Soft-fruit pests and diseases

Soft fruits are inviting to people and pests alike, and are easily invaded by diseases, so crops must be protected.

S trawberries are particularly susceptible to attack From birds and other pests. Once injured, they soon succumb to further infection by fungal diseases. Other soft fruits – including blackberries, raspberries, loganberries, blackcurrants, red currants, white currants, gooseberries and grapes – are also troubled by an extensive range of pests and diseases.

The most effective way to prevent damage by birds and rodents is to construct some sort of cage over the entire plant or plants. Plastic netting is readily available with a small enough mesh to prevent access by birds. A well-built fruit cage will last for several years. Make it large enough to walk into so that access for harvesting, spraying and pruning is not impeded .

However, smaller pests, including many insects, are not deterred by a fruit cage and you will need to prevent undue damage – unless you are a dedicated organic gardener – by operating a routine chemical spray programme. Try to avoid using the same chemicals every year, since certain pests and diseases can develop resistance to them. Never use chemicals indiscriminately: remember that not all insects are pests – some, such as bees, pollinate the flowers and others, such as ladybirds and green lacewing, are natural preda-tors of the real pests.

Follow the manufacturer’s in-structions when using chemicals, paying special attention to the rec-ommended safety period before harvesting and eating the crops. (iood garden hygiene is important in the fruit garden, especially around low-growing crops, such as strawberries. Clear decaying debris from the ground – it harbours fungal spores as well as insects and other pests.

OTHER TROUBLES

Soft fruits are inviting to people and pests alike, and are easily invaded by diseases, so crops must be protected.

Strawberries are particularly susceptible to attack from birds and other pests. Once injured, they soon succumb to further infection by fungal diseases. Other soft fruits – including blackberries, raspberries, loganberries, blackcurrants, red currants, white currants, gooseberries and grapes – are also troubled by an extensive range of pests and diseases.

The most effective way to prevent damage by birds and rodents is to construct some sort of cage over the entire plant or plants. Plastic netting is readily available with a small enough mesh to prevent access by birds. A well-built fruit cage will last for several years. Make it large enough to walk into so that access for har-vesting, spraying and pruning is not impeded .

However, smaller pests, including many insects, are not deterred by a fruit cage and you will need to prevent undue damage – unless you are a dedicated organic gardener – by operating a routine chemical spray programme. Try to avoid using the same chemicals every year, since certain pests and diseases can develop resistance to them. Never use chemicals indiscriminately: remember that not all insects are pests – some, such as bees, pollinate the flowers and others, such as ladybirds and green lacewing, are natural predators of the veal pests.

Follow the manufacturer’s in-structions when using chemicals, paying special attention to the rec-ommended safety period before harvesting and eating the crops.

Good garden hygiene is important in the fruit garden, especially around low-growing crops, such as strawberries. Clear decaying debris from the ground – it harbours fungal spores as well as insects and other pests.

The granules are also available as plugs or tablets. These are an easy way to feed containers and hanging baskets, as the plugs or tablets are simply added when the containers are planted up. Liquid fertilizers Concentrated compound fertilizers, sold in both solid and liquid form, must be diluted before use. Once made up, they are easy to apply and are quickly absorbed by plants.

Some liquid fertilizers are de-rived from seaweed and humus extracts; others are made from chemical elements. Liquid fertilizers are often formulated for specialized uses.

Phosphorus sources Phosphorus, in the form of soluble phosphates, is particularly important to plants in the seedling stage and in the formation of seeds. When plants are growing in a soil deficient in phosphate, their leaves are smaller and a dull purple colour, and the growth of the plant slows down. Too much phosphate will cause a premature ripening of the plant.

Phosphate fertilizers include bonemeal, a popular and widely available organic fertilizer, and superphosphate of lime. Potassium sources Potassium, in the form of potash, increases the intensity of flower colour and is sometimes given as a top dressing to improve the formation and ripening of flowers. It hardens the plant tissue and so improves the plant’s resistance to pests and diseases.

Potash is especially beneficial for fruit crops, tomatoes and potatoes. Tomato feeds contain nitrogen and phosphate but a higher proportion of potash.

Light soils in particular are likely to need added potash, and the most suitable form for the gardener is sulphate of potash. Compound fertilizers The easiest way for most gardeners to apply nutrients is to use a compound fertilizer which contains all three major nutrients (NPK). Grow-more is a very popular inorganic compound fertilizer that supplies equal proportions of NPK.

Organic gardeners traditionally used blood, fish and bone. This is still popular but there are now other organic fertilizers, such as pelleted chicken manure, which contain high nutrient levels.

Many compound fertilizers are formulated for specific parts of the garden – lawns and flowerbeds, for example – and they are available as granules or as liquid feed. Slow-release fertilizers Many organic fertilizers, such as blood, fish and bone, release their nutrients slowly. But there are now inorganic fertilizers, such as Osmocote, which release their nutrients in a controlled way. The nutrients are held inside permeable membranes – as the temperature increases more fertilizer is re- the most common example. Foliar feeds Plants absorb nutri- l ents fairly slowly through their roots. Dilute solutions of liquid fertilizer sprayed on the leaves are absorbed more rapidly. Some fo- I liar feeding fertilizers are based on soluble, inorganic fertilizers, while others are all organic preparations with a seaweed base.

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