Wednesday 30 September 2009

Pesticide update

Due to popular demand – well, a comment from The Galloping Gardener – here’s the update on the new pesticide products I've found.
The vast majority are launched by Westland Horticulture. The company’s new Plant Rescue range has a host of new active ingredients (ais). Bug Killer RTU contains two ais, which means better control – thiamethoxam (not new, but used in the company’s Bug Attack) and abamectin. Plant Rescue Fruit & Veg contains lambda-cyhalothrin and Plant Rescue Fungus Killer contains difenoconazole. The Plant Rescue range will be supported by a unique web diagnostic service, whereby you can upload images of your pests and ailments and receive a speedy diagnosis of the problem with advice on how to treat it.
Westland’s new slug & snail killer, Eraza contains metaldehyde, but only half the normal concentration - 1.5% - of other slug killers. But, due to the way the pellets are made, that 1.5% is five times more effective, so you need to use less. Good news.
Scotts Miracle-Gro introduced Weedol Rootkill Plus, which contains glyphosate plus pyraflufen-ethyl; the latter is new and makes the product more effective against stubborn weeds – always a good thing!
The bad news is that bifenthrin – an ai in loads of insect killers – is having its approval for use withdrawn from around June 2010, so that’ll remove several products from the shelves.

Wednesday 23 September 2009

No respite for garden problems

As a gardener, I love my plants and I want them to grow as well as they can - I don't want pests, diseases and weeds taking over and ruining everything. As a garden writer, I speak to lots of people whose lives are plagued by these problems and, like me, they just want their gardens to look great and don't want to spend all their time crying over spoilt displays and dead plants. We are of one mind!
In recent years, the number of pesticides available to gardeners has been slashed due to new legislation and excessive testing requirements - which cost a fortune and just aren't financially viable. As a result, some gardeners have turned back the clock and now use old remedies - most of which haven't been tested and some are absolutely lethal to man, plants and the environment - and illegal to use.
So, I'm always pleased when new products and new active ingredients ('ai' - the 'thing' that actually does the killing) are introduced, plus new technologies to ensure the amount of ai present in the product is the absolute minimum. My recent visit to Glee has revealed some of the new initiatives that are being introduced next year - and there are lots of exciting new ideas for us gardeners. Despite what some people think, these new products are safer to use than many old 'remedies' and release less ai into the environment than even so-called organic sprays.
The chemical companies are working hard to ensure they provide products that will make our lives easier, help us to enjoy the garden more and our plants look their best.
As a garden writer and someone who provides advice to gardeners and gives talks to gardening clubs on subjects like pest & disease control, weed-free gardening and lawncare, this means one thing - I need to keep on my toes and ensure I'm up-to-date with all the latest sprays and other problem-solving solutions. With 2010 just round the corner, it's time to get in touch with all the major players in the plant protection market and gen up on all their new products. I'll also be asking for product samples to show off at my talks; now where's my address book...?

Update: as for the helicopter mentioned in my last blog, it's actually a frame-mounted swinging lounger that kind of (if you have a major imagination or are on mind-altering drugs) looks like a helicopter.

