For gardeners on the east coast – don’t forget that it is a legal requirement in some areas to remove galls from citrus trees by the end of August. Gall wasps lay eggs in main stems or fruit stalks. This forms a swelling and gall wasp larvae weaken trees. As trees may be forming blossoms, delay in pruning may reduce next year’s crop. If you haven’t done so, check citrus trees (especially grapefruit and lemons) this week and prune off any galls before adult wasps emerge to lay eggs in new shoots. Burn affected prunings or dispose of them in a sealed plastic bag. See: Citrus gall wasp
Column 8 in today’s Sydney Morning Herald stated that Sydneysiders’ kitchens have been infested by fruit flies, stating that, “They emerge from fruit and hang around all summer”. The flies referred to are not fruit flies, they are the very small vinegar or ferment flies (Drosophila). Genuine fruit flies are kept out by fly screens. Vinegar flies emerge from fruit, tomatoes, etc. as grubs (larvae) and require pupation outside the fruit in order to complete their life cycle as a fly. If these tiny pests are a persistent problem, there must be a breeding ground nearby or the kitchen needs more regular cleaning.
Vinegar flies are attracted to the smell of yeast in fermenting organic materials and drains. To eliminate the problem:
- Do not keep fruit at room temperature in warm, humid weather
- Cover compost and garbage containers
- Regularly rinse out garbage containers
- Rinse beer and wine containers before recycling
- and treat drains with an enzyme product to break down thick scum where they can feed and reproduce.
Genuine fruit flies, the Mediterranean Fruit Fly (Ceratitis capitata) and Queensland Fruit Fly (Dacus tryoni) cause a lot of destruction in gardens. They require pupation in soil after the maggots emerge from fruit. To reduce the problem of genuine fruit flies, collect all fallen fruit, put it in a sealed black garbage bag and leave the bag in the sun for three or four days to cook the larvae (and encourage your neighbours to do the same). Never put infected fruit in the compost container.
A reader wanted to know what what is causing yellowing of new leaves in her potted, dwarf lemon tree. From the photos she e-mailed, it does look like this tree has an iron deficiency, as yellowing is showing in the young leaves. This can be caused by a number of conditions:
a) potting mix (or soil) that is too alkaline from excess bio-char or calcium in the mix or fertiliser containing a lot of poultry manure
b) cold and wet soil or growing mix
c) if there is a build up of fertiliser salts from synthetic fertilisers, or
d) where there is an excess of potassium from synthetic fertilisers or over-use of seaweed liquid fertiliser.
The first thing to do is check that your pot has ample drainage. Large pots should not sit directly on a hard surface. While smaller pots usually have ample drainage holes around the sides at the base of the pots, large pots often have only one large hole in the base and this can easily become blocked resulting in poor aeration and/or a concentration of fertiliser salts if synthetic fertilisers have been used. Large pots should have pieces of tile placed under the pot to allow a small space between the base of the pot and the verandah or paving. If you notice crusting around the top of the soil line (fertiliser salts), flush the plant with clean water, once drainage has been improved.
The next step is to check the pH of the mix with a test kit. A suitable pH is important to all parts of your garden as the pH in soil or mix controls the availability of nutrients. Test kits are very economical to use and readily available from larger nurseries. If you find that the pH is above 7.2, you could repot the tree using an organic-registered potting mix as organic matter is an important source of iron. However, to do so may result in the loss of this crop of fruit.
The addition of flowers of sulphur (elemental sulphur) is the usual way to reduce pH in soils, but it is easy to overdo this in potted plants. You can apply iron chelates (the form of iron in organic compost) to the mix in the pot at the recommended rate. Citrus trees do not absorb iron chelates well through foliar spraying. Or, you can fertilise the tree with a weak solution of Multicrop’s Ecofish. This is an organic-registered liquid fertiliser that contains soluble iron and has a low pH, qhich will help to reduce the pH in the pot. Ecofish contains iron, manganese, sulphur and zinc (trace elements needed by citrus). Manganese deficiency is also caused by high pH or poorly-drained soil.
The warm, dry weather has enouraged this small native beetle (Monolepta australis) to move into gardens. As their common name suggests, these yellow beetles have a bright red stripe across their shoulders and a red spot on their wings. They arrive in a large swarm and choose one or two stressed plants to feed on. We have noticed that they frequently choose plants with white flowers. Although these beetles are only 6mm long, their sheer numbers enable them to skeletonise small to medium shrubs in a very short time before moving on to another property. Monoleptas are difficult to control because sprays that will kill the beetles will also kill beneficial insects visiting plants at the same time.
If the plant being attacked is not too large, you can get rid of these beetles by using a stick to knock them into a container of soapy water. Because of their fondness for the colour white, many beetles will drown themselves in a white container full of water left near the target shrub. (Don’t add soap to this water or it will kill bees that stop by for a drink.) The only way to protect your garden from attack by these beetles is to keep shrubs watered during dry spells, and keep the garden surface mulched to prevent moisture loss through evaporation.
Agricultural lime or elemental sulphur are recommended to modify soil pH to a range that suits healthy growth of particular plants. A reader recently asked me if “Lime Sulphur” was suitable to use around roses in her organic garden.
‘Lime Sulphur’ or ‘Lime Sulfur’ is a fungicide/pesticide formed from reacting calcium hydroxide (made from adding water to quicklime) with sulphur. It is usually applied when roses are dormant as it can burn foliage.
Hydrated lime is very reactive and should not be used where plants are growing. Lime Sulphur solution is quite alkaline (pH 10.5–11.5) and corrosive. Gloves, goggles, face masks and protective clothing must be worn as the pesticide is very irritating to the eyes, skin and respiratory passages. See the Material Safety Data Sheet for this product.
Plants are affected by diseases when they cannot get enough of the elements (including sulphur) they need for a healthy immune system either from inadequate fertiliser, or an unsuitable soil pH (because pH controls the availability of different nutrients to plants), or soil that is either too dry for the roots to absorb the nutrients, or is waterlogged and very acidic.
Although some sources state that Lime Sulphur fulfils requirements of organic gardening groups, the ‘Australian Certified Organic Standard 2010‘ lists Lime Sulphur as a restricted product and notes that it has a potential impact on beneficial insects.
My advice is to maintain a moderate amount of well-made compost in your topsoil, where compost holds all nutrients (including sulphur) close to plant roots; adjust irrigation and soil pH, and provide suitable amounts of complete organic fertiliser. In the meantime, if your plants have a serious fungal problem, I suggest you use Organic Crop Protectants’ organic-registered ‘Eco-fungicide’. It won’t damage your plants or your soil, and it is kind to beneficial insects.
Cabbage white butterflies have had a lovely time with my broccoli this year. There are several conditions that make brassicas very attractive to these pests and the brown cabbage moth. See Cabbage white butterfly.
My problem was that I inadvertently added some very alkaline compost to that area of the garden, (See recent post on compost pH) and it is taking a while for the soil to get back to a neutral pH.
After spending a week or so removing eggs, squashing tiny caterpillars, or feeding larger ones to the chooks, I remembered a tip someone gave me long ago to deter these pests but have not needed to use before. The tip was to slip the plastic clips that seal loaves of sliced bread onto the edge of some of the Brassica leaves. White seals to deter the C W butterfly and beige ones for cabbage moth. The theory being that the adult butterflies and moths will “think” that eggs are already being laid on these plants and they look for another food source for their larvae.
My broccoli plants are looking healthier already and I have not found any more eggs under the leaves, but I don’t know if the seals are working or the pests are no longer present in our area. Has anyone else tried this tip?
Nematodes that damage roots in the vege patch, are minute worm-like creatures, also known as eelworms. The female nematodes penetrate plant roots causing lumps to form on the roots, which affect the water-carrying ability of the roots. (These are not to be confused with the nitrogen–fixing lumps that form on the roots of legumes, see Fixing nitrogen). Root knot nematodes are more likely to occur in warm climates in soils that are low in organic matter, especially where a proper crop rotation has not been practiced.
Each female nematode can lay up to 2000 eggs, and numbers can multiply quickly. Give affected plants a foliar feed of seaweed extract tea. Seaweed contains plenty of potassium that helps to strengthen cell walls and improves plants’ resistance to pests and promotes root growth. Remove all weeds. Some weeds are hosts to these pests and can transfer viruses to plants.
Affected plants must not be allowed to become water-stressed. Badly affected plants will have to be removed. Make sure the soil is damp so that soil clings to the roots. Place plants (with attached soil) into a garbage bag. Seal the bag, leave in hot sun for a few days, then place it in the garbage. Do not compost these plants. Once the crop is harvested, proceed with methods for prevention (see below).
Allow 3 years between growing any member of the tomato/potato or melon/cucumber families in the same patch of soil. During this break, grow a green manure that is a ‘bio-fumigant’. ‘Bio-fumigants are green manures that release a gas that is toxic to nematodes. They are grown to knee height and chopped up and mixed through top soil, then covered with mulch. Green Harvest have seed for BQ Mulch (sown in cooler months) and cowpea (sown in warmer months) that control nematodes. Indian or brown mustard (Brassica juncea) and non-GM rapeseed (Brassica napus) are also effective bio-fumigants. Forget marigolds, they are more effective against northern hemisphere nematodes. During the 3 year break, brassicas or corn can be grown in the treated bed, if you have limited garden space.
When preparing beds, add a 5 cm layer of organic compost to the bed surface and cover it with organic mulch. Beneficial organisms in compost are pest nematode predators, and mulch keeps compost damp to allow microorganisms to work on restoring soil to health.
If new leaves on Camellia plants become thick and very pale green or pink, and the underside of the leaf starts becoming white – the plant is suffering from ‘Camellia leaf gall’. This is a fungal disease that affects tender new growth of Camellia sasanqua (and sometimes Camellia reticulata), especially in very humid or wet, shady conditions. Fungal diseases are a sign that growing conditions are stressing your plants and their immune system is compromised. There is no organic or chemical treatment for this disease. However, an application of seaweed extract tea will help to strengthen the cell walls of the affected plants and make them more resistant to disease.
