Spring Gardening Tips: Pests and Diseases

Pests and disease are a challenge for any gardener. It’s important to remember that it’s actually quite easy to do some preventative steps to discourage pests from entering your garden in the first place. Another benefit from doing this is that you will be less likely to reach for that oh-so-toxic spray so you can have a much lower impact on the environment.

1. Buy good quality plants and position them in the correct soil and site.

Below is a quick list of the key things to consider in this respect with three suggested plants for each type:
* Acid soil - Rhododendron, Camellia, Calluna
* Alkaline soil - Acanthus, Clematis, Fuschia
* Sandy soil - Achillea, Lavandula, Wisteria
* Clay soil - Forsythia, Rosa, Viburnum
* Dry shade - Cyclamen, Vinca, Iris Foetidissima
* Moist shade - Bergenia, Erythronium, Digitalis
* Sunny sites - Hypericum, Santolina, Aster
* Exposed sites - Crocus, Dianthus, Berberis

2. Avoid close planting
If air circulation is poor, plants are more prone to diseases. Check the instructions on the plant you have purchased or ask your nursery for more information.

3. Companion planting
The idea here is that you plant groups of similar vegetables together in a different part of the garden each year because certain plant combinations can ward away pests. For example, the smell of onion and garlic confuses pests which keeps them away from carrots that are planted nearby.

4. Rotate your vegetables
Crop rotation is about moving your vegetables around to avoid a build-up of problems in the soil. If the soil never moves, pests and diseases can often remain for years and are likely to reproduce quickly. After you have done your companion planting scheme, you need to follow a rotation system so that pests and diseases can’t build up in the soil. For example, you might be growing zucchini, cucumber and pumpkin in a bed of rich, organic soil. You harvest them in Autumn and get the soil ready for the next growing season so that it is acidic and you can now plant tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants together in that same bed. The longer the rotation period the better - it will depend on the size restrictions of your backyard.

5. Prune properly
To reduce humidity, prune to create an open-centred crown or branch system. Be sure to remove infected stems.

6. Good hygiene counts
Clear away debris and clean containers thoroughly with hot, soapy water.

7. Feed and Water plants correctly
Research and understand how much feed and water your plants require as this will encourage healthy plants where pests and diseases are less likely to grow.

8. Water wisely
Remember that stagnant water can be powerfully inviting to insects because it will encourage them to breed so keep a look out for any collections of water in your garden and get rid of it promptly. Don’t over-water your plants and water seeds, seedlings and young plants with mains water rather than from a butt or tank as insects can often breed within the tank. If you would like to water using your butt or tank, there are some accessories you can buy that are designed to cut down on pest infestation.

9. Introduce beneficial insects
The idea behind this is to get rid of the bad insects by introducing the good. Many insects pray on pests or use pests as the host for their young so they can act as a form of biological pest control. Ladybirds, spiders, centipedes, lacewings and hoverflies all eat aphids and other pests. To encourage these creatures to come into your garden, you might try growing flowering herbs as these flowers attract parasitic wasps that like laying their eggs into grubs, aphids and other pests in the garden. When the egg hatch, the larvae feast on the host. Examples of flowering herbs that are fennel, parsley, coriander and Queen Anne’s Lace. These herbs also attract ladybirds. You can also consult on a nursery for further advice on how to introduce beneficial insects into your garden.

These flowering herbs will also encourage ladybirds, which also enjoy chewing on aphids. If you sow your beneficial herb mix but still don't get any good insects, you might need to buy them in, try mail order, the Internet or even some nurseries.

10. Inspect plants regularly and treat problems immediately.
This might sound obvious but sometimes it’s easy to forget about things like the compost heap, which if not regularly inspected, can bring disease back into your garden.

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