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8 Gardening Experts Share Their Top Tips for Healthy Plants

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8 Gardening Experts Share Their Top Tips for Healthy Plants

Ever wished you could ask a real gardening guru their opinion on your plants' health? Then consider your wish granted, as we've asked not one, but eight keen green thumbs to share their top tips for healthy plants. Read on for first-hand advice on garden pests, fertilisers, and much more.

Clinton Anderson - Aussie Green Thumb

Clinton Anderson works professionally as a horticulturist in New South Wales, Australia. He has been lucky enough to work in some of the most high profile parks, gardens, and floral displays throughout the Sydney CBD and Hunter region, and has gotten his hands dirty on some truly amazing projects. He also helps run an Australian gardening community called Aussie Green Thumb, who provide top gardening and outdoor living tips and tricks to everyday people.

  1. What is the most effective way you've found to deal with garden pests?

I've spent the bulk of my professional career working in some really high profile parks and gardens in and around Sydney, Australia. So when it comes to pest control, I need to be on the ball to find the quickest way to remove them. Generally (and sometime unfortunately) this means chemical pesticides, but I try to keep them as friendly as possible - after all, a public park has a lot of people to consider.

Naturally derived pesticides like pyrethrum, or non-chemical agents like pest oils are generally my go to. I would love to be able to give a response about companion plantings and beneficial bugs, because these are really important aspects of a good integrated pest management plan for your garden... but sometimes you just gotta spray.

  1. Do you use fertiliser in your garden and if so, which type?

It depends on the situation. I have a soft spot for Australian natives in the gardens I design and build, so quite often I don't need to add any fertiliser to these guys. Doing so would actually be worse than not doing so!

When it comes to established gardens that I maintain, I like to keep the option to fertilise up my sleeve. If a plant begins to falter due to a nutrient deficiency, I will give it what it needs, but I try to avoid doing it just for the sake of it.

I really prefer using seaweed extract, or manure concentrates and compost rather than synthetic stuff for my macronutrients, and will always opt for a slow release pellet for trace elements.

  1. Which plant in your garden do you hold the most love for and why?

I've got a Ficus microcarpa hillii fig tree that I've been growing for the past 5 or so years. I took it as a tiny seedling from one of the original fig trees planted in Sydney's Hyde Park which are probably around 120 years old, and I've reared it up from there.

I've twisted and mangled and cut this thing so much to get it the way it is, and it's just kept plugging away like nothing has happened. It's my first successful bonsai, and takes pride of place in my back yard.

  1. Butterflies: Beautiful garden visitor or troublesome pest?

Butterflies are always a yes. They can be great pollinators and are perfect to bump up the biodiversity in your garden. It's when you start getting large numbers of them to a point where they are a clear dominant species in your garden that they become a problem. The same goes with moths.

Claire Gillies - Claire's Garden

Claire Gillies had a good garden education, from the edibles from an experienced organic market gardener who she had a Saturday job with, to the flowers from an avid plant collector that she would weed and help with her garden - and who's 'old plants' made the backbone of Claire's garden. Claire was lucky to meet and work with them. She remains forever enthusiastic by having a 'plant it and see what happens' attitude. If it doesn't grow she tries again, or tries something different.

  1. What is the most effective way you've found to deal with garden pests?

I mostly collect by hand when I see them, and use occasional beer traps for slugs. I use a spoon and a jar with a lid I collect everything I don't want, then put the lid on the jar and the jar in the bin...

  1. Do you use fertiliser in your garden and if so, which type?

Home produced compost and lots of horse manure. And every so often, mostly when putting in seeds, I sprinkle rock dust.

  1. Which plant in your garden do you hold the most love for and why?

Daffodils, because they are so cheery at a miserable time of year, but I love everything so it's difficult to choose.

  1. Butterflies: Beautiful garden visitor or troublesome pest?

A very welcome and invited guest! My shed is placed deliberately to leave a space that's out of sight and untended with nettles etc, and many flowers I've planted would attract bees and butterflies.

Lee O Hara - The Dirt On Organic Gardening

Lee O Hara is a contributing editor at "the Dirt on Organic Gardening" magazine. He is also a published author, and soon has another book coming out on organic gardening. Lee also writes on his own blog, The Organic Home Gardener, and as you might expect, is an authority on all things organic.

