not? Why not appreciate life around us? We can certainly learn from it and the more you start to look, the more you will begin to notice.
I was ecstatic the other day when I found the most amazing crab spider. Having read a multitude of Gerald Durrell books when I was young, I was always intrigued by these little arachnids that sat and waited to ambush prey, changing colour to suit their habitat as they did so. And then, whilst clipping back a particularly overgrown St. John’s Wort I found it….a bright yello crab spider, the size of my thumb nail, with a damsel fly clenched in its mouth. Wonderful! The joys of urban wildlife.
It’s become a nightly ritual. As the sun sets and I put the cat out to wee (he’s not incontinent, just needs some encouraging), I grab the torch and a cup and start my daily war against pests. The slimy, creeping, hosta devastating kind. Those with motor homes and those without, all get snatched up from their juicy morsal and thrown into the cup with their friends, colleagues and others. Sitting in the upturned cup all night, trapped, unable to escape, they wait. Until morning, when I once again scurry down the garden, but this time full cup in hand, chicken coop in sight. The unfortunates that were caught the previous evening are soon gobbled down quickly and happily, and as the sun draws in again, the torch is grabbed, the empty cup retrieved and the constant battle starts again.
By far I have found that this method is the best control of these slimy beasts. Slug pellets work to some extent but leave dead, slimy masses and fill the garden with highly toxic chemicals that shouldn’t be there. Goodness only knows why we bring these toxins into our garden when a simply late night jaunt around the garden can do just as well.
Organic pest control means no pesticides, no insecticides, no chemicals of any kind, and whilst that may sound scary, nature has a funny way of taking over once these are absent. Of course, you’re not going to have outrageously un-natural petunia’s without a hole in them, your hosta’s won’t look like colinders, but fill you garden full of chemicals and you’ll have pretty plants but nothing else. No birds, no busying bee’s, no pretty red ladies devouring stray aphids. Surely leaving it to nature, and giving an extra helping hand, is the best bet?
Aphids can be controlled very easily with fairy liquid. Though of course a chemical in itself, it won’t kill all insects and made up in a mist sprayer you can simply jet your aphid colonies until their gone. Encouraging lacewings and ladybirds into the garden will also help. Make sure that when gardening you look out for them, taking care not to squash young grubs, or statically growing cocoons.
Try to leave ladybird cocoons to let your population soar
Whenever I find caterpillars in my garden, as long as they’re not an etremely large army marching over my favourite plant, I leave them. I have forgotten to prune some severely untended suckers on my rose, and under investigation discovered they were covered in caterpillars. I could have cut them, but I didn’t, and hey presto a few days later a pair of sparrows sat stripping the juicy load to take back to their nestlings.
Caterpillars will made juicy food for nestlings.
The more you encourage wildlife into your garden, or vegetable patch, the less you’ll have to do in pest control. Squat frogs and toads will relish undergrowth critters, hedgehogs will snack at slugs and snails, and even wasps will inject and carry of tiresome caterpillars to feed to their young. Take time to think about your gardening actions, kill a caterpillar colony and they’re gone, leave them and there’ll be some very thankful fledgelings.
When I first saw this amazing little beetle, I was quite taken back at how pretty it was. It was bustling along on a stalk of lavender, looking quite the showman and initially my thoughts were nothing but wonder. However, shining like a small purple striped emerald gem, the Rosemary Leaf Beetle is causing alarm to Britain?s gardeners. A native of warmer climates, the beetle was first noticed within the British Isles in 1994, and with no natural predators, has continued its march across the country. Stripping plants of their growing tips, beetles and grubs alike, can cause serious damage to Rosemary and Lavender whilst also able to grow on other herbs such as Sage and Thyme.
Laying their eggs on host plants in the late summer months of August and September, the grubs hatch after only two weeks and begin feeding. Growing to between five and eight millimetres, the greyish white grubs disappear into the soil to pupate after only two to three weeks, only to re-emerge another two weeks later as fully developed adults. Their fast life cycle means that any small colony can soon become a large mass of herb stripping pests which can put pay to most host plants, whereupon they?ll move on to the next available food source.
Docile and inactive on the host plants between June and August, these pests can often be confused for an attractive and innocent garden addition, but the damage to plants that they can be responsible for cannot be avoided. If possible, insecticides should not be used due to their dangerous effect to other, garden friendly species such as bee?s, ladybirds and butterflies. Lavenders and other similar species are a high nectar content plant and thus are a huge attraction for garden aiding species. Measuring approximately 8mm, adult beetles can easily be handpicked off of the host plant and discarded, along with their grubs which may be found on the underside of leaves. And this is the best time of year to do it, due to their present inactivity. Before they get underway with the seasonal breeding, before you’re looking for grubs and eggs too, grab the adults and feed them to your chickens!