mediterranean-plants

High Altitude Gardening

A few articles ago I discussed the importance of choosing the correct types of plants for garden on steep slopes. Plants that will stabilize and hold the soil. The topic in this article is one of similar importance, the plants that we can use in gardens in high altitude areas. If you are living in such an area, you may have probably realized by now that there are some, more delicate plants that just will not survive, usually because of the three reasons; exposure to wind, the low temperatures in winter and poor soils. However, it is very strange but you may think that high altitude plants will grow anywhere in high altitude places? But there may be particular plants that grow in particular Mediterranean places country that cannot grow in other areas. If in doubt, a rule of thumb, is to try to take some time to simply stand in your garden. Try to simply look at the surrounding vegetation and trees and if you can see a view of the surrounding countryside try to study the types of trees and shrubs that are growing happily in this immediate vicinity.

First of all you should see quite a few indigenous plants such as the Ceratonia siliqua, commonly known as the carob tree, St John’s-bread, or locust bean – it is a species of flowering evergreen shrub or tree in the pea family, Fabaceae. It is widely cultivated for its edible pods, and as an ornamental tree in gardens. Or the Pistacia atlantic – a tree of the genus Pistacia. It is a member of the same genus as pistachio, terebinth, and mastic. The Pistacia genus ranges from shrubs to trees adapted to drought and the Mediterranean climate

or even the wonderful ancient old Olive trees, Olea europaea. If you can see these types of trees in high altitude then you can probably be sure that a lot of more delicate plants will not survive in your garden. The indigenous plants are usually considered to be very hardy and can usually tolerate any type of climatic conditions and poor soils. The main reason for avoiding the more delicate plants is due, usually to the very low temperatures in the winter months in the mediterranean climates. The temperatures can drop considerably sometimes reaching to frosts or snow conditions. We are therefore limited to the types of plants that we can plant in our gardens and that will tolerate these cold conditions, but, to be on the safe side, it is better to use more hardy evergreen shrubs and trees, ones that will tolerate these cold climatic conditions. However, if you are living in the a place such as the UK then the temperature range can be even more dramatic and you will want to consider more frost and snow conditions, even now more high rainfall conditions. And if you are living in say, America, you will again want to consider what temperatures your particular state gets to in the winter months. In all countries always consider the winter months and get a feel of how severe your winter temperatures are. If they are mild, choose plants such as perennials, if they have frost, choose plants such as hardy shrubs and even you can try growing fruit trees and vegetables that will do well with frost conditions but with less rainfall consider planting such fruit trees as; rhubarb, blackberries, apples, and vegetables such as; broad beans, carrots. Always first consider the climatic conditions that routinely affect your area. And as you will come to realise there is a whole lot of difference in temperature in every single country and state all over the world and so these conditions must be considered before planting any new plants in your garden, especially in high altitude gardening.

Here are a few plants that should do very well in high altitude Mediterranean gardens. One of my favourite evergreen plants is a tree that can be used for cooking, the pepper tree, sometimes called Artimathkia or the Latin Schinus molle. It bears these lovely small red berries in August or September, which when dried can be crushed and used in your pepper mills. Also the leaves of the pepper tree can be crushed in your hand and rubbed on your skin to prevent mosquitoes, (what a tree!). The other great advantage of this tree is that it has lovely pendula branches so once it matures it looks a little like the shape of the weeping willow. Another evergreen tree, ideal for high altitude conditions is the tall Cyprus conifer or Italian conifer, Cupressus sempervirens. If you have ever been to Italy you will have seen these dotted around the countryside, they are extremely dominant, with their tall, pencil-thin evergreen foliage, and placed accurately in a garden design, they can really give you a perfect architectural display. Staying on the theme of conifers, there are quite a few selections of lovely dwarf conifers that are perfect for high altitude gardens such as the lovely spreading Juniperus horizontalis with its grey/blue foliage and Pinus Mugo nana, its bold needle-type leaves are perfect for a dominant splash of green foliage. Also try Thuja aurea nana and Juniperus stricta mixed with a lovely selection of dwarf and tall grasses such as Festuca glauca, Ophiopogon, Bambusa nana aurea, Miscanthus zebrinus, Penesetum rubra and Cyperus alternifolius and other Cyperus species, all will give a perfect permanent bold evergreen colour, even in the dullest of winter months. Nonetheless, it is important to recognize that these high altitude gardens still need to have some colour in order to contrast and brighten up those more stable evergreen plants. Lavenders are perfect because they are very hardy plants and they continue to flower month after month. There are now quite a few different varieties of lavenders these days, such as new varieties of Lavender stoechas, the french lavender, ideal because each variety will flower at different times of the year. And a lovely climber called Sandevilla, which is in the same family as the Mandevilla – it has lovely smaller glossy evergreen leaves and a very strong trumpet bright-red flowers. Be aware that Sandevilla Red Mandevilla typically needs a fair amount of maintenance and care in order to grow successfully. Ensure that you are aware of the soil, sun, ph and water requirements for this plant and keep an eye out for pests. Pay attention to weeding, feed and pruning schedules to ensure your plant remains in peak condition.

Another climber that will do well in high altitudes is the Pandorea jasminoides, commonly known as Bower of Beauty, Bower Vine or Bower Climber is an evergreen, vigorous woody climber, and member of the Bignoniaceae family, it also has smaller trumpet shaped pale pink/mauve flowers but it is very strong and will grow in poor soils and cold exposed conditions. Last but not least, try planting an evergreen shrub called Tecomaria capensis, it will survive in high altitude areas because it is a hardy evergreen shrub, one that can be used to disguise a wall as it can be classed as semi climber, you cannot mistake this plant with its dark glossy green leaves and a vibrant orange/red, pea or trumpet shaped flower. Tecomaria capensis, commonly called Cape honeysuckle is a species of flowering plant in the family Bignoniaceae, native to southern Africa and despite it’s common name it is not closely related to the true honeysuckle

My favourite hardy evergreen low growing shrub has to be the Rosmarinus corsicus ‘Prostratus’ or Rosmarinus officinalis lavandulaceus. The reason why I love this shrub so much is that it grows very well in any conditions in high mediterranean temperatures and all in very cold conditions – in fact in all sorts of climatic conditions – it is an extremely adaptable shrub

Need some plant advice? For more details, pest and disease advice or plant ideas for your own individual garden conditions – please contact me on the home page or write to me at the plant diagnostic service contact home page www.plantandgardendoctor.com

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Plants in pots

“How do you grow plants in pots if you only have a small patio or balcony?” This was a question put to me by a customer many years ago.

This was, to me, an unusual question, because as a person with knowledge of plants I assumed that most people know how to plant in pots, but thinking about it, it is not so strange and planting in small patios or balconies is probably more difficult than creating a large landscaping project or a brand new garden. The reason for this is that there are many problems which it may not be possible to overcome when planting in pots, especially in a small patio – such as; watering, plants becoming potbound, and nutrient deficiency. For instance, all plants dislike erratic watering, they dislike having dry soil one week and the next week they are drowned with water – they like consistency, little and often, and we will see that any plants will thrive very healthily if we continue to treat them this way. Why? because plants live