Ruth looks at organic and chemical ways of keeping the garden healthy

Yes, everything is luscious and growing beautifully in the personal paradises we are cultivating in our front and back gardens, but don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.

Warm, damp weather and lots of lovely fresh (but vulnerable) growth can come together to create a perfect storm of problems.

There are common sense ways of defraying problems. Act sharp as soon as you see anything untoward and you should be able to contain any nasties – whether they be pest or disease – before they get a hold on your garden.

Keep tools clean and sharp to avoid spreading disease and damaging plants

Make sure equipment and pots are kept sharp and clean, especially after they have been used to cut away diseased plant material or have contained plants and compost you fear might be contaminated by pests or, again, disease.

In our garden we aim and grow in as organic and natural a way as possible and only resort to chemicals in the worst-case scenarios. Obviously this style of gardening doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I would urge any chemical users to do so sparingly, sticking fiercely to the manufacturers’ instructions and following a few simple guidelines.

Wash pots that may have held contaminated compost and plants

Never use pesticides on plants in flower or trees in blossom because you will kill valuable pollinating insects, not to mention the lacewing flies, wasps, ground beetles, ladybirds and hoverflies (to name a few), the bugs that will help you in the fight against insect pests.

Also remember that your garden is a natural habitat and if you strip away one layer of nature – ‘unwanted’ insects for example – the birds, bats and other mammals that feed on them won’t come round looking for food and your patch will be all the poorer for it.

The same applies to weedkillers. Many ‘weeds’ are important food sources for lots of creatures so if you are determined to have a pin-neat garden, please find room for an untidy, weedy area tucked away out of sight.

Finally, never use chemicals on a windy day as that gentle summer breeze will blow them into places you don’t want them to go, such as into your pond or onto treasured plants, where they can do immense damage.

If you use chemicals, do so in strict accordance of the manufacturers’ instructions

The best healthcare for plants is correct feeding and watering, so they grow strong and robust and as able as possible to repel any attackers. There will still be problems, but with good husbandry and prompt action, you should have a great year of gardening ahead.

Some problems don’t have chemical solutions, which means you will need to cut out infected growth and maybe even remove entire plants. Bin or burn these and don’t add them to the compost heap where diseases or pests can live on and spread further.

Sometimes it pays to grow ‘sacrificial’ plants that take the rap instead of more precious varieties. Companion plants are also worth considering – for instance, the scent of lavender planted next to roses is said to keep aphids at bay and scientists have proved that French marigolds actually do deter whitefly from tomato plants.

Leaf-curling pear midge is the culprit here so I cut out affected shoots

I noticed that the leaves on some of the growing tips of our otherwise healthy pear tree were starting to become curled and shrivels.

I sent an urgent message to AG’s legendary and encyclopaedic horticultural agony uncle John Negus, who told me the problem is leaf-curling pear midge and that as there’s no chemical control I needed to remove and bin the affected shoots.

I did so and hopefully all is well, though I will be watching the tree like a hawk in case of further problems.


We are here for you

Although many people are coping well with self-isolation, others are really struggling and feeling completely forgotten and alone.

Here at AG we are doing our best to keep connected to our readers though the magazine, this website and also through social media.

John Negus is AG‘s long-standing problem solver

Our gardening ‘agony uncle’ John Negus is also still working hard. Send him your problems and questions, with pictures if you can, and he will get back to you with an answer withing 24 hours, as he has been doing for decades. Contact him using the AG email address at:

We already have thriving Facebook page but are also on Twitter and Instagram. These sites are a brilliant way of chatting to people, sharing news, information, pictures and just saying hello – we will get back to you as soon as we can.

Best of all, as gardeners are generally lovely folk, more interested in plants, hedgehogs, tea and cake than political shenanigans and point-scoring, so the chat is friendly and welcoming.

So please drop by, follow us, ‘like’ our posts and say hello – the Instagram feed is in it’s really early days so the quicker we can get that going with your help and support, the better!

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