  1. What is the most effective way you've found to deal with garden pests?

The best way to deal with garden pests is to not encourage them to begin with. Know your enemy. Most of them breed and find refuge right there in your garden bed, and in areas around your beds. Mulch is a wonderful thing, if it's used correctly.

When it's applied at planting time, you're also creating a breeding ground for the very bugs that you'll spend the rest of the season trying to control.

The first thing to do in the very early spring is to clean up every bit of debris on your bed. Remove any rock piles, wood piles, and any other place around the garden that might be used as a hiding place for your usual garden enemies: pill bugs, earwigs, slugs etc.

If you do a good and proper job of that, you're going to have a much more pleasant season. After the spring rains have subsided somewhat, and your plants are well up and established, you can put down a layer of mulch. By this time, the primary breeding season for the bad guys is over, and your plants should be strong and healthy enough to fight off most of the bug assaults.

Identify the problem:

If it's any of the hard shelled bugs, the liberal use of food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) covering the plant, and scratched into the soil all around the plant, should end that problem. The plants should look like they're covered with frost. The first time I did that, I was pretty sure I had killed the plants. How could they breathe? I don't know how, but they did.

The infestation of flea beetles was gone and didn't return for the remainder of the year. I had thought the plants were so damaged that I'd have to take them out anyway, so I didn't mind if I did kill them with the D.E. Instead, my plants took on a whole new life - bigger and better than they were before the invasion. After 3-4 days, which is their life span, just hose the D.E. off the plant. Be sure to scratch the dirt all around the plant, and scratch in D.E. to that area. Flea beetles lay their eggs in the dirt around the plant, so you also need to wipe out the next generation.

Caterpillars:

Hornworms, cabbage loopers, parsley worms, and generally any of the caterpillars that you'll ever encounter are well eliminated with Bacillus Thurengiensis, kurstaki strain: BTk, which is harmless to anything other than caterpillars and is approved for Organic Certification.

Water:

For aphids, spider mites and most other pests, I simply blast them off with water from a garden hose. You don't want it so strong that the water blast causes leaf damage, but those leaves are much tougher than you might think. Spider mites hate moisture. If you can spray the plant several times during the day, of use something like a row cover to hold the moisture in during the day and/or over night, the spider mites will find friendlier environments.

Know your enemy:

New bugs come just around just about every year. Old ones often seem to disappear. They're easy to learn about online. Where do they breed? What is their life cycle? What environment do they like? What are their natural enemies? Once you have all that information, you'll find that you've mostly won the fight.

If it's a shelled insect, or if it crawls on its belly, D.E. is the ticket. If it's a little or big green caterpillar, BTk will handle it. If it's an aphid problem, I usually find that the lady bugs and lace wings end the problem very quickly.

Other than a spray of BTk at the beginning of tomato season, or once or twice on my lettuce, I use nothing other than water as a spray. I haven't used anything other than the above in many, many years.

  1. Do you use fertiliser in your garden and if so, which type?

I use loads of organic fertilisers of all kinds. I plant a crop of mixed legumes in every bed, at least once each year. We have a 365 day growing season. From planting to chopping and digging under, it takes 2-3 months.

That adds nitrogen and an array of vitamins and minerals back into the soil, provides food for the earthworms, and very much improves the tilth of the soil. Sheet composting is simply spreading your organic matter over the bed and digging it under. Legumes treated in that way, are essentially "sheet composting."

I also add nitrogen (N) in the form of Fish Meal, phosphorous (P) in the form of Fish Bone Meal, or cold processed Bone Meal, and potassium (K) in the form of Kelp Meal, which also adds over 70 trace minerals, at least once each year.

I only buy from certified organic sources (Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, www.groworganic.com) and apply the amounts suggested on the label.

I buy bales of alfalfa hay from a local feed and grain store, which I use for mulch and dig into the soil at the end of the season. Sometimes I'll use Seabird Guano, Bat Guano, composted steer manure, or whatever else catches my eye.

The one MUST in my array of fertilizers is that they're organic and approved for certified organic use.

  1. Which plant in your garden do you hold the most love for and why?

That's like asking a man which of his 28 kids he loves most! I only grow the things we love, each in its own season, and each for its own merits. Any healthy vegetable plant is like a work of art.

