By Patricia Jordan
There was a somewhat worrying article in the January edition of the British magazine Gardeners’ World, which should be of concern to us all. It was about shop bought fruit and vegetables and the residue of pesticides left on them when we buy them. Apparently, no amount of washing will rid them of this plague. Apples and pears are the two worst offenders with something in excess of 90% of chemical residues on them. Grapes and strawberries came next in line, with prunus fruits (apricots, peaches and nectarines) closely following. Vegetables took the next seven places, with peas the least polluted – perhaps that is because they are tucked away inside their pods, which are generally discarded!
I think that the main aim of the article was to encourage readers to grow their own fruit and vegetables, in order that they could ensure the use of insecticides and fungicides is kept to a minimum. Not everyone has the luxury of a plot or garden in which to grow plants, but salad vegetables and herbs can be grown in pots on verandas and patios, and are easy to tend and keep weed and bug free. I am always encouraging people to have a compost heap or bin, where green material and paper shreddings can be dug into the ground, when the heap is mature. This saves having to use chemicals. Banana skins and wood ash provide potassium helping to promote flower growth. So, do what you can to protect your families by growing your fruit and veggies with as few artificial fertilisers and insecticides as you can, and keep your tools clean.
Last month I wrote about the need for a licence to purchase various garden chemicals now, and I promised to look into what we could use instead. A reader in Erimi emailed me to say that she is now using Neem-Azal T/S with great success against leaf miners, aphids and the dreaded mealy bug, which has rampaged its way across the island during the last three or four years. Having looked into this claim, I discovered that oil extracted from Neem tree fruit and the kernels (grown in the wild in India and in cultivation in Australia and related to the Meliaceae family), has great healing properties, but can be noxious to animals and humans unless the harmful Aflatoxin is first removed. Scientists in Germany have produced this second generation Neem by removing the Aflatoxin and mixing it with an organic vegetable oil that is safe and biological to use on plants. This is now available in Cyprus and imported by Agrolan. Harris Solomou of Solomou Garden Centre Nisou, tells me that he has some in stock and I would love to hear from readers of the successes of this biological insecticide. There should not be any mealy bugs around at the moment, but before too long they will appear.
As a result of all this research and the need for licences to buy harmful chemicals, I have revamped my ‘Bug Chart’, so if you would like a copy please email me at [email protected] and I will get one off to you.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
February can be a cold and wet month here in Cyprus, but there is such a lot to be getting on with while the ground is moist and temperatures quite low, if you are to have a restful and fruitful summer. Protect any vulnerable plants if day or night temperatures are likely to be very low. If you have a greenhouse or a cold frame, you can start to sow seeds, protecting them from the cold and wet. However, it is best to ensure that the potting compost is warm, in order to have quick germination, as seeds can rot off when the soil is too wet and cold. Never use potting compost straight from the bag, as it has probably been in there for quite some time. It needs to be broken up and aerated.
Keep cutting back foliage this month. Roses, if not already pruned, should have their final pruning now. You may find bare root roses in the garden centres in February. If you are tempted to buy some, give them a good soak and trim the roots before planting, adding a handful of slow release fertiliser to the bottom of the hole. Remember to keep the graft point just above the soil level or it will start to send out shoots from the rooting stock, which in the case of hybrid tea roses, you wouldn’t want. Feed all your roses now using a good proprietary rose fertiliser. Irises need some sterilised bone meal to help them along at this time, if you can get it. Continue dividing herbaceous plants like achilleas and clumps of tulbaghia and take cuttings whenever you see suitable material. Leonotis leonorus will give lots of cutting material, as will wallflowers and argyranthemums (see Plant of the Month), so there should be no shortage of interesting plants with which to fill your garden. Polygala and osteospermum shed seeds everywhere during the late summer and autumn and you may have to be ruthless and weed out the seedlings or you will be inundated with little plants. Annuals like cerinthe and nigella do not like to be moved once they are growing above ground, so be careful where you sow them!
There is still time to move or plant new shrubs and trees. Check the pots before you buy them and if the roots are congested and showing through the bottom of the pots, they may be root bound and probably have been in those pots far too long. Choose plants that have a few fibrous roots showing, so that you know that they are growing well. Unfortunately, you may find that some plants may have just been potted on, by which I mean they have been moved recently into larger pots and may not have yet settled in. Give them a miss, as the new compost will just fall off the plant when you lift it out of the pot. Good garden shrubs and small trees this month are Viburnum tinus and Photinia ‘Red Robin’. The latter will be showing the bright red new foliage, which is such a joy at this time of year, followed later by white frothy flowers. This month you should be feeding any fruit and nut trees again. The dosage is 900g for large trees and 300g for young trees, scattered around the roots of the tree. This month you are looking to boost the leaves and have lots of new growth, so if you can get 20.0.0 fertiliser well and good, but 19.0.0 or 21.0.0 will do the job.
Some succulents, having filled out during the winter rains will be sending up flowering stems. Aeoniums look stunning as their bright yellow flowers open up in the late winter sunshine. They contrast so well with the purple tinged leaves, which sometimes can be black depending where you grow them. These leaves and stems are able to fill with water during the winter, which sustains the plant during the long hot summer. They have the amazing ability to regenerate along the stem even if the top has been frosted or knocked off. Aloe vera and Aloe ferox flower stems appear from the centre of the huge fleshy leaves with flowers in yellow, orange or red. Agave and aloe are great plants for stabilising banks and add interest with their blue, green and variegated leaves in what could be an otherwise dull landscape.
Plant of The Month Argyranthemum frutescens
Argyranthemum frutescens ‘Summer Melody’, one of the most favoured members of the Daisy (Asteraceae family), starts to show its worth this month. The abundant, dissected, green leaves are topped with the most amazing bright pink flowers, which as temperatures rise will fade to a soft pink. Argyranthemums came originally from the Canary Islands, but this cultivar was raised in Australia, where it is sometimes known as the ‘Cobbitty Daisy’. In Cyprus, it is usually referred to as a marguerite.
Resistant to heat, it is at its best in our cool springs before temperatures rise too much. If grown in a sheltered spot, this robust plant may last several seasons, but it is generally known as a short-lived perennial, so it is best to take cuttings each season to ensure a place in your borders. If you have a veranda for a garden, then grow it in a tub or planter, but don’t let it dry out. However, it is too heavy for a hanging basket. Some liquid all-round fertiliser will help the plant grow and ensure continuous flowering. Deadheading frequently improves the chances of more and more charming flowers and if the tip ends of the stems are removed, the plant will branch out instead of becoming leggy. Argyranthemum frutescens ‘Summer Melody’ seems to resist all bugs and insects and will attract many bees and butterflies to your garden. A good plant to have!