Attack of the Mealy Bug!

What I believed to be white mould, turned out to be mealy bug.

And it’s not just in our garden – there’s an island-wide outbreak of it.

It’s affected mango, lychee, and pawpaw orchards, and well as vegetable crops, and ornamental plants.

The worst-affected in our garden were the hibiscus, gardenias, Madagascan frangipanis, pawpaw, and mulberry.

The mango tree next door is covered in it, and unfortunately, as it overhangs our Square Foot Garden bed, the mealy bugs have spread to the basil, peas and beans, by way of falling leaves and baby mangoes.

We sprayed the ornamental plants with Amidor (active ingredient Imidacloprid), and are spraying homemade white oil on the edible plants (2 parts vegetable oil shaken in a jar with 1 part dishwashing liquid, then diluted at the rate of 2 tablespoons to 1 litre of water).

We also had to radically prune some of the plants to remove the worst-affected parts.

Needless to say those prunings did not go into the compost!

Everything will need a close eye kept on it for the foreseeable future, as it’s going to be a recurring problem.

A Lesson Learnt the Hard Way

According to an article in last week’s paper, the Mauritian Government’s solution to the infestation, is to introduce a parasitic insect from India that eats mealy bugs.

Do people never learn?

In the 1930’s in Australia, the sugarcane industry in Queensland fell prey to cane-destroying beetles. The government imported cane toads from Hawaii to eat the beetles.

Unfortunately, the beetles lived at the top of the canes, and as the toads couldn’t jump more than a couple of feet, they looked elsewhere for their food source.

They ate all manner of native insects, small mammals, birds and reptiles (basically whatever they could cram into their mouths), thereby both killing the native fauna, and reducing the amount of food available to other native critters.

On top of that, they’re poisonous, so anything that ate them died.

Since then, they’ve spread from the cane fields of Queensland, down into New South Wales, across the Northern Territory, and into the north of Western Australia, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake, and well-established colonies wherever they’ve been.

Each female lays between 8000 and 35000 (!) eggs during each bi-annual breeding season, and the cane toad’s average life-span is 5 years.

In 2011, it was estimated that there were 2 billion cane toads in Australia.

There is no estimate of the number of creatures they’ve gobbled down or poisoned over the last 80-odd years.

And no-one knows how to stop, yet alone eradicate, them.

Mauritius

Mauritius is like Australia – an island with endemic fauna.

There is no telling what the introduction of this new insect will do in the long run, and the fact that, in India, it’s successful at controlling mealy bugs with no adverse effects doesn’t mean a thing – Mauritius is not environmentally identical to India.

Also, what will they eat once the mealy bugs are gone?

I’m not a greenie by any stretch of the imagination, but surely this type of thinking is short-term, and the potential for disaster, limitless.

All that one can do is to hope that a) it works, and b) the long-term impact on the environment is a positive, or at least, benign one.

I’m reminded of that children’s song about an old lady who swallowed a fly, then swallowed a spider to catch the fly, then swallowed a bird to catch the spider…

I guess if the introduced insects become a problem, the Government can introduce something else that eats them…cane toads, perhaps – Australia’s got plenty to spare.

And then some!

cane toadscane toad

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Garden Update #5 – July 2013

Passionfruit Vine

It’s alive!

It survived the transplant (I love the tropics!) – most of the leaves fell off, and some branches died, so I pruned those off, together with any that were growing away from the wall. I’ve tied the remaining branches onto the mesh for now, but will remove the ties once more tendrils grow.

passI’ve also mulched it with leaves from next door’s Coeur de Boeuf tree (soursop) as I haven’t made it to the beach to collect seaweed yet. I’ve kept the mulch well away from the stem to avoid stem and root rot.

Pawpaw Tree

It started dying back due to the white mould (which apparently is a widespread problem in Mauritius at the moment), so Alf cut the top off (as I couldn’t reach it):

Topped pawpawand covered the cut with a plastic bottle:

Protected trunkThe pawpaw trunk is hollow, and if left uncovered, will fill with rainwater, causing it to rot.

We continued to spray, and look what’s happening:

New growthI don’t know what this new growth is – I’m hoping that it’s leaves and flowers as opposed to major branches. Not sure – will wait and see.

I also don’t know what to do about the top – surely we don’t leave the bottle on forever? Does it close up? Branch out? More waiting and seeing, I guess.

Bamboo, Cordyline, and Daylilies

After tying it up, I’ve decided not to prune the bamboo (sorry Asmi – no cuttings yet!) as I like the way it looks and moves in the wind:

BambooAir can now circulate properly, and the cordyline that was buried underneath can get rain, sun, and space to grow.

BambooUnlike the daylilies, which were getting crowded out by the rhoeo:

DayliliesI’ve since moved them to the mulberry bed, as they need room to spread, multiply, and eventually give me lots of free plants.

Mulberry Tree (Mure)

White mould strikes again!

A lot of the leaves fell off, and the new growth at the top of the branches was distorted.

I pruned off about 5 feet as even Alf couldn’t reach to spray the tops of the branches – it’s a much more manageable height now at about 6 feet, and hopefully, this will also cause the tree to branch out as it was pretty straggly.

Mulberry treeWhen I googled “pruning mulberries”, the information was too general and contradictory: only prune when the tree is dormant (doesn’t happen in the tropics – it’s evergreen here), prune off 1/3, don’t prune, only prune branches growing into the centre. Arrgh! No details of where on the branch to prune or other things I need to know.

Google’s great for a lot of things, but when we lived in Perth, I would always borrow gardening books written by experts from our local library, rather than spend hours online with not much to show for it.

Anyway, I just guessed and made the cuts above buds that were facing away from the centre of the tree. Don’t know what the buds are. Leaves? Branches? Who knows. So again, will wait and see.

Mulberry treeRuellia Hedges

I’m having one final go at these, and if it doesn’t work this time, I’m planting something else.

Many of them have died (I don’t know why), so I have a lot of gaps.

Others are growing horizontally or unevenly.

They still don’t look like a hedge – maybe I should have planted them closer to each other.

Anyway, I’ve pulled out the dead ones, and pruned the rest back hard.

I selected about 20 straight cuttings (about 1 foot long) from the bits I pruned:

Ruellia pruningsstripped off the lower leaves (so the leaves don’t rot and turn the water slimy):

Stripped stem

Yep, that’s dirt under my fingernails!

and stuck them in a jar of water with a few drops of Seasol added (to strengthen the plants and help them root):

Cuttings and dodosThey will have rooted in a couple of weeks at which time I’ll fill the gaps, and also replace any existing plants that are misbehaving.

I hope it works this time as I really like the plant, and I really, really like hedges.

Oh, and did you notice the sad state of our dodos?

We haven’t had workers around for a while, so I forgot to move them from under the tap before Joselito washed out the tile adhesive bucket.

The good news though, is that I had to repaint and varnish them after the painters covered them in housepaint, so I already know how to mix the right shade of green.

Sometimes, you’ve just gotta look on the bright side of life!

Garden Update #4 – June 2013

Passionfruit Frame

It’s finally up! Yipee!!!!

The delay has been due to the bottom length of wood – it was warped so kept falling off the wall, despite Alf’s best efforts to screw and nail it on.

Then, our ex-builder, Joselito, came a-visiting, and worked his magic. What a star!

Because everything here is built with hollow breeze blocks, you really need someone who knows how to work with them.

Alf and JoselitoHe ended up drilling bigger holes in the wood and wall. He then inserted chips of wood into the holes, along with the wallplugs, and bolted the wood to the wall, chiselling lumps out of it, so he could countersink the bolts.

So now we know for next time!

Though, if there is a next time, I think we’ll just pay Joselito to do it. It took him ages, and would take us forever!

After filling all the holes and gaps with Woodfiller, sanding it back, and touching up the paint, I stapled wire mesh to the frame:

Gaps

Thank God for woodfiller – not even close!

WoodfillerStaplesThe mesh comes in 3 foot widths, so as our frame is over 5 feet high, I had to join 2 lengths of mesh together:

MeshI finished it all off with painted wooden beading held on by small tacks, then painted the tack heads to stop them rusting.

TacksThe beading will stop the mesh from falling off when (not if, but when!) the staples rust. The combination of humidity and salt air guarantees that.

It also looks nicer.

Finished framePassionfruit Vine

Passionfruit vine

Before transplanting

The passionfruit vine is in place: I dug a large hole, replacing the rubble-filled soil with compost, and the topsoil we bought, and watered the passionfruit thoroughly with Seasol (seaweed extract) as it helps reduce transplant shock. I’ll also be giving it a deep soaking everyday, and mulching it with seaweed.

I used some of the rocks I dug out of the garden to make an edging so that we don’t trample all over the roots and damage them further. I can remove the edging down the track (though what I’ll do with the rocks is another thing!).

Rock edgingI don’t know whether it will survive. It’s been in the raised bed for about 9 months, and the roots had burst through the container it came in, and grown into the soil. They had spread pretty far, and although I tried not to damage them, I did.

To compensate for the broken roots, I pruned it back very hard.

It’s looking pretty sad.

If it lives, I’ll tie it to the mesh until it starts climbing on its own.

If it dies, we’ll be heading back to the nursery at Labourdonnais for a new plant.

But as this is Mauritius, and plants do their own thing here, I’ll just wait and see.

Transplanted passionfruitPot Stands

OK, explain this to me – metal doesn’t stretch, and plastic, tiles and grout don’t shrink – so how did the pot stand and pot go from this:

Stupid pot standto this:

Magic pot

?????????????

I went to remove the pot so that I could work on the stand, but it was stuck – I can’t get it out!

It was much too big for the ring before. What’s going on? I’m completely baffled!

Maybe we have fairies living at the bottom of the garden.

Very, very weird!

I’m probably going to have to knock some tiles off to get it out.

Anyway, I’ve finished the other stand – I tried using a wire brush to remove the loose paint and burgeoning rust, but didn’t find it very effective, so I used coarse sandpaper, which worked really well.

Pot standPot standPot standAlf’s thinking is, that as long as the rust is well covered by the paint (thereby stopping air from getting to it), I won’t need to use rust converter, or primer.

So I didn’t – I don’t need much encouragement to save myself a lot of work!

After a quick wipe, I gave it three coats of purple paint (very time-consuming!).

I’m not sure whether I like the purple – it’s a bit much. I may end up changing the colour.

Purple standOther than that, it’s a huge improvement. I’ll keep an eye out for any breakthrough rust.

I’ll also be making mosaic tiles to stand them on, to keep the feet out of wet sawdust.

Anyway, one down, and one to go.

Once I get the pot out!

White Mould

Everything’s growing well with the exception of the pawpaw, chili hibiscus, and some of the Madagascan frangipanis, which all got badly infected with white mould.

Mould

Chili Hibiscus

Mould

Mould

This is after a few days of treatment

It looks disgusting, and deforms and kills the leaves, and if left untreated, ultimately kills the plant. And it spreads.

Because the pawpaw tree was too tall for me to reach (and it was soooo disgusting!), Alf kindly removed most of the leaves, and sprayed everything with a mixture of milk and water (1:3 parts), re-spraying every couple of days. We used fresh milk as opposed to UHT.

It seems to be working – it’s certainly killing the mould – but we’ll have to wait and see whether the plants survive. Both chili hibiscuses have already died.

Alf will keep spraying the other plants with the milk solution until there is no sign of mould left, then I’ll spray with Seasol to give them a bit of a health boost.

I also promise to be more vigilant in future, and to spray at the first sign of mould. Amen.

So all in all, it’s been a productive month, seeing an end to some of the projects that have been sitting around unfinished for the past year or so, and a start to others.

And best of all, I can now start work on the raised bed, and move the pile of soil that’s been sitting in the driveway for months! Finally!

Grass

The idea I had about using hessian as a weed mat has gone by the wayside – when we came back from Perth, as expected, the grass had all grown back.

But what I didn’t expect, was to find that it had grown through the small holes in the astroturf!

Seriously?

If it can grow through astroturf, I’ll have no chance with hessian!

So I’m back to the poisoning option, with one difference:

A friend told us she did a similar thing back in Scotland, but instead of using a paintbrush, she put on rubber gloves, then a sock on top of that, dunked her hands in the poison solution, and wiped it over the grass.

Quicker than the paintbrush, and hopefully, less splashing of poison onto the surrounding plants.

I’ll definitely be raiding Alf’s sock drawer and giving that a go. Thanks, Linda.

Garden Update #3 – Mar 2013

Pots and Pot Stands

I found el cheapo plastic pots for the top of the stands, which I sanded, applied two coats of terracotta paint to, tiled and grouted, then applied a third coat to cover the grout, as it was much darker than the paint. They’re the right shape, but a bit smaller than I wanted. In Mauritius though, beggars can’t be choosers – you might end up waiting forever if you hold out for something specific.

Red potFinished potsUnlike when I bought the small pots, this time, I actually measured the pot stand so I’d know what size pots to buy.

Pot Stand

Perfect!

However, I made the fatal mistake of only measuring one of them:

Stupid pot stand

!!!!!

I’m starting to develop a serious dislike for those pot stands!

I’ll be planting the pots with ivy geranium, (after drilling holes in the bases – why don’t pots have drainage holes anymore? We have a drill, but I’m sure lots of people don’t). Hopefully, the geraniums will trail down and disguise the size problem!

Anyway, on a more positive note, I love paint – instead of ugly red plastic pots, I now have two lovely “terracotta” pots.

Even if one of them doesn’t fit! Grrrrr!

Moving on…with the pot stands, I’ve still got to apply rust converter and primer, and then spray them with either white gloss or matte black – I’ve yet to decide, though I’m leaning towards black. But I’d better do it pronto – with all the rain we’ve been having, they’re getting rustier by the minute – bits will probably start falling off soon!

Weeding the Beds

I’ve weeded the final two beds, and the only problems hiding under the grass were:

Easter Lilies

I have two plants – they both died back, but one is showing signs of new growth. My friend, Robin, said that you’re supposed to dig up the bulbs each year, store them, and replant them the following season.

Afraid not – I planned a low maintenance garden, and am not prepared to do anything like that – I’ve got enough to do! I’ll see how they go, and perhaps replace them.

Day Lilies

They haven’t grown at all (nor have the agapanthus). Maybe if you live in a tropical zone, you should stick to tropical plants! Having said that, the red ginger plants haven’t grown much either, so who knows?

Ruellia Hedges

I cut all the bushes back hard. However, I think it’s too little too late – most of them are growing sideways, and I can’t see them ever turning into the gorgeous hedge that at the moment exists solely in my imagination.

So I’ve stuck about 20 cuttings into a jar of water, and will start from scratch when they root – it will only take a couple of weeks.

This time, I’ll plant more of them, and reduce the spacing between them, so that as they grow, they can support each other.

Also, I’ll prune them regularly so that they become bushy, and turn into a low hedge instead of a tall, straggly mess.

The weeded garden:

Driveway bed

Driveway bed

Lemon bed

Lemon tree bed

Mulberry tree and front beds

Mulberry tree and front beds

House bed

Bed running the length of the house

House bed

Ditto

Side Bed

Side bed and passionfruit in the raised bed

Grass

The paths have been weeded and poisoned, and the grass in the new paths has been cut and poisoned, and the paths covered in sawdust.

The type of sawdust we get varies, depending on what wood the cabinetmakers are working with. So you end up with a patchwork effect when you first spread it as you can see from the above photos.

After a while, it fades in the sun and all looks pretty much the same colour.

The paths I’d already poisoned and covered were relatively easy to weed – it was mainly grass that had spread from the adjoining beds, so the roots were shallow and pulled out easily.

Half-weeded path

Half-weeded path

So to that extent, the sawdust mulch is working. Any grass that grows from now on will be promptly Roundup-ed or pulled out.

However, the grass in the beds is going to be a huge ongoing problem – the roots are very deep (even where I’ve previously poisoned), and it grows back very thick. It also grows back very fast.

Newly-weeded bed

Newly-weeded bed

Weeded two weeks ago

Two weeks’ growth

Half weeded bed

What I can expect in two months

There’s no point in just covering it all with mulch, as the grass will grow through it.

I don’t want to poison the beds as I killed some plants last time I did that – plus it takes forever as it’s too windy to spray, so I have to use a paintbrush. And it’s obviously not very effective.

I googled “weed mat” – the general consensus was that the soil underneath gets very dry, and because it’s loosely-woven, weeds/grass still grow through it. And it frays, so you get little bits of black plastic floating about the place.

Instead, I’ve decided to look for hessian (jute or burlap) fabric, and lay that on the beds before mulching.

It’ll let moisture through, and the grass and weeds will have to try pretty hard to get through both the hessian and the mulch. Any that do make it will be easily seen as the mulch is black, and I can poison them immediately. By the time the hessian rots down, the grass should all be dead.

Theoretically!

It will probably take a while to do, as I’ll have to cut the hessian to fit around the plants. But if it works, it’ll be time well spent, and I rather do that than face a future of eternal weeding!

So much for low-maintenance!

(If you live in Mauritius and know where I can bulk-buy cheap hessian, please let me know.)

Step

I downloaded an English gardening program called “Lovely Garden” by my all-time favourite gardener, Alan Titchmarsh, and in one episode, the garden owner had planted a tiny square of lawn in an otherwise brick-paved area. It was a bold statement and it made me laugh.

(As an aside, how is it that despite their terrible weather, the Brits are such fabulous gardeners? You can’t beat them!)

Anyway, initially, I thought that I’d buy some turf for the step by the front gates – this would be the only lawn in our garden.

However, after our problems with the grass and weeds, I’ve since changed my mind.

I HATE grass!

Instead, I cut some astroturf to shape and used that:

AstroturfIt doesn’t exactly look natural (or pretty – it’s a weird shade of green and is all sparkly in the sun – like Christmas tinsel!), but at least it’ll stop my shoes from getting muddy and the weeds from growing. Hopefully, down the track, I’ll find something better.

Well, we’re off to Perth for two weeks soon – lots of eating, shopping, and catching up with family and friends, leaving our house and Tipsy-the-cat in the capable hands of our housesitter, Amy.

Thanks, Amy, and enjoy Mauritius!

Garden Update # 2 – Mar 2013

The weeding is well under way – four beds down, and two to go. Plus the verge.

Driveway Bed

I’ve finished planting the ruellia hedge and moses-in-a-cradle along the driveway, as well as two more golden cane palms. The planting in that bed is now finished:

Driveway Bed

Driveway bed

Driveway bed

Ignore the pile of weeds in the path!

Shower Bed

The small bed next to the shower is also finished, but the bamboo is a bit out of control:

BambooI’m too scared to prune it without advice from someone in the know, as last time I pruned it, it grew even bushier. It has certainly enjoyed the massive amount of rain we’ve received in the last couple of months.

Until I find someone to advise me, I’ll be tying it up a bit so the plants under it can get sun and water.

House Bed

I’ve finally finished edging and planting up the bed that runs along the house:

House Bed

Lime tree

Newly planted section with potted lime tree

At the end of the bed, I’ve “planted” spider lily bulbs which I found lying on the ground when I weeded the lemon tree bed – I initially thought they were some sort of weird mushroom, but realised what they were when I noticed a couple of them had roots. I didn’t know which way up to lay them on the soil, but I’m sure Mother Nature will rectify any mistakes I’ve made! They’re the white dots lying around the place.

I looked on the internet, and according to all the websites I looked at, the only way to propagate spider lilies is to dig up the existing clumps and divide the bulbs. Well, the lilies in Mauritius don’t know this, because the bulbs I found were produced on the flower stalk, fell on the ground, and started to root:

Spider lily bulbFree plants – I love it! Definitely one plant you shouldn’t deadhead over here!

Lemon Tree Bed

One of the cordylines died, as did a couple of ruellia plants – they were all next to each other, so I may have inadvertently poisoned them when I was poisoning the grass. Oops!

Lemon Tree Bed

Aerial view

Other than that, everything’s growing well – especially the pawpaw tree that I planted from seed (it’s about 8 months old) – it’s currently standing at about 7 feet.

I need advice about pruning the top of the tree so that it doesn’t grow too tall – the last pawpaw tree we had grew to about 20 feet in two years. The only way to pick a pawpaw was for one person to shake the tree, and a second person to catch the fruit (or try to – mainly, they just went “splat”!). We cut it back to about 5 feet, but instead of sprouting new growth, the trunk rotted and the tree died, even though we covered the cut to stop rain from getting in.

Things I’ve Learned

Madagascan Frangipani

They fall over if they get to tall, too wet, or if it’s too windy (a bit like bananas!). That’s probably why, when you see them growing in Mauritians’ gardens, they’re usually against a wall so they receive protection from the elements. I never noticed until mine fell over.

Anyway, I gave them a radical pruning (I cut off about a metre), and tied them up.

The rash I got all over my arm from the sap is almost gone. I’ll be wearing long sleeves and gloves next time I prune them!

Ruellia

Buying tall plants is not the bargain that it seems – they’re too leggy, so they lean over, and new growth sprouts along the horizontal stems.

I imagined that my hedges would look like this:

Ruellia hedging

From a street in Quatre Bourne

Instead they look like this:

Ruellia Hedge

Ruellia Hedge

Ruellia HedgeHaha!

I’ve since noticed that Mauritians plant ruellia against walls for support.

I need a Mauritian gardening friend!

So, all the ruellia plants will also get a radical pruning, and I’ll tie them up until they get bushy enough to support each other.

Rhoeo Edging

Some sections are growing very unevenly – I think I may have bought different varieties.

Rhoeo edgingAs it stands, all the time and effort I spent ensuring that I planted in perfectly straight lines, or in sinuous curves, was wasted! I may as well have just plonked them in any old way!

Rhoeo edgingSo I’ll be replacing the uneven parts.

Even when they grow evenly, the 1 metre wide paths I planted have narrowed somewhat:

Rhoeo pathI’ll have to continually thin them out. Free plants, anyone?

That’s it for now – I’ll probably make a few more discoveries as I tackle the remaining beds, and see what’s happening under the weeds.

But I guess that’s what this whole process is about – learning how to garden in a tropical climate with a range of plants that I haven’t used before.

Hopefully I’ll finish the remaining beds in the next few days, in between weeding, poisoning, and re-sawdusting the paths.

Still, for a garden that’s less than a year old, I’m thrilled with the results so far – it’s grown so fast!

Most of it is as I imagined, and the bits that have gone wrong and that I need to fix will just make me a more knowledgeable tropical gardener in the future.

How’s that for positive thinking!

Garden Update #1 – February 2013

I’m a stepmother. Sometimes a wicked one, but often, fairly nice.

“Stepmother” sounds better in French – belle-mère – which translates to “beautiful mother”.

I like that so much more – it makes me want to twirl around, dancing and singing “I Feel Pretty” – just like Natalie Wood in Westside Story.

Anyway, being a stepmother is sometimes good (no giving birth, and you can always give them back) and other times it’s worse than Island Fever – I just want to slap someone!

Currently, Alf’s eldest child, Kieran, is on his first two-week stay with us.

He’s not into sightseeing or the beach – he’s finding it all a bit boring. Which makes me a bit bored with him – why did he come? There’s nothing else to do here! (And I don’t mean that in a bad way – that’s why people come to Mauritius – to relax and look around). Two days into his holiday, and I already started getting annoyed with him.

Then . . . he volunteered to do some weeding.

Alf told him that I love my garden, but am not well enough right now to work on it.

I don’t think Kieran’s ever set foot in a garden, let alone worked in one, so I was a wee bit worried that he’d turn into my ex-gardener and pull out plants instead of weeds.

But no!

Under Alf’s guidance (I’ve been too scared to look in case I shout and slap), the garden is slowly re-appearing.

And yesterday, the rain finally stopped.

It’s encouraged me to get back out there, finish the planting, do some serious pruning, and tie things up.

And finish making the passionfruit frame (I don’t know whether the passionfruit plant will survive being transplanted – it’s been sitting in the raised bed for so long, that its roots have grown into the soil).

Also, weeding, poisoning, and grass-cutting.

And once I’ve transplanted the passionfruit, filling the raised bed with the pile of soil currently blocking the driveway, and starting my Square Foot Gardening vegetable patch.

It only took 6 weeks for the garden to get this out of control. I really need to keep on top of things in future.

Anyway, Kieran, you’re the best! Come visit and find Mauritius boring any time you want!

Pre-weeding photos:

Vine-covered palm

Vine-covered palm

Weed-infested path

Weed-infested path

More vines

More vines

Weed corner

!!!!

Weed corner

Hopefully, the bougainvillea is still alive in the corner – that entire mass of green is weeds!

Raised bed

What happens when you don’t poison and cover the paths with sawdust…

path

…even the rhoeo edging (which is on the right of the photo) disappears!

jungle

Completely overwhelming!

Kieran

Poser, but my hero! Thanks Kieran! xx