The Sunday Gardener's Blog

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  1. Harlequin ladybird larvae Harlequin ladybird

    The image on the left is a Harlequin ladybird larvae and apparently they like living in our homes, which is probably why I found this in the bedroom. As always, my first instinct is to reach for the camera, and my second is to get rid of it. Had I realised at the time what a nasty destructive ladybird this larvae would turn into I probably should have swotted it. Harlequin ladybirds were imported and are invasive with voracious appetites which include for other ladybirds mainly our native species. The Harlequin was introduced to utilise it's voracious appetite to eat aphids a form of pest control,which it does, but it is more robust than our native ladybirds and it out competes them for food and if other food sources fail, eats them. The Harlequin ladybird has a much wider food range which gives it built in better survival rates, and if there is a lack of aphids Harlequin ladybirds will consume ladybird eggs, larvae and pupae, butterfly and moth eggs, caterpillars and other ladybirds. Harlequin ladybirds have a shorter period of dormancy and so longer to reproduce. They may over winter in your home and can even bite you if there's no other food around. I would not have got that close in for the photograph if I had known it could bite. It  is a bit of a Godzilla of the ladybird world.

    It can be difficult to identify the Harlequin from our native species because they are very variable in colour. Helpfully The Harlequin Ladybird Survey has detailed information to help identify the culprit, but it is not easy, although the larvae is distinctive.

    Bugs of different sorts are interesting. The image below left is Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar which I found in the garden and whilst it may look a little unattractive, quite harmless with a predilection for Rose Bay Willow Herb and the caterpillar will become the very lovely Moth in the right hand image. If you are looking for the caterpillar, from July to September is the time they are hanging around the garden and woodlands, the Moth is around from May to July. It is common but the more the merrier, so I let some Willow bay grow just to keep the caterpillars happy. A few more weeds in my garden won't make any difference.

    Elephant Hawk Moth Caterpillar Elephant Hawk moth



  2. botrytis-in-strawberries-310 strawberries-growing-310-x-240

    I am cursing this wet summer, for the first time in several years, Botrytis has struck the strawberries . Botrytis, a form of grey mould thrives in damp summers and causes the fruit to rot before it ripens which is so frustrating. The only way to tackle it is to remove all infected matter and to improve air circulation, and even so it's tricky.

    I have spent time this afternoon carefully picking off infected leaves and fruit,  and then removing some healthy leaves to increase air circulation. Only time will tell. If you are looking at mouldy strawberries there is more advice on dealing with Botrytis on Strawberries.

    There are more reasons  to hope for some warmer more settled weather.

    The heavy rain and torrential downpours are not kind to tall plants such as Thalictrum and Delphinium which, as they only have a single flowers spike, when its gone, it's gone. I cut a bunch of Thalictrum down which had been snapped by the torrential rain, such a shame as the summer started so well. The long range forecast looks better especially for those lucky gardeners in the South and East.



  3. sweet-pea-seed-heads-310-x-240 Sweet Pea tendril sweet-pea-tendrills-removed-310-x-240

    Sweet peas are growing fast and starting to flower. With a few essential tips on growing sweet peas you can keep your sweet peas flowering right thought to October.

    The first tip is the more you pick, the more you get. Do not be concerned that if you pick all the blooms there will be no more flowers; quite the reverse if you stop picking the sweet peas they stop producing flowers. Once the plant has produced seeds, which form from the spent flowers, it has fulfilled it's botanical role and will slow down and stop flowering. So to keep it flowering you keep taking off the flowers, (and any seed pods) and it will keep rewarding you with more flowers. Image to the left shows what the seed pods look like. Picking the flowers and removing the seed pods is essential when growing sweet peas.

    Equally important when growing sweet peas, is to remove the tendrils which form on the plant, illustrated in the second image. The tendrils look as if they will support the plant, and so there maybe a reluctance to cut them off. Left unchecked the sweet pea tendrils twist and distort the plant, because they hold the sweet pea back. The tendrils are a sort of plant tie in, a marker, which holds the plant and it will then struggle to grow upright and becomes twisted which spoils the lovely straight stems and eventually the plant can become very tangled.

    Cut them all off, see the image below which shows just how many can be removed without any harm to the plant, quite the opposite. You may have to tie or support the sweet pea after removing the tendrils.

    More tips on growing sweet peas