English Bluebells in a wood

Plant Health Week - Blooming Good Health

This week, from the 6th to the 12th of May, is National Plant Health Week. This reminds me how crucial it is to maintain the health of our plants and protect our ecosystems especially given the concerns about Brexit border checks and the impact on prices and cost of living.

As amateur gardeners, what can we do to keep our plants growing happily and healthily?

One of the most important things we can do is to sustain our local environments by choosing native plants for our gardens. These plants are better adapted to local conditions and support the area’s wildlife, thus helping to maintain biodiversity. I'm making a conscious effort to introduce more native plants into my garden.

When purchasing plants or seeds, I know it's important to buy from reputable nurseries or suppliers to ensure they are free from pests and diseases. Equally too if grown in the locality they are bested suited to my environs. I always make sure to buy any seeds from DEFRA registered suppliers or from UK accredited organisations for organic varieties.

I've also learned the importance of choosing the right plant for the right place. Considering the specific conditions of my garden, such as sunlight, soil type, and drainage, ensures that the plants I choose will thrive. For example, my front garden gets full sun throughout the day, while my back garden has variable shade as the sun passes over. Knowing this helps me select plants that are suitable for each situation.

Another step is to refrain from bringing back plants or seeds from other countries unless I’m absolutely certain they meet UK biosecurity standards. Although it is very tempting to bring back drought tolerant plants from more southerly climates for example, this is essential to prevent the introduction of unknown foreign pests and diseases or unwanted hybrids with our own native species. (eg Spanish vs English Bluebells)

To promote plant health and attract beneficial insects, I've started mulching my garden to conserve moisture and improve soil structure. Despite difficulties reclaiming friable ground from beneath a concrete patio, I have avoided bringing in soil. It too can carry pests, diseases, and unwanted or invasive species. Instead I have been gradually incorporating my own home compost.

I do not use any pesticides (such as slug pellets) or herbicides (weedkiller) in my garden. I have come to understand that these chemicals not only harm the pests I want to control but also affect beneficial insects and wildlife. Instead of relying on chemicals, I apply natural and organic methods of pest control, such as encouraging beneficial insects like ladybirds and lacewings, using physical barriers or companion planting to repel pests, and adopting diverse planting to prevent the build up of pest populations.  This approach not only protects the health of my plants but also supports the delicate balance of my garden ecosystem.

Good hygiene practices are vital. I regularly clean my gardening tools, pots, and other equipment to prevent the spread of pests and diseases. Additionally, I dispose of my garden waste responsibly; I utilise a ‘HotBin’ to hot compost my green clippings and foliage. I am experimenting with cold composting grass clippings separately, mixed 50:50 with shredded cardboard whilst my bags of leaf-mould are stacked up behind the garage to mature.

Vigilance is key. I've learned to inspect my plants regularly for any signs of pests or diseases, such as unusual spots, holes, or discoloration on the leaves. Early detection allows me to take appropriate action and intervene before the problem becomes too serious.

If I ever suspect an outbreak of notifiable pests or diseases, I’m aware it's important to report it to the relevant authorities, such as the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) or the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). By notifying the authorities they can monitor the problem which helps limit the spread of the problem and protects the health of flora across the UK.






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