Ewen's garden

A collection of columns, paintings and photographs about gardening on an offshore island in New Zealand.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Prickly cactus with pink noses

This last week has seen some warm weather and sunshine, made me imagine it might be nice to be sitting on a beach, letting the warm rays wash across my winter weary body. But naturally work meant this thought stayed firmly planted in the imagination. In the plant kingdom though things are already on the move, large weeping willows, only very recently rid of the last of their leaves, have burst forth their season’s foliage, the same goes for some varieties of grape.
A quick turn about the garden this morning, in a sou’west gale, has hinted winter may not yet be over. To my surprise I noticed a tall prickly cactus, with a strange hirsute appearance, planted earlier in the year from a branch from someone else’s garden, has flower buds all the way up, like small pink noses. I am interested to see what these flowers are like. I have never seen it in bloom, so am pleased and looking forward to finally seeing them. This cactus was left standing in some bark before being planting into a sandy/gritty soil mix. In this way the base of the stem had time to dry and not rot, which may have happened had I planted it immediately into the garden. I recall during my apprenticeship as a gardener, we used to use flowers of sulphur to help prevent the bases of cuttings of succulents from rotting.
Other things I noticed on my tour were my roses, now in need of pruning, not a major job, as I only have two, both ‘Margaret Merrill’. This a beautiful pure white rose with a deep rose scent. It is a hybrid tea rose and as such needs pruning at this time of year. The other rose I have is an old fashioned rose, ‘Tuscany Surprise’, this rose only flowers once in November, with very dark red double blooms also with that wonderful rose scent. This rose is therefore pruned after it has flowered in order to promote new seasons growth, for it is on the wood produced this summer that next spring’s flowers will be borne. I also noticed one of my roses is not in very good condition, having scale insect up its stems, caused by the over rampant heliotrope growing adjacent to it, smothered the lower parts of the rose. I suspect the Argentinean ants will have helped to make things worse. These little, over zealous beasts, spread the insects from plant to plant. They are farmers, manipulating the insects to encourage them to produce honey dew which they collect and take back to their nest. The ants will farm most sap sucking insects, (sap sucking really is a misnomer, as the insects really just plug into the sap and the natural force of the plant sap pushes more sap than the insect needs into them, the excess passes through them to emerge as honey dew) including aphids. So be ware the trail of ants marching up and down the stems and trunks of your plants, they are more than likely to be off to harvest their honey dew bounty. I use and insecticide and oil spray, not something a like to do, but at least I have an organic spray which seems to work. Another sign of the insects being about is black sooty mould, a black powdery coating on leaves. This is a fungus which grows on honey dew dripped down from the insects above. Generally this will not harm your plants too much; however it will inhibit photosynthesis so is best to be avoided if possible.
So with some outdoor chores still to do and a cold wind blowing, I am blithely sitting inside writing! Just a couple of messages; The Waste Resource Trust, is holding a free workshop on composting at the Morra Hall, Saturday 18 August, 10:30 to 12:30. In the afternoon is a working bee at the Waiheke Primary School gardens, 1:00 to 4:00 to help with compost, digging holes for fruit trees and other jobs.

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