Sunday, November 22, 2015

One hedge bites the dust

Here's a handy tip. If you're planning on sneaking up to our front door, don't do it at night. You could get trapped in the spider webs which run from hedge to hedge across our front path. Fortunately, this isn't much of a real problem, as we know who is likely to visit our house most of the time, and so it's my job to make sure all the spider webs are down before our guests arrive. When it's just Pammy and me returning home from a night out, we have some sticks sitting on a ledge by our front gate, making it easy enough to swoosh away the webs (much to the spiders' annoyance, I am sure).

However, we've decided that not only is this all too much bother, the hedges themselves aren't what they used to be. Here's a photo of them in their prime a few years back.

They don't look green and lush like this anymore. Tiny native insects called "psyllids" have ruined our hedges (of the lilly pilly called 'Tiny Trev'). You can't see the psyllids, but you can see the damage they cause, which is lots of tiny pimples on all the leaves

This is a photo of the psyllid damage to the lilly pilly's lovely, bright red new growth, which is what they really attack with vigour. Over the years the psyllids have been winning the battle, the hedges are covered with ugly, pimply foliage, and so the worst of the hedges is coming out, and the others will come out soon, as well.

The chemical treatment that was recommended for psyllids is Confidor, but that is not only a non-organic solution to the problem, it's a nasty one I won't use. Recent research seems to show that Confidor might also be very damaging to other insect populations, especially bees. And so, with no organic controls of psyllids available, the only solution is to either (a) replant with a psyllid-resistant lilly pilly species (which are available) or (b) forget the hedges altogether. I'm going for option "b".

Given that we're basically being driven mad by the relentless spider webs across the path, it was an easy decision to remove the hedges and replace them with some lower-growing and also lower maintenance plants. So here's what we did...

Step one is to almost break your back removing 10-year-old lilly pillies with monster root systems. This only takes two hours and the only thing you have to show for your efforts is this photo of brown nothingness. The good news is that the soil there is weed-free, has plenty of worms and is still light and lovely.

Step Two is to figure out what to grow there that is low-maintenance, low-growing, indestructible and blessed with redeeming features such as year-round foliage and a burst of flowers at some stage of the year. So it was off to the garden centre to buy some plants plus three bags of potting mix to top up the soil.

If you were hoping that I'd choose something rare, or unusual, or challenging to grow, you will be bitterly disappointed to see this plant label. Star jasmine. There are only 5 million star jasmines thriving in Sydney at the moment, so I am hoping this will be number 5,000,001. This plant loves Sydney in much the same way that Murraya loves Sydney, and vice versa. Glossy green foliage year-round, scented spring flowers. It's often grown up posts and fences, but it's also a good groundcover. Local councils love to plant it inside concrete traffic islands, and it thrives there. It will grow in sun, semi-shade or shade, but flowers best in full sun. My job will be to cut it back a couple of times a year, but not as often as I've had to cut back the lilly pilly hedges. 

Down the other end of this narrow pathside bed, while we wait for the star jasmine to make its way down there, I've planted a punnet of vincas, which hopefully will thrive and flower prettily for three or so months, after which I can ruthlessly pull them out (with a gentle word of thanks to them tossed in for good measure).

And so, traaa daaa. Ten minutes' work and that part of the job is done. All I need to do it water them in, but before I go, here's a word or three about a product I have been using for a couple of years and rarely mention. It's the seaweed solution, eco-seaweed.

I have been using this same container of eco-seaweed since 2013, and there's still lots left. I know it goes back to 2013, as it was a freebie given to everyone who attended some kind of gardening PR day (can't remember where or when, sorry) when I still had a job at Burke's Backyard. eco-seaweed is a certified-organic, dried seaweed product which you mix up at the rate of one teaspoon per 9L watering can. No wonder I am only halfway through the pack!

Here's what it looks like close up. Ummm ... dried black seaweed. The label on the pack says one jar makes up to 800 litres of solution, and I don't doubt that's true.

Now, most gardeners are very familiar with the product called "Seasol", but they often misunderstand Seasol, and I don't think any amount of repeated explanations is ever going to get through to them that Seasol isn't a fertiliser, it's a root growth promoter and general plant tonic. 

Well, that's the identical problem with eco-seaweed. The companies marketing Seasol and eco-seaweed want you to believe that they are uniquely different products, but as far as I am concerned they're pretty much the same thing (except that the Seasol is sold as a liquid, and the eco-seaweed is a dried concentrate). 

I didn't bother buying any more Seasol after my bottle of it ran out in 2013. I just switched over to the freebie eco-seaweed and two years later I am still using the same pack. AND I have a second freebie pack of eco-seaweed here (the one that Pam brought home in her freebie gift bag), and so I think we might just have enough eco-seaweed to see us through to 2020 at least. 

The least I could do for the company who has given us almost a lifetime supply of excellent quality plant tonic is this free plug! Besides, I like it and it works just fine.

They also have several other modern, sophisticated, eco-friendly, organic-certified products on the market (such as the freebie eco-fungicide that was also in their gift bag – thanks!) so do check them out at their website.

Finally, a thrilling action shot of me watering in the plants. This is one of the best uses for these seaweed solutions: watering in newly planted plants. I'll give them a follow-up watering with more seaweed solution a few weeks from now, and they should be doing nicely by then. Fingers crossed!

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