But, first the affected growth must be removed, preferably before the undersides of leaves develop white spores. You will need a baked bean tin containing about 5 cm of methylated spirits to sterilize secateurs blades, and a large garbage bag for the prunings. Prune off all affected growth (swish the open secateurs in the spirits often while pruning) and place it directly into the garbage bag. Also collect in the bag any fallen leaves as they can harbour the fungal spores that will activate this disease again when conditions are suitable. Seal the bag and put it in the garbage if you are unable to burn the leaves. Do not compost them. Then give the soil around the plants a drink of seaweed extract at the recommended strength, and protect the soil surface with 3–5 cm of fresh mulch. Make sure your camellias are watered when the top centimetre of soil is dry, but afford watering the foliage. Also give the plants an annual application of compost or complete organic fertiliser and seaweed extract tea in late winter.
See below, how affected new growth appears, and close-up of affected leaves.
There are hundreds of types of fungi that cause ‘rust’ on plants but each type has a limited number of host plants so that your whole garden is not likely to be overrun by rust.
Rust can occur in various seasons but it does need moisture to grow. It typically causes yellow or brown markings on upper surface of leaves, and small yellow or brown powdery growths on the underside of leaves. The powdery substance consists of fungal spores that can be blown about by wind, infecting other plants that are susceptible to that type of rust fungus.
Below, on the left, are pictures of rust on the underside if a frangipani leaf and typical signs of rust on grasses. Some leaf markings can be confused with fungal diseases. On the right are pictures of hail damage on a cycad and spores on the underside of a fern frond – which is how ferns reproduce.
Basically, rust diseases are a sign of malnutrition that produces an unsuitable pH on the leaf surface. Plants, like humans and animals, are more prone to diseases when they have a poor diet, and rust diseases can be avoided by keeping plants growing vigorously – but this is not always possible in extreme weather conditions. Sulphur or copper are the usual treatments for rust. Both of these are nutritional elements that can be supplied by various fertilisers, including seaweed extracts. Seaweed also contains plenty of potassium that strengthens cell walls, sulphur, and trace elements (including copper) that boost plants’ immune systems.
For mild cases of rust, remove damaged parts of the affected plant and burn these, or dispose of them in a sealed plastic bag. Don’t ever compost them, as the spores may not be killed. Then give the plant a foliar feed of seaweed extract tea and water some into the ground over the root area. Improve your fertilising program using a complete organic fertiliser.
For deciduous plants, rake up and dispose of dropped leaves to avoid reinfecting the plant. Apply the seaweed tea at bud swell.
For more severe cases, after removing damaged foliage, plants can be dusted with elemental sulphur (flowers of sulphur. However, as the spores are under leaves and the dust can be difficult to apply, affected plants can be sprayed with wettable sulphur in cool weather only, as sulphur will damage plants when temperatures are over 24 degrees Celcius. Be aware too, that sulphur will also kill pest predators. If these are present on affected plants, apply chamomile tea (one tea bag to 500 ml water) instead.
Many parts of Australia are experiencing flooding, while West Australia is experiencing extremely hot weather with bushfires in the south, so looking after the garden is the least of their problems. My sincere sympathy to all those affected by these extreme weather events, many of whom are facing heart-breaking work to rebuild their lives.
For those of us who are fortunate enough to still have gardens, the prolonged wet conditions provide the perfect conditions for downy mildew to flourish. A set of three conditions (10:10:24) is necessary for downy mildew to establish – a minimum of 10 mm of rain, a temperature higher than 10 degrees Celsius, and foliage that stays wet for more than 24 hours. It is also more likely to affect plants that are stressed for some reason, and where there is poor air circulation. This group of fungal diseases produce pale green or yellow spots on the upper side of leaves, and white-grey furry patches on the underside of leaves of a wide range of plants, including cucurbits, the cabbage family, lettuce, onions, peas and grapes (starts as oily spots). Different species of the fungi infect different varieties of plants, so that downy mildew on your cauliflowers does not mean that other vegetables in your garden will be affected.
The best thing you can do is remove badly damaged foliage and dispose of it in a sealed plastic bag – compost it! Then give soil around affected plants a drink of seaweed extract tea at the strength advised on the label. A good potassium content in seaweeds strengthens plants cell walls helping plants to build resistance to diseases.
Spray remaining leaves with 100 mls milk in 900 mls water (to make 1 litre of spray), and add a good pinch of bi-carbonate of soda (baking soda) for every litre of spray. Full cream milk works best because the fat content helps the spray stick to the leaves, and full cream, organic milk is even better (according to some gardening gurus) – if you can spare it. Milk and bi-carb are not fungicides, but they produce unsuitable conditions on leaf surfaces for the fungi’s survival. Spray leaves early in the day, and repeat every four or five days until mildew clears.
Downy mildew tends to disappear as weather becomes drier because it needs constant humidity. However, powdery mildew needs high humidity, but not wet weather, to establish and will continue to flourish after weather becomes drier. Powdery mildew is caused by an entirely different genus of fungus and treatment for that disease can be found here.
P.S. When spraying – be careful to avoid these tiny fellows below – the adult and larva of the Fungus-eating Ladybird.