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‘Embark’ing on its second chapter

NEUTERING PROGRAMME: The second project of Otara Gunewardena’s Personal Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative - Embark - was launched in aid of stray and community dogs from June 28.

This second project, partly funded by Hatton National Bank, will seek out 300 community dogs as part of its Catch, Neuter, Vaccinate and Release (CNVR) programme over a period of 12 to 14 days and will target stray and community dogs within a radius of five kilometres around the Colombo General Hospital.


Flower of the week:

Enchanting Hibiscus

There are two varieties of hibiscus: Tropical hibiscus and Hardy hibiscus.

If your hibiscus has glossy deep green leaves, 3-6” flowers of red, pink, orange, yellow, double or single flowers, it is probably a Tropical hibiscus.

While many common garden varieties have the 3-6” blooms, many of the hybrid varieties of tropical hibiscus can have blooms around 10” in diameter under ideal conditions.

Another way to check is if the flowers are salmon, peach, orange, or yellow, or double flowered, then you probably have a Tropical hibiscus.

Hardy hibiscus does not come in these colours or in doubles! Many tropical hibiscus flowers have more than one colour in a bloom either in bands or as spots.

They detest cold, rainy weather and cold, wet soil. Make sure that the soil drains well. Hibiscus can be grown from stems and it is best to grow them on a sunny spot.

Treating your tropical hibiscus correctly will give you years of enjoyment. But remember, they are not immortal!


Tips and tricks on keeping pests out of your houseplants,

Dave’s Garden contributor

If you have indoor plants that you want to keep as pest-free as possible, but you don’t want to use a lot of chemicals, then think not only about killing the pests, but also about never letting them in - or at least reducing the influx as much as possible without stressing out totally. Let’s face it... We don’t grow in a vacuum and we like to get new plants.

The more plants we get, the higher the risk of getting new pests and viruses. And the more plants we have, and the smaller/more cramped our growing/propagating space, the higher the risk that a pest outbreak can take out our entire collection.

It’s difficult to discuss pest control generally when we live in different climates and grow on different scales.

Obviously, if you live in a place where it’s not unusual to have a hedge infested with mealybugs, then mealy control is going to be difficult. If you want to move plants in and out of the home and not use the “big gun” chemicals, then of course you’re more prone to all kinds of pests.

Mites, in particular are really difficult to deal with, especially the ones that don’t make webs, are not a bright orange, or are otherwise pretty much invisible. Some people, especially folks who live where mealies are all over the yard, may disagree, but dealing with mealies and scales is child’s play in comparison to mites.

Part of the mite problem is that the infestation isn’t visible until you really have a problem. Several years may pass after the first ones walk into your home before you actually notice a problem.

Another big part of the problem is that insecticides generally do not work on mites - mites are arachnids and so a roach killer is more likely to kill mites. (I said “more likely” not just to be clear.) The insecticides may be killing off the natural predators of the mites.

Not even all miticides actually kill off a population; some just suppress it. Not all miticides kill the eggs. Mites develop immunity to miticides.

“Systemic” doesn’t always mean systemic. And you can pretty much bet that whatever great miticide you have, there are some mites that won’t die. Ever look at miticides? Wonder why they’re so expensive? Mites are a tough problem to crack.

If you have an indoor grow area that you want to keep as pest-free as possible, but you don’t want to use a lot of chemicals, then think not only about killing the pests, but also about never letting them in - or at least reducing the influx as much as possible without stressing out totally.

This is where we should stop for a moment and think about what we buy and how we bring plants in. When I say “what you buy and how you buy”, I’m not talking about whether the source (grower and distributor) are reputable or reliable, or if they spray pesticides a lot, etc., although all of these are things you probably want to consider.

What I want to point out is that it’s easier to debug seeds and rhizomes than leaves, and a couple of leaves are easier than a plant. (Sorry, African Violet chimera fans... this is not very helpful for you.)

Obviously, if you want a particular cultivar, you have to get some plant material. But if you want a species, then could you grow it from seed? One of the reasons I keep recommending that people try growing from seed is that seeds are relatively risk free. (And yes, hybridizing is fun, and perpetuating species is good, and growing weird species is also all good.)

If you want a cultivar, get the plant piece with the least risk. For example, if you are considering getting a Kohleria, do you really need a pot of leaves? Why not just get rhizomes? They are fairly tough to kill, and they sprout and grow quite quickly. Although a cutting might give you flowers faster, a rhizome is one step ahead in maturity anyway.

Selecting what plant piece you get is an easy way to reduce the probability that you’ll bring in pests.

But of course, we can’t get away with never bringing in foliage. So what do you do when you bring in new cuttings or new plants? Remember, it’s safe to assume you can’t see pests and eggs, and that they are airborne. They can hitch a ride on pots, bags, clothing, hair, hands, nails, and air.....

Let’s assume that you have a spot for isolating new plants. Is this just a separate shelf or room? That may not be enough. Is it a vented humidity dome? That may also not be enough - there are holes in it, after all.

It is a sealed container? Not to sound totally pessimistic, but that may also not be enough - after all, you have to open it to water the plants and exchange the air (even if that is once every 2 months like at my place), and when you open the lid - whoosh - a lot of air movement.

It’s still possible to reduce your risk. Pause a moment to think about how you get the plant from your car/porch to the isolation area. Each additional step you build in to your plant-welcoming routine helps a little bit to reduce your risk. Take enough steps and you’re significantly closer to pest control.

Consider the following....

If you just visited a greenhouse:

Could you possibly have brought bugs or eggs with you on your hair or clothes? I first considered this when I was at an orchid greenhouse with epiphytic cacti hanging from above and there were clumps of mealies on the cacti. I went straight to the shower when I got home.

Did you touch plants while you were there? Should you be washing your hands and cleaning under your nails? Okay, this sounds anal, but you know we should always wash our hands.

As for plants:

Are they covered - like in a plastic bag - when you walk into the house? This would be good practice.

Did you carry an uncovered plant through the living room and past the plant shelves before taking it to the bathroom/kitchen/de-bugging bench?

Do you sterilize your new potting mix? Anyone who has bought a bag of soil only to find it miraculously gave birth to fungus gnats knows that you should never trust those bags. Dried compressed mix is fairly safe though.

Are you cleaning your tools between each plant, pot and soil? Blades should also be sterilized against virus.

What about your hands? Did you just pick up a new plant, dump the soil, and then pick up a clean pot? Or did you just handle a new plant, and then walk over to mix up a batch of potting mix?

Do you wear gloves while re-potting? Are they disposable or are you using gardening gloves?

Do you give your new leaves and cuttings a dip in a treatment bath? Wash them down to physically remove anything that will come off?

When you water, does the tip of your watering can or water bottle touch the plants at all? Are you inadvertently spreading the love?

It’s about balancing precautions and the joy of growing. It’s about stopping to think about your routine to see if changing a few things might decrease the risk of bringing in an infestation. It makes no sense to continue habits that could contribute to increasing your pest risk level, when you could just as easily have other habits that decrease your pest risk level.

Always get the least risky plant part.

Get rid of the bug-prone parts as far away from my grow area as possible. If I get a new plant with foliage, this includes removing dead plant material, de-potting if I know I’m going to do that, removing soil or potting medium that might have larvae, eggs, bush snails, etc., spraying or dipping in a pesticide.

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