There’s no escape from weeds and other pests

Snails are just one of the problems facing gardeners at present. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Snails are just one of the problems facing gardeners at present. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
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Gardens are at their peak right now and it’s a perfect time for floral displays, fruit picking and harvesting fresh vegetables.

Herbaceous perennials, shrubs, roses, hydrangeas, dahlias, sweet peas, annuals and other favourites abound.

It’s simply a matter of getting into the mindset and following a regular hand-weeding routine.

But just in case we get too carried away, the occasional pest or disease is lurking somewhere, just waiting to bring us down to earth with a bump – a typical English summer.

Weeds, diseases and pests are the downside of summer gardening, but I find it helps to face them in a pragmatic way.

Common annual weeds, such as chickweed, always seem to be in evidence, and no wonder.

It only takes six weeks to complete the life cycle, from seed germination to mature plant producing even more weeds.

When they are growing amongst a vegetable crop with a space between rows, hoeing can be part of the approach, but hand-weeding is still necessary.

By accepting that this and other annual weeds are going to be persistent, it’s simply a matter of getting into the mindset and following a regular hand-weeding routine.

Unfortunately, deeply-rooted perennials, such as ground elder, couch grass and mare’s tail, cannot be eradicated so easily.

Herbicides do not offer a quick-fix answer to nobbling this persistent trio, nor does covering the ground with thick, black, polythene mulch.

The most effective control is by mechanical means – digging out every scrap of root.

When such weeds grow amongst ornamental border plants you can limit the spread in summer, but it’s best to leave the big clear-out until autumn dormancy arrives.

Then you can lift each perennial in turn, bare the root system to tease out the weed, then replant.

Friend George mentioned blight on his potatoes last week – a white variety affected, the red growing nearby not so.

The catalogues list some potato cultivars as ‘blight tolerant’ or ‘blight resistant’, and Sarpo varieties are the best choice, but the disease is not so selective that it bypasses all reds. It’s probably just a coincidence.

However, it was possible to empathise with his dilemma.

In mid-July the foliage on a few plants of the early Suttons Foremost in this garden started to wilt and the top growth was cut down and disposed of immediately.

Had we not acted then, it would have blackened, fallen to the soil and infected the crop.

Far better dig the potatoes at the first sign of this disease when they have at least reached a decent size.

Once the potato tops (haulms) have stopped growing it is better to lift the tubers anyway. The longer they remain underground, the greater the risk of keeled slug damage.