Thursday, 10 November 2011

Winter and plant diseases

Ah, November, that most delicate of months. The great languid breath of damp warmth before the winter slumber of ice and fog takes hold. I am at present busy putting the garden to bed and am enjoying the task immensely.

Which plants remain intact is my choice. Some seed heads I shall leave for the birds to pick over, other plants I shall leave as they look spectacular in the first heavy frosts. Tidying leaves, mulching borders and generally making the garden change in that dramatic way only those in temperate zones can. Last year I worked in the Botanic Gardens, Singapore and was amused to see they have built a huge glass house with air conditioning - so that they too can appreciate our seasons. Although I miss the constant warmth and sun of the tropics, we are lucky. We have a growing climate which removes pest and disease naturally. Black spot disappears from our roses (burn the leaves), slugs, snails and mice go into hibernation or die, and most fungus becomes dormant. November is a time of change to be appreciated. However, there are dark clouds looming on our horizon.

I recently had a meeting with a man from FERA the government agency charged with protecting our borders from foreign pest and disease. To be frank, things are not looking good. Our obsession with cheap imports has introduced new fungus and insects, which left unchecked will not only decimate but destroy our delicate ecosystem. “Sudden Oak Death” or Phytophthora ramorum to give its correct name, is a very real threat to all our parks and gardens. This is a disease that infects and destroys a vast number of ornamental shrubs. The threat list is extensive but includes: Arbutus, Calluna, Camellia, Choisya, Magnolia, Photinia, Rhododendron and Viburnum. The list of our native trees at risk is also horrifying. For a full list, information and images please click here.

PICTURE FROM THE VICTORIA RHODENDRON SOCIETY. BC . CANADA.

This is only one disease which is a threat to plants in the UK, so it is essential we check the plants we buy for any sign of disease. Remember also many foreign insects, such as the Asian Longhorn Beetle and Thrips palmi have also found a home in our continental neighbours and are a serious threat here too. If we work together, these threats can be addressed and hopefully eradicated from our small island.

-- Guy Deakins

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