Anna Pavord's A to Z of pests and problems: Q and R are for quarrels, rain and red spider mites

 

Quarrels

Who left weedkiller in the watering can? Who mowed over the primroses? Who forgot to open the greenhouse door? These kind of quarrels are easier to get out of the system than more insidious arguments. Can you plant a magenta geranium next to a yellow potentilla? Should there be scillas or grape hyacinths under the Magnolia stellata? You could compromise on puschkinias. Or divide and rule over separate areas of the garden.

Rabbits

In North Africa and Spain, where rabbits were first invented, they were presumably content with whatever herbage lay to hand. Now they have acquired expensive tastes. They turn away from succulent grasses, gourmet dandelions, melting sow thistles and feast instead on our pinks and violas. If they helped with the weeding from time to time, they would be most welcome to share the garden, but their targets are cruelly chosen.

The problem with rabbits is that once they start, they can't stop. If they actually ate all the flowers they bite off, it would be easier to take. But they don't. Pinks (a favourite target) are scissored off and left to wilt. Bulbs such as triteleia and allium lie beheaded on the path.

Now, I cover all the pinks with openwork bamboo cloches (you can get them from Andrew Crace on 01279 842685 or andrewcrace.com), but the best defence against rabbits is an intelligent dog. Or a cat. I tried to lure over our neighbour's cat, a tom and a good hunter, but he was too busy dealing with squirrels and wasn't interested.

Another solution is to turn to Graham Stuart Thomas's list of rabbit-proof plants (it's in his Perennial Garden Plants published by Dent in 1990). Alchemilla (yawn), bergenia (never in a millionf years), pampas (I'm not that desperate), mallow (coarse beyond bearing), sedum (oh help – I'm saving that for my nineties). No – I'm being unfair. There are some superb plants in the list: crinum, helianthus, epimedium, peony. The answer is to plant more of the stuff that rabbits don't like.

Rain

There's either too much of it or too little. Last year the rain was catastrophic. This summer, in our neck of the woods, there's been practically none. It's odd to go into autumn with rock-hard soil. But for plants (as well as the pocket), rainwater is a better option than tap water. Collect as much as you can from roofs. Plastic water butts are cheap and can be linked together, if you've got enough space. Plants in a greenhouse will need more watering than plants outside, so it makes sense to have one of your water stores close by. We have a galvanised trough 90cm x 45cm by 40cm deep, fed from the greenhouse roof. It's not covered, as it's much quicker to dip a can than to wait for it to fill from a tap.

Red spider mite

Red spider mites are most likely to be a nuisance in conservatories, greenhouses and polytunnels. They feed on the leaves of peaches and nectarines, cucumbers, tomatoes, aubergines, chillies and other greenhouse crops. Although only about 1mm long, they quickly build up into huge colonies. Each female can lay up to 100 eggs and only eight days later the eggs are adults. They feed by sucking sap from plants so leaves become mottled and bleached, then die. When the mite is deeply entrenched it'll start spinning fine webs over plants.

They are at their most active between June and September and thrive in hot, dry environments. 'Damping down' your greenhouse (hosing the floor to increase humidity) is one of the simplest ways to ward off red spider mite. If they are already with you, then try a biological control, in this case another, bigger mite (Phytoseiulus persimilis).

These work most effectively in temperatures around 20C/68F and positively thrive in high humidity (another reason for damping down a greenhouse). They are extremely effective predators as they will feed on their prey at any stage, juvenile or adult. In the right conditions, they also reproduce almost twice as fast as the red spider mite.

Replant disease

This is the reason that gardeners are told not to put a new rose bush where an old one has recently been growing. The new plant never develops a proper root system and struggles, then dies. Cherry trees, apples, peaches, pears and plums (all members of the same family – Rosaceae) are also susceptible.

The current theory is that soil pathogens build up slowly round the old plant, but it survives them because it can outgrow them. But when a young plant goes into the same position, a big population of pathogens is already waiting for it and the newcomer is not robust enough to fight them off.

You can make a new planting hole, at least 60cm/24in across and 30cm/12in deep. You can line the new hole with a cardboard box with the bottom folded back. You can add bonemeal or hoof and horn to give the plant a boost. You can add mycorrhiza (good soil organisms to fight the bad ones). And you may be able to buy your plant on a rootstock that shows some resistance to the disease (apples on M27 stock; cherries on 'Colt' stock). Be prepared to accept that none of these measures will overcome the problem.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
News
peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
Voices
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum