Garden Update #6 – Feb 2014

As I mentioned, I haven’t done any gardening to speak of since November – so once again, I’ve found myself with a very overgrown and weed-infested garden.

And because I also haven’t written anything for this blog since then, I only remembered to take “before” photos once I was halfway through the clean-up. How quickly we forget!

Grass, Rhoeo Edging, and Heliconias

The grass has spread from the beds into the paths, and some paths have all but disappeared as the rhoeo edging has flourished with all the rain we’ve had:

Grass-covered path

Weeded rhoeo to the right, and grass-covered rhoeo to the left

Narrow path

When you turn the corner at the end, there is actually no visible path

Unweeded bed

Overgrown bed

Once I finish weeding, I’ll be reshaping the paths by pulling out a lot of the rhoeo. I’ll use some of them to replant areas where the rhoeo has died, or been eaten by snails:

All chewed up

All chewed up

The heliconias are also migrating into the path – I’ll dig those out when I tackle the rhoeo.

HeliconiasMealy Bugs, Pawpaw, and Frangipani

One thing I did do, was to continue weekly spraying for mealy bugs with Amidor, and other than the frangipani and pawpaw which were both way too tall to spray, all plants are now free of it.

Last week, I decided to cut the pawpaw tree down to about 5 feet to make it more manageable.

Mealy bugs

Mealy bugs

Chopped pawpaw

Pawpaw trunk

There are already signs of new growth around the trunk.

I tried “drenching” the frangipani with Amidor, which involves pouring the diluted Amidol on the ground around the tree. It gets absorbed by the roots, gets into the tree’s sap, and kills the mealy bugs when they suck on the leaves.

It didn’t work, as the frangipani is underplanted with bromeliads, and not enough of the Amidor penetrated the soil.

Square Foot Garden

The final thing that fell prey to the mealy bugs were my vegetables – nearly everything got infested with it, and as I didn’t want to spray edible plants with poison, I pulled it all out.

At the moment, I’ve only got oregano, mint, thyme, spring onions, and strawberries left, and have been using the bed to propagate cuttings instead.

After I poison the grass and weeds that are growing in it, I’ll get out my seeds, and start from scratch.

So sad!

So sad!

Dracaena Marginata

I also cut the these down to about 4ft – they had grown too tall and were hidden in the frangipani tree. Also, they were covered in sooty mould, as is everything else under the frangipani. To quote The University of California website:

Sooty molds don’t infect plants but grow on surfaces where honeydew deposits accumulate. Honeydew is a sweet, sticky liquid that plant-sucking insects excrete as they ingest large quantities of sap from a plant. Because the insect can’t completely utilize all the nutrients in this large volume of fluid, it assimilates what it needs and excretes the rest as “honeydew.” Wherever honeydew lands—e.g., leaves, twigs, fruit, yard furniture, concrete, sidewalks, or statuary—sooty molds can become established.

Bloody mealy bugs!

I’ve got the tops of the dracaenas soaking in a bucket of water in the hope that they’ll root, and I can replant them in the driveway bed. I’ll also have to wipe the leaves individually with warm, soapy water to remove the sooty mould.

Again, bloody mealy bugs!

Dracaena trunk

Pruned dracaena – it should sprout a lot of new growth soon

Dracaena

Dracaena “cuttings”

Sooty mould

Sooty mould

I’ve transplanted a third dracaena from a pot to the driveway bed – I took three 4-inch cuttings from a friend’s plant a couple of years ago, rooted them in water, planted two in the ground and the third in a pot.

The ones in the ground were over 8 feet tall before I chopped them back, and the one in the pot might be 2 feet tall if it’s lucky. Huge difference!

Gardenia

I’ll be moving this to a new spot, as it’s growing over the path:

GardeniaI don’t know whether it will survive the transplant, but if it doesn’t, I’ve got a lot of cuttings on the go.

And having it closer to the house means that the perfume might drift up to the patio. Lovely!

Mulberry Tree

I had a lot of mulberries – but as I had to spray the tree with Amidor, I didn’t get to eat a single one!

After a recent visit to the Bagatelle Shopping Centre, and seeing these planted all through the carpark:

Tibouchina

Close-up of the flowers

I’ve decided to replace the mulberry with a tibouchina tree.

They’re gorgeous!

Vaneron Garden Centre in Trianon sell them, but at rs4500 for a 1.5m tree, I think I’ll shop around for a better price! So if you’ve seen them elsewhere, please let me know.

Anyway, that’s it for now – just a bit more weeding to do, and then I can move on to more interesting things.

I couldn’t work out how to start writing this blog again after Alf died, so almost didn’t.

Now, I’m glad I did – it’s brought a sense of normality back into my life, albeit in a small way.

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