I take time to admire and appreciate its beauty and enjoy the wonder of the plant itself. That this miracle of creation produces an eggplant, a squash, a tomato or a bean is cherished as another gift to be enjoyed. (That sounds sappy, I know. That's exactly how I feel about it.)

  1. Butterflies: Beautiful garden visitor or troublesome pest?

They are indeed beautiful visitors. It's what they leave behind that is so ugly that it destroys the enjoyment of looking at them. The butterfly will only be around for a few minutes, but the havoc they leave behind isn't pretty and lasts for weeks.

Some people want to attract butterflies to their gardens, and I've always wondered why? The eggs they leave behind hatch into larvae, the little green worms that eat your lunch. If you only have flowers and don't mind the caterpillars eating your foliage, then by all means, attract them. I hope you live next door to me so they'll all stay in your garden and not mine.

Linda Peppin - Garden Register Blog

Linda is the founder of the Garden Register blog, an easy to follow, informative website covering all aspects of gardening for the beginner as well as the more experienced gardener. Linda is a keen gardener and loves working on her own garden and sharing her expertise with other garden enthusiasts.

  1. What is the most effective way you've found to deal with garden pests?

To catch them early, and spray more than once in the season.

  1. Do you use fertiliser in your garden and if so, which type?

When planting or rejuvenating the soil I use pelleted chicken manure and fish, blood and bone meal. When I can, I mulch with well rotten horse manure from the local stables.

At the allotment I make my own nettle and comfrey feeds which I use as needed throughout the season.

  1. Which plant in your garden do you hold the most love for and why?

My Acers. I love the shape of them and the fresh colours of the new leaves, as well as the amazing autumn colours. A year round star.

 

  1. Butterflies: Beautiful garden visitor or troublesome pest?

Beautiful garden visitor. Even when the cabbage white is hovering around the brassicas, they are still fascinating.

Emily Compost - EmilyCompost.com

Emily Compost was started in August 2000 and since then has been a pseudonym for a number of gardeners. They also have guest writers. Currently, Heather Roberts, a freelance guest blogger from London, UK has been contributing a lot of articles. Patrick Vickery of Scotland has been a contributor since the beginning.

  1. What is the most effective way you've found to deal with garden pests?

Usually we lie and say we’ve run out of wine. Then they get in their cars and drive elsewhere.

But seriously...

Since we try to be completely natural and organic it is extremely rare that we would ever use or recommend herbicides or insecticides. There really is no “most effective way” but an attack based on the pest.

We recommend insecticidal soap spray, or perhaps just pulling the pest up. For instance: dollarweed (Hydrocotyle) - pull the plant out of the ground; tomato hornworm - pick them off the plant. In other situations, something preventive like less or more watering. Beer works for slugs.

  1. Do you use fertiliser in your garden and if so, which type?

Compost, always. Never fertiliser on plants that we eat. We will occasionally use Osmocote or other commercial plant food on plants that refuse to grow or bloom, but we mostly favour a “hands off” policy.

  1. Which plant in your garden do you hold the most love for and why?

Ahh... my Hatiora salicornioides which, when I treat it nicely (which I have not done this season), is about 60 cm in diameter. It lives in a clay pot and has been with me for more than 20 years. Sometimes known as “Drunkard’s Dream” or “Dancing Bones”, both of which seem appropriate.

  1. Butterflies: Beautiful garden visitor or troublesome pest?

What?! Clearly I don’t understand the question. Pest?!?

We enjoy watching butterflies most of the summer feasting on the lantana or on the butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii).

Emily - A Girl And A Garden

Emily has a weekly podcast on www.dfzradio.com called A Girl and A Garden. She is an urban gardener with a passion for hydroponics. She is also a national sales manager for a horticultural lighting company.

  1. What is the most effective way you've found to deal with garden pests?

Prevention is key.

Bio fungicides can be used in conjunction with trap crops. Spray preventative products for fungal and bacterial diseases. Read and follow label directions especially when applying to edible crops.

Trap crops are very effective around the garden. A trap crop is a plant that attracts insects away from the nearby crops.

I have kale in my garden that attracts aphids. I spray the rest of the plants with bio fungicides and let them aphids live at the trap crop.