Sunday 20 September 2009

Full of Glee

I've just come back from the first day of Glee - the major gardening trade show at the NEC. First impressions are that it is much smaller than usual - three halls instead of five or six and they're not cramped. I don't think it's an indication of the gardening market, I just think it's an indication that some companies are tightening their belts &/or doing business at different times or in different ways.
Anyhoo, I love going as it's a great chance to meet up with friends in the trade, find out the latest gardening trends and see what new products are being launched to tempt us into spending our money next year. Each year a lot of the new products are entered into the Glee New Products Awards (250 this year, but not all of them, as some companies just don't like doing this sort of thing - and it costs to enter!) and here are the winners just announced - hot off the press.
Garden Care: Scotts Miracle-Gro - Miracle-Gro Patch Magic (a coir and grass seed dressing for patching bare spots in the lawn)
Garden Machinery: Handy Distribution - Garden Barber (a new hedgetrimmer)
Nursery & Best Of British: John Wood Nurseries - Coprosma 'Pacific Sunset'
Outdoor Living: Suntime - Helicopter (I haven't seen this yet, but I'm sure it ain't no real helicopter!)
Landscape & Glee Special Award: Grow Camp - Grow Tent (a GYO product - raised bed, netting and greenhouse all in one)
Home & Gift: Calor - Calor Hotspot (a stylish outdoor heater)
Retail Services: Green Magic Co - Sosite Wow
Green Innovation: The Master Herbalist - Seedbed Roll (I've trialled this product this year with good results)
I'm going back on Tuesday and I must see if I can get my hands on that helicopter.
FIGO is exhibiting there and launching the FIGO flexible connector to the trade - according to owner , Sharon Wong, she's had excellent feedback so far.

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Plants on trial

How do you tell if a new plant really is all it’s cracked up to be by the producer or breeder? Probably the two best ways are to ask a large number of gardeners or give it to an independent trial company for its assessment.
Ball Colegrave, a producer of bedding plants to the trade based in West Adderbury, Banbury, holds an open day each year where gardeners can have a good look round and pass judgement on their favourite new plants. Visitors take part in the Blue Flag Test – they place a blue flag beside their favourite plant.

More than 1,200 blue flags were placed this year and the new begonia ‘Sherbet Bon Bon’ (left) topped the polls. This very showy tuberous-rooted begonia has a compact cascading habit, making it extremely suitable for patio baskets, window troughs and vertical planting schemes. It produces an abundance of two-tone yellow and pink blush flowers. The cooler the conditions, the more intense the flower colours become. It’s a ‘no-fuss’ plant, tolerating all weathers, needing little maintenance as its self-cleaning flowers mean there’s no need to deadhead.

Fleuroselect is the international trialling organisation for the ornamental plants industry. Trials are held all over the world, and each year the best new introductions in those trials are given a Fleuroselect Gold Medal. This year there were three winners.
Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Mesa Yellow’ is a first-year flowering perennial that produces an abundance of perfect yellow flowers over a long period.
Physostegia virginiana ‘Crystal Peak White’ fits into the popular, modern range of annual flowering container perennials. It shows outstanding compactness and uniformity and is early to flower.
Sanvitalia speciosa ‘Million Suns’ produces an abundance of perfectly formed, golden yellow flowers. It is compact with excellent basal branching and a longer flowering period - from May to the first frosts.
So let’s hope that these plants do as well in our gardens next year as they have done in the trials.

Sunday 13 September 2009

Problems in Essex

Yesterday I whizzed down to Chelmsford for my regular spot on Gardening Plus on BBC Essex with Ken Crowther. As usual, it was rammed full of gardening questions and problems - as well as some interesting observations.
Grow your own is still as popular as ever, as lots of questions were on fruit and veg.
As with most areas of the country, Essex is plagued with unripened tomatoes. The usual banana skin trick or putting in drawers with an apple were all suggested as remedies. And, of course, making green tomato chutney with everything that doesn't ripen. Back at Hodge Towers, I've been making a gallon or so of tomato sauce with my beefsteak and other larger tomatoes that are excess to requirements. Not that I'm showing off; they've only just started to ripen and it's too cold for salads.
Apple, pear and plum pruning questions were also popular - people just seem desperate to prune their fruit trees when, in fact, most are best left to get on with it unless it's absolutely essential.
Passionflower fruit is obviously ripening this year and listeners wanted to know if they could eat them. Well, you can, but there's not much of it in each fruit and it tastes insipid; I do know some people who make a jelly out of it - but it doesn't taste of much.
Plants dying or wilting because of the dry weather also seems to be a problem in the South East - hydrangeas and rhubarb being two that came up. Both were growing in light soils, but even heavy Essex clay soils are suffering as soil water reserves have become exhausted.
When you do Q&As you always get people who want to show off their prowess. One listener only managed to get five out of 26 penstemon cuttings to root (I said well done for getting five to root), another listener phoned in to say all 50 of his cuttings had rooted, but did impart the wisdom of his success - rooting in pure vermiculite and making 1inch long cuts down the stem to improve rooting.
The best question of the day? Is there a lawn seed mixture that is dog resistant and will tolerate urine damage?! Well, of course, ryegrass mixes are tougher than those made up from fine-leaved grasses, but they won't tolerate 'liquid dog fertiliser'!

Thursday 10 September 2009

So much is happening

I've just got back from my annual fishing trip on the Norfolk Broads with some of my old university friends, and so much has happened while I've been away.

The main story is that Inga Grimsey, Director General of the RHS, has resigned. There was an EGM at the beginning of the week and she resigned after this - the story even made the BBC Radio 4 six o'clock news bulletin. Having spoken to a few RHS staff, it seems the furore over the redundancies continues to rumble on.

Following my blog on July 25 about Japanese knotweed control, Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government are seeking views on the possible release of the psyllid, Aphalara itadori. This joint consultation is aimed at all those with an interest in the impact of Japanese knotweed on the natural and built environment, including the horticulture industry, landscape managers and contractors and people interested in the control of invasive species. If approved the release of this insect would be the first use of a non-native insect species to control a plant species in the UK and Europe. Find out more.

And now some good news. There’s further scientific proof that broccoli is good for you. Research carried out at Imperial College, London, funded by the British Heart Foundation shows that eating broccoli could help prevent heart attacks and strokes. The vegetable is rich in sulforaphane, which boosts the natural defence system that protects arteries from disease. Other brassicas also contain sulforaphane, but broccoli appears to have the highest concentration. Scientists believe eating these vegetables may slow the progression of existing disease as well as helping prevent it. Research also shows that there is a chemical in broccoli that could help to stop cells becoming cancerous. So now it's even more important to eat your greens.

Wednesday 2 September 2009

Hard graft - easy graft

I've just got back from the Suttons Press Day at Capel Manor in Enfield. Another great day, very useful and informative - thanks David, Tom and Fran.
Among all the new flower and veg seed introductions for 2010, probably the most exciting news is the introduction of a wide range of grafted vegetable plants. You may have grown some of Suttons grafted tomatoes this year, but the new range also includes sweet peppers, chilli peppers, cucumbers, aubergines and melons.
The advantage of grafted plants (that is grafting a known vegetable variety onto a known, reliable rootstock) are many, but include: healthier, stronger plants that are especially better in poor summers (2007-2009 for example!); heavier and better yields produced over a longer period (both earlier and later); better disease resistance; and plants less susceptible to nutritional disorders - although they do need more feeding with potash fertilisers, due to their strong, vigorous growth.
None of this is new. Gardeners used to regularly graft their own tomatoes back in the day, but it's difficult, tedious work, Commercially most aubergine production is from grafted plants as is the majority of organic pepper and organic cucumber production. But what is new is that these methods are now available to the home gardener as ready-to-grow plants. Okay, they may be expensive to buy (around a tenner for three plants), but apparently people have been lapping up the tomato plants this year, so these new introductions should prove just as popular.
As Tom Sharples from Suttons says: "Grafting helps make the uncertainty of growing some of these crops more certain. Those that have depended on a good summer or even having to be grown in a greenhouse to do well will now be available to everyone and produce a reliable crop."
The grafting process is also giving Suttons the opportunity to experiment. They are grafting two different tomato varieties onto one rootstock to produce a 'family tomato' plant and, due to the increased vigour, even running up two main shoots from each plant - or four from the family tomato. This not only increases yield from each plant, but also allows you to grow more in a smaller space. Good thinking.
If you've grown the grafted tomatoes this year I'd love to hear your comments.