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.
Photos courtesy of A. Lavick.
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.
Another post about roses this morning, but this is a problem that can affect the entire garden. Amy in WA is having trouble with ‘twenty-eight parrots’ nipping leaves and new growth from her treasured rose bushes. I understand how annoying some parrots can be as sulphur-crested cockatoos used to bite through the stems of my flowering flag irises and leave the garden littered with damaged flowers.
Twenty-eight parrots are a sub-species of the very inquisitive Port Lincoln parrot that inhabits south-western and central Australia. Amy has tried a variety of methods of deterring these pesky parrots and is now resorting to netting the roses but wants to be able to access the plants.
To be effective in protecting foliage and crops from large birds, the netting will have to sit at least 20 cm clear of the foliage and be strongly supported. We have found that hoops of 49 mm flexible irrigation pipe are very effective supports for netting (and shadecloth), and allow access to crops for watering, progressive harvesting, feeding etc. The arches are left in position permanently so that plant protection can be provided quickly when needed.
To make the hoops, measure across the area you want to protect and add 40 cm to the width (20 cm clearance each side) to give you the width (diameter) of the arch. Use a calculator to multiply this measurement by 1.6. The result is the measurement of an arch of that width. Add 75 cm to that measurement to allow for slipping the ends of the arch onto wooden garden stakes as shown in the photo. For example, if the bed is 120 cm wide, adding 40 cm gives you a width of 160 cm. Multiplying 160 by 1.6 equals 256 cm; adding 75 cm equals 331 cm, but 330 cm, or 3.3 m. is close enough. Pipe is cut into 3.3 m for each hoop.
If you also want to make shadecloth covers for beds see: Sun and heat protection
P.S. Someone advised me that attaching a large ‘red nose’ (these were produced for vehicles for ‘Red Nose Day’) to a fence near the irises would keep the cockatoos away as they think there is a large eye watching them – and it worked! They didn’t bother my garden again. These ‘red noses’ are no longer available but you could try painting an old basketball bright red, or using a red balloon on a string.
Joanne in S.A. is having problems with budworms attacking her roses. Budworms are caterpillars of the Helicoverpa moth family (previously called Heliothis moths). These destructive pests also attack stressed plants of sweet corn, tomatoes, a range of other fruits and vegetable plants and ornamentals.
The moths lay their eggs at night on young foliage close to fruits or flower buds and the young caterpillars feed on the foliage first before moving into buds or developing fruits. After several weeks of feeding, the caterpillars burrow into the topsoil beneath the plant and pupate until rain that produces a burst of new plant growth will signal an opportune time for adult moths to emerge from pupa cases and lay eggs. If you netted plants after the first moth attack, they won’t be protected from further attacks because the pupating moths will be inside the netting.
The first thing to do is remove all damaged buds, fruits/vegetables and caterpillar-infested young foliage and give them to the chooks or dispose of them in a sealed plastic bag – not in the compost heap. Then spray young foliage near buds and fruit with a registered organic treatment that is effective against this moth larvae. Nature’s Way Caterpillar Killer and Naturalyte Insect Killer are a couple of examples. Check daily for individual eggs laid on young foliage and respray when necessary, or after rain. The caterpillars have to be controlled before they enter buds or fruit where the sprays are not effective.
Although rain stimulates egg laying, we have found that this moth only lays eggs on plants that have had a period of water stress. Plants can only absorb the elements they need for pest-resistance from damp soil, and water stress provides the conditions that make them susceptible to attack from this and other pests. Where water is in short supply, apply a 5 cm layer of mulch around your plants and use an upturned 2 litre plastic container with the base removed and the neck embedded into the top soil to apply water efficiently, directly to the root area of plants (see photo). After rain, give plants a drink of organic seaweed extract tea to assist in building disease-resistance.
An environmentally-friendly way of getting rid of stink bugs is to use a stick to knock them into a container with some methylated spirits in the bottom of it, so that you don’t have to come in direct contact with these smelly bugs that change colour from green to orange to brown-black as they grow.
However, a reader e-mailed me this week about his problem with lots of stink bugs on his orange tree that is too tall to use this method, and he wanted to know if he could spray the tree with metho, instead.
Spraying the bugs with methylated spirits would only further damage the tree. If you also have a tree affected by bronze orange bugs (stink bugs), these bugs are a sign that a tree is very under-nourished. It is probably extremely water-stressed, as plants can’t absorb nutrients from soil if it is not damp enough for the minerals to become water-soluble. Give the soil around the affected tree a thorough watering, then give it an application of complete organic fertiliser and then water in some organic seaweed tea. You haven’t said which climate area you live in. If you live in an area where water shortages are common, keep the tree pruned to a size where it can remain healthy on the amount of water that you and nature can provide.
Bronze orange bugs or stink bugs and harlequin bugs are sap sucking pests that can do a lot of damage to stressed citrus trees. Spined citrus bugs suck sap from fruit. Before dealing with these bugs, you need to don old clothes, sturdy shoes, gloves and goggles or sunglasses as bronze orange bugs eject a corrosive fluid with a vile smell when they are threatened.
Young bugs tend to cluster under the lower leaves of the trees and are easy to get at, but if trees are too large for knocking them into a tin, spread some large sheets of plastic under the tree, then use a broom stick or long pole to give the foliage a good shake and, when they drop to the ground, either squash them, or gather up the plastic and slide them into a large container with a suitable pest treatment in the bottom.
Organic-registered products such as Natrasoap (not ordinary soaps or detergents) or Eco-oil will kill these pests but they should not be used on heat-stressed or water stressed plants, or in high temperatures. However, either of these products can be used to spray stink bugs when they shelter around the base of the tree on hot days. Harlequin bugs like to shelter in weeds, and they can be sprayed where they are hiding. Get rid of weeds, particularly along fence lines to prevent re-infestation.
However, the best way to avoid these horrible pests is to take good care of your citrus trees.
Following my post on organophosphates and ADHD, one of my blog readers asked for more information about derris dust (rotenone) that has been popular with organic gardeners for pest control as rotenone is an organic pesticide made from the roots of a tropical plant. It also has a long history as a piscicide (fish killer).
Rotenone works by shutting down energy production in cells, which makes it a neurotoxin. Research linked it with Parkinson’s Disease, but this was largely discounted as the rats in the research had rotenone injected directly into their brains, which is not a very fair trial.
In 2007, the USEPA published a Re-registration Eligibility Decision (RED) assessing only the risks of contact from its use as a piscicide (i.e. swimming in or drinking treated water). The RED stated that small children and foetuses were more susceptible to the effects of rotenone.
According to Environmental Health News, researchers have found that rotenone selectively destroys dopamine-producing cells in petri dishes. (The full document on this research must be purchased).
In 2010, another study was published about research in mice that showed a progression of Parkinson’s-like symptoms after mice were fed low doses of rotenone over a period of time. The research found that concentrations in the central nervous system were below detectable limits, yet still induced Parkinson’s Disease pathology.
Australia’s APVMA has reviewed rotenone and decided that it can still be used as a pesticide. However, both Canada and the United States are phasing out the use of rotenone for everything except its use as a fish poison. In Canada, for example, rotenone could not be sold for livestock, gardening, or domestic pet use after the end of 2008, and existing stocks can’t be used after the end of 2012.
I certainly don’t recommend the use of Derris dust, but gardeners must make their own evaluations of this pesticide.
Earlier this week, ‘Today’ program on Channel 9 aired a segment about new research showing a link between organophosphate pesticides and ADHD. The research involved 1,139 children between 8 and 15 years and found high levels of organophosphate metabolites in urine of children with ADHD. This link is not surprising as organophosphates (and carbamates) are neurotoxins. These pesticides work by affecting the central nervous system, and organophosphates were developed for chemical warfare before being used as pesticides.
Both organophosphate and carbamate pesticides block the action of the enzyme acetyl cholinesterase, which regulates the transmission of nerve messages. Well-established research has shown that chronic exposure to organophosphates induces neurological dysfunction. Children are more susceptible to all toxins, including neurotoxins.
Separate research has linked pesticide exposure with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Included in the suspects is the very popular Derris dust, which has also been found to be a neurotoxin.
‘Today’ presenters advised that all fruits and vegetables should be carefully washed before eating. Good advice to be sure, but advice that misses the point that some organophosphate pesticides commonly used on food plants are systemic. Systemic pesticides enter the sap system in plants, are distributed to all parts of the plant, and can’t be washed from our food. As a lot of our food is now imported from countries with differing standards for pesticide regulation, we have no way of knowing whether or not our food contains systemic organophosphates. AQIS carries out testing on only a tiny percentage of imported foods.
Write to your federal Member of Parliament requesting a ban on the use of systemic organophosphate pesticides in local produce, and improved inspections and standards for imported foods. Remind your Member of the cost to the community in treating the problems caused by these pesticides. Where possible, buy organic produce for your children, and grow as much as you can using organic methods. It will not only be healthier – you will notice it tastes better, too.
In hot, dry weather the 26 or 28-spotted ladybirds can do a lot of damage to the vegetable patch. Plants can only absorb nutrients from the soil as water-soluble ions. As soil dries out, vegetable plants are unable to absorb the nutrients they need to produce the compounds that deter pests, and these troublesome ladybirds can move in, feeding on leaves until only a network of veins remain. The larvae (pictured below) tend to feed on the underside of leaves while the adults feed on the upper sides of leaves. Badly damaged eaves can become papery, and brown. Their favourite foods are the cucurbit or squash family, which includes the melons. They can also attack, bean, potato and tomato plants.
The problem with using sprays to get rid of these pests is that whatever will kill them will also kill the beneficial ladybirds that help keep many garden pests under control, including the bright black and yellow ladybird that eats powdery mildew and other fungi. Fungus-eating ladybirds are often seen wandering over leaves of the squash family.
The Brisbane Insects website now has a field guide to ladybirds to make it very easy for you to identify whether the tiny creatures crawling on your plants are pests or ladybird larvae, which come in a range of colours and shapes.
Click here: Ladybird Field Guide
The best way to solve the problem of 26 (or 28)-spotted ladybirds is to knock the adults and their larvae into a soup tin with some methylated spirits in the bottom of it. Also scrape off the eggs, which can be found in a cluster on the underside of leaves (see photo below).
Then give the foliage and soil around the plants a generous drink of seaweed extract tea, to supply potassium and trace elements plants need to build resistance to pests, because only stressed plants are attractive to pests. Ensure the plants have sufficient fertiliser for healthy growth, and that the soil is not too acidic or too alkaline. Water the plants thoroughly, under mulch, when the top cm. of soil is dry, rather than giving them a lighter, daily watering. If drought conditions are making it difficult to spare enough water, you can help deter them by spraying both sides of the leaves with chilli spray, but you will need a lot of chillis. The solution is – 2 cups chillis to 2 cups of water. Chop chillis finely while wearing gloves. Steep them in water for an hour, strain mixture, and spray liquid over leaves. (Garlic spray can be used as a deterrent but breaks down quickly in hot weather.) Finally, get rid of any blackberry nightshade plants. These act as a host for this little pest. See:Blackberry Nightshade
Eggs and larvae of the 26 (or 28)-spotted ladybird.
Temperatures between 11-28° C. and excess humidity (without rain) can provide suitable conditions for powdery mildew spores to become active, especially on plants have been affected by drought, or are under-fertilised.
Powdery mildew spores are carried by air and, once active, will continue to spread in dry conditions. This fungal problem affects a wide range of fruit, vegetable and ornamental plants. In most plants, it shows as a dusting of grey-white powder on foliage, and distortion or puckering of new leaves. The infection often begins on the underside of leaves. On mangoes, fruit develops brown to purple patches, and grey patches on papaws. Apples develop light lines across the surface of fruit.
Preventative spraying with wettable sulphur is not recommended because sulphur is damaging to beneficial insects that keep pests under control, and a pest outbreak will often occur after spraying or dusting with sulphur. Sulphur will also damage plants if applied to plants that are short of water, or when temperatures are above 30° C.
Powdery mildews are usually caused by Oidiumspp. fungi, and can be controlled by organic powdery mildew treatment or applications of German chamomile tea. For each 500 ml of spray required, steep one teabag in a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes, then dilute to 500 ml with cold water. Remove and destroy severely affected leaves, then spray the rest of foliage early in day so that leaves have time to dry before nightfall. Don’t forget to spray both sides of leaves.
Powdery mildew is common where plants are deficient in potassium and some trace elements, as when the plants have exhausted their supply of fertiliser, or when they cannot absorb nutrients because soil is too dry. Seaweed extract is rich in both potassium and a range of trace elements (including sulphur), and spraying foliage with seaweed tea can be effective against powdery mildew, not because it kills the fungi, but because it quickly provides the nutrients plants require to resist these fungi.
To avoid this problem in future, ensure that fruits and vegetables have adequate complete fertiliser to last them through harvesting, including an annual application of seaweed extract tea to soil around plants. also ensure that they receive adequate water for steady growth but avoid overhead watering. It is difficult for some gardeners to understand that good cultivation practices can prevent pest and disease problems but it is true. The pea plants in the photo only developed powdery mildew after I had collected pods for seed and I had ceased to water them.