  1. Do you use fertiliser in your garden and if so, which type?

An all purpose 6-6-6 fertilizer and Vermi tea. Vermi tea is combination of highly oxygenated water and worm castings. The fertilizer is a dry formulation for easy application.

  1. Which plant in your garden do you hold the most love for and why?

I was gifted a banana pup last winter. It has gone through a few moves and now it is thriving. I'm curious to see how large it will grow and how it will survive the winter outdoors with a frost cover.

  1. Butterflies: Beautiful garden visitor or troublesome pest?

Beautiful garden visitor.

Trina Alix - Garden Therapy Notes

Trina Alix B.SC.(Agr.) Registered Horticultural Therapist (HTR) through the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association (CHTA). Learn more about horticultural therapy at www.gardentherapynotes.com, and check out her blog at www.gardentherapynotes.com/blog.

  1. What is the most effective way you’ve found to deal with garden pests?

I can’t remember the last time I used a pesticide in a garden. Instead of focusing on eliminating a pest problem, I have shifted my focus on sustainable gardening methods.

Sustainable gardening helps maintain the health of all aspects of the garden. I firmly believe that healthy soil grows healthy plants and this helps to fend off plant pests.

Nutrients and organic matter can be supplied to the soil by applying composted manure in the spring, and planting cover crops where vegetables have been removed in autumn.

To reduce disease I plant disease resistant plants, rotate vegetable plants and prune away diseased leaves. To reduce plant pests, such as Japanese beetles on my zinnia flowers, I physically remove them with my hands or prune heavily infested parts.

Companion plants and nectar sources will support the health of the garden and attract beneficial insects. Sustainable gardening isn’t a quick fix, but it’s effective and better for the environment and our health.

  1. Do you use fertiliser in your garden? If so, what type?

I use a variety of fertilisers in the garden. The type of fertiliser I use depends on the plant, the location and the purpose.

Slow release fertilisers are used for containers of flowering annuals; all-natural and organic fertiliser for vegetables plants; and bone meal for newly planted perennials, trees and shrubs.

  1. Which plant in your garden do you hold the most love for and why?

My love for zinnias developed many years ago when I saw them for the first time growing in a garden. Their bright colours caught my attention immediately, and upon closer inspection their crown of tiny florets in the centre of the flower sparked my imagination.

Every year I plant zinnia (Zinnia elegans) seeds in my teeny tiny community garden plot not only for their amazing beauty, but their ability to attract pollinating insects. Seeing them grow and blossom brings out my inner child as I imagine fairies with crowns of florets from the zinnias.

As a Horticultural Therapist I encourage people to connect with nature for wellness, and I practice what I preach. Getting outside and connecting with these flowers by touching them and looking at them helps me feel relaxed by providing me with a meaningful distraction from the stresses of my day.

  1. Butterflies: beautiful garden visitor or troublesome pest?

I grow both nectar sources and host plants in my garden to attract butterflies because I think they are beautiful garden visitors. I am more than willing to share my dill and parsley with the caterpillars to support their life cycle.

My favourite butterfly is the Monarch because of its miraculous migration from Canada to Mexico.

Renee Shepherd - Renee's Garden

Renee Shepherd is the founder of Renee's Garden, where you can buy various types of organic seeds to grow in your own garden. She also has a blog where she shares advice and how to guides to help gardeners to grow their own veg and harvesting it.

  1. What is the most effective way you've found to deal with garden pests?

Barrier methods like row covers and the newer insect netting work great and don't involve any spraying, toxic or otherwise!

When necessary, we try to use the new bio-rational products as we are dedicated organic gardeners.

For gophers, we use Macabee traps. For snails and slugs we use Sluggo.

  1. Do you use fertiliser in your garden and if so, which type?

We improve our soil each time we sow a new crop by adding organic material, and we use and incorporate cover crops in the off season.

But we have very sandy soil and need to add nutrients regularly to have highly productive plants that yield lots of veggies and flowers. Here's what we generally use:

A combination of fish emulsion and liquid kelp are standbys well as good quality, commercial organic, products such as the "Doctor Earth" line.

  1. Which plant in your garden do you hold the most love for and why?

I love sweet peas for their fragrance and colours as well as all columbines and I enjoy sapiglossis for their stained-glass shades.

  1. Butterflies: Beautiful garden visitor or troublesome pest?

Garden visitors for sure!

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