Tuesday, 25 July 2017

an unwelcome discovery

I finished moving the Tithonia on into bigger containers, so they are now in 27cm diameter pots and we shall see how that works.  They had made a lot of roots in their old pots, and I am coming to the view that they are better with plenty of space, plenty of water, and probably plenty of food.  In contrast one of the Zinnia 'Queen Red Lime' had collapsed over the past few days, and I'm pretty sure that was because it got too wet, from the spells of very heavy rain as much as from my over watering it.  Luckily I had one plant left in the greenhouse, still in its two litre plastic pot, so I was able to substitute that for the dying one.  It looks as though with Zinnia you want to keep the pot on the small side, and try to keep them from getting soggy.

I potted on the Nicotiana mutablis by the front door, all except one because I ran out of the right size pots, and then I made a very unwelcome discovery about the fuchsias.  I have been fretting since mid spring when they came back into growth that most were not bushing up as well as I'd like.  They produced leaves, and some flowers, but not many new shoots, and as the summer went on the rate of production of leaves and flowers started to tail off instead of gaining momentum.  I wondered if I had fed them too little, or too much, or with the wrong kind of food and they didn't like Vitax Q4, or if they had been too wet on average, or allowed to get too dry between waterings in the hot weather.

This afternoon as I was picking off the fallen flowers and snipping off the fruits from those that set berries I noticed a distorted shoot tip.  Peering over the top of my safety spectacles, my nose pressed up close to the foliage so that I could see, I found more misshapen growth, stems fattened and flattened, leaves stunted, flower buds distorted.  I went and checked the symptoms on the internet, but I was already pretty sure what I'd got, fuchsia gall mite.  It is a relatively new pest in the UK.  The RHS magazine had warned that enquiries about it were rocketing up their league table of most asked about pests and diseases, so I suppose that like Hemerocallis gall midge it was only a matter of time before it found its way here.

I felt quite cast down anyway, a sort of Vissi d'arte gardening moment.  Here I am trying to mind my own business and remain mostly harmless, diligently concocting cheese puddings out of stale bread and cheese to avoid wasting them, still wearing t-shirts that are a quarter of a century old because they have not actually dropped to bits yet, solemnly sorting out the recycling every week, and taking all my holidays in the UK instead of flying.  Why does the ungrateful earth have to unleash a debilitating foreign fuchsia pest upon my garden when I have been decorating my particular altar with flowers with sincere faith?

It is a tiny, tiny mite, resistant to any pesticide available to amateurs, and in any case since fuchsia flowers are attractive to bees you wouldn't want the whole plant laced with pesticide.  I threw out the two worst affected small plants, snipped off every dodgy looking shoot I could see on the others, and sprayed them all with an organic soap based treatment.  The soap will kill those mites it envelops by physical smothering, but they are so small and tucked away in the crevices of the plants that it won't touch all of them.  All I can do is keep trimming out visible damage and soap spraying at frequent intervals, and see if I can get on top of the problem.  In the autumn I shall cut all the fuchsias down very hard so that I get rid of most of the infected material, and hope that they shoot back from ground level in the spring.  Then I had better get going at once with soap spray, and if there are still mites then bin the fuchsias.  That would be a great shame, as I am very fond of fuchsias and had just started to build up a little collection.  It is sheer chance that I didn't buy more recently.  I was all set to put in another order with Other Fellow Fuchsias when the variety I particularly wanted went out of stock and I decided to leave it for the time being.

On a happier note, the replacements arrived for the five primula that should have been orange but all flowered purple.  As the driver hunted for the right box in the back of his van he said that the garden was lovely, he really liked the way we'd done it though it must be a lot of work.  He sounded as though he meant it, and I was deeply touched.  Somehow I hadn't expected a young man driving a white van to be interested.

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