Start spreading the news!

Sorry for misleading Sinatra fans this is not about his song New York New York. It is about a recent article I read in the 2017 Jounal of the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society, (The Caley), by David Knott , the curator of living collections at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, entitled Plant Health Matters.

The article highlights and goes into some detail on pests and diseases which are killing many trees and shrubs with the knock on consequences to the wildlife which depends on them, Although the article focuses on Scotland its significance applies throughout the UK and the world. I think we as gardeners should be aware that some pests and diseases pose a bigger threat than others and have an idea, should we become suspicious, how to act as well as the steps to reduce the risk of spread.

Why is plant health such an important subject? On the grand scale rural economies and the natural environment are affected. In Glen Trool, Scotland large tracts of larch forests have been wiped out by a fungus known as Ramorum blight, affecting both the timber trade and the wildlife within the forests. Pests and diseases such as Ramorum blight are notifiable and must be reported it to the relevant authority.

The relevant authority is DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). They have plant health officers who regularly visit growers, monitor foreign plant imports and work closely with organisations such as the Forestry Commission on monitoring forests etc.

On the smaller scale, within our gardens we can inadvertently contribute to aiding spread such as buying plants from untrustworthy sources and irresponsible disposal of garden waste. For the average gardener remembering the symptoms of each pest or disease is not feasible. We should be suspicious if any of our garden plants look unhealthy, showing weak, wilting growth,  browning or blackening  foliage crown die back etc.  and is failing to contribute to the  overall ornamental picture. Having ruled out obvious common likely causes as drying out in times of drought or masses of greenfly on fresh growth we have to decide if we need to contact DEFRA.

 On phoning DEFRA to ask what the procedure is I was told that gardeners suspecting a notifiable pest or disease should phone 03000200301 putting them in touch with the Plant Health Team. I have to admit I would not want to call in the cavalry in fear of the embarrassment of the plant suffering from a common problem such as vine weevil damage I would be inclined to err on the safe side and dig it up and burn it  on site which is the usual practice that plant health officers would state to eradicate the problem.

Buying from reputable garden centres etc. is recommended on the assumption that they are behaving responsibly and sourcing their material from responsible growers.  However there is no harm in being vigilant. Visual examination of a plant at a retail outlet (rather than online) allows us to see if a plant looks healthy enough, however, remember many pests and diseases are difficult to detect as they may be in a dormant  phase and not rear their ugly head till planted in our garden. Keeping hold of receipt is a good practice as it can be useful  to get your money back  from the retailer from an infected plant.

Those of us wanting to know a little more can read or download comprehensive information sheets on specific pests and diseases from https://fera.co.uk/plantclinic/plantpestdiseasefactsheet.cfm.

There is also a downloadable poster at, a must for every garden shed

parksgardensbiosecurityposter

Those of  you interested in joining the Caley can do so  by emailing: membership@rchs.co.uk

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