Friday, September 3, 2010

On plumbago leaves and pointless death of a praying mantis

Well, thank you Doug Caldwell and University of Florida!

I have been agonising for months about the tiny white dots on the underside of many of the leaves of my plumbago. They have a raspy, almost sand-paper feel to them and are most unpleasant to touch. I was convinced they were the tiny eggs of some pest bug.

So I sprayed the plant with insecticide. One hapless praying mantis died, despite my efforts to resuscitate it by taking it away from the sprayed area and by giving it a quick bath in clean water. Alas, nothing helped. Normally, I would never kill a praying mantis, because it devours “bad” insects in the garden. If a praying mantis gets lost and wanders into my house, I scoop it carefully with a tea towel and take it outside.

The dots remained on the plumbago leaves. Most annoyingly, every single resource dealing with “pests” and “plumbago” on the internet assured me that this is a hardy, pest-free plant. Even if some caterpillar or a few aphids munch on plumbago leaves, says the internet, they do not cause big damage to the plant.

And then, when I almost gave up hope – bingo! I stumbled upon this article. In the article Doug Caldwell talks about a new danger for otherwise pest-resistant plumbago in Florida in the guise of some beastly insect called chili thrips. More importantly for me in Johannesburg, South Africa, he also mentions this:

“A feature that sometimes confuses even the experts trying to diagnose declining plumbago hedges, is the whitish undersides of the leaves. This white material resembles a powdery mildew disease or a chemical spray deposit, it is neither. This white deposit is the natural exudate from “chalk” glands that are found on the plumbago species.”

There is also a picture of the underside of a plumbago leaf covered with the chalky dots – and yes, it looks exactly like my “affected” plumbago leaves!

Here is the image, so that none mistakes the whitish dots for pests, sprays the plant with insecticide and murders another innocent praying mantis:

Friday, August 6, 2010

These intruders are welcome

Not all the intruders are as unwelcome in my garden as the over-fertile tree. Over the years several plants have appeared from nowhere. Some of them are still growing strong.

There is the arum lily – or some variety of arum lily. It has not grown as big as the pedigreed arum lilies, not does it flower as often, but it is still welcome in my garden. I like its large (all right, largish) leaves and I adore its while funnel-like flowers that have all too short lifespan. Alas, my arum lily did not flower last year, but I am not giving up hope.

Then there is something that looks and tastes like strawberry (yes, I have bravely tasted it), so it must be a strawberry plant. I don't know where it came from. One day, it was simply there. I suspect that it made its way from the next door neighbour’s garden. Perhaps a bird plucked the berry, then dropped it in my garden and did not dare to come and fetch it because the neighbour’s cat was prowling around (as it usually does). Delicious fruit aside, the plant nicely refreshes an otherwise dull corner.

The third intruder is not really an intruder at all. I introduced the small violets several years ago, then forgot all about them until they started sprouting here and there. True, they make a statement only when planted en masse, but I think that my lone mini violets still look rather cheerful and I get annoyed with myself every time I mistake them for weeds and pluck them out (which happens often before they open their characteristic flowers). 
Another introduced intruder is a ground cover with round leaves. It was originally intended to occupy a sizeable portion of space. Since it was too quick to spread without the benefit of looking particularly pretty, I pulled out as much of it as I could and transplanted it into a corner where I hoped it would not bother anyone. While it looks much better in the new position, it still spreads too quickly and has to be checked in order not to devour the pebbles.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Maple tree in autumn

Here are several images of my maple tree in autumn (taken in June, which is autumn in the Southern hemisphere):

Couple of months before these pictures were taken, I had a big fright: the tree-feller guys who (finally!) came to trim the tree from the neighbouring garden that so offensively hung over my backyard dropped a few large logs onto my maple tree, breaking several branches and half-uprooting it. I am glad to report that my maple recovered nicely.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Not a tree hater

As I hope I proved with my little bonsai, I am no tree hater, even though I dislike the things the neighbour’s tree sheds onto my garden.

Another proof is my little Japanese maple tree.

When I took possession of this 4 x 10 metres backyard garden, there was not a tree in sight (nor much else either). It took me about five years to start thinking about planting one. I always thought the garden was too small for a tree – but, after all, there are not-so-big trees to be found, right?

So, my first consideration in choosing a tee was that it had to be a fairly small one. My thought first tuned to conifers – there’s such a variety there! – but I quickly abandoned the idea. Conifers need sunlight and, unless I planted them right in front of my window something which I would not do), the conifers would be in shade or partial shade most of the year. After weeks of research I finally decided to go with a Japanese maple. I first wanted the coral one, which displays beautiful reddish branches when the leaves fall off, but had to give that choice up because it grows too high. So it had to be the Acera kind.

Easily said, but much more difficult to do. For, as I soon discovered, not many nurseries in Johannesburg have maples for sale. I found one in a distant part of the city and planted it in the spot I designated for it, with the clay soil carefully dug out and supplanted and enriched with lighter soil that maples like.

Alas, after the very first year it dawned on me that the spot I selected might not be the perfect spot for my maple tree. True, the tall conifers from the neighbouring garden (since gone – but more about that another time) cast a shadow over almost the whole width of my small garden, but in the height of summer, December through February, the sun shone almost vertically on the maple’s tender leaves. With the sad consequence that many of the leaves dries out and died.

I gave it another year, thinking that perhaps matters would improve as the (religiously watered once a week) tree grew accustomed to its position. It did not.

Against my friend’s advice, who was adamant that moving plants equals killing them, I moved my maple closer to the high wall that divides my garden from the neighbouring property and casts a shadow through much of the day.

They say that the correct procedure for transplanting a tree is to do it over a period of about a month or two. First you dig a trench on one side of the tree, than on another, and only then dig it out. However, after all the digging I did the previous year, I was not prepared to go though that. Besides, I read about the experience of one maple tree-owner who, like me, had planted his tree in a sunny spot and, believing it dead, dug it out with roots and threw it away onto a pile of compost – only to find the tree sprouting leaves in the spring. He replanted it in a shade and, as he says, the tree is doing wonderfully.

Therefore, I took a deep breath, removed all the carefully placed stones around the maple, dug it out and planted it against the wall, into a prepared, well-composted soil.

Well, two years on, my maple, now five years old, is doing well, as can be seen from this photo:

This is the same tree in its old, sun-baked position:

To follow: photos of my maple tree in its autumn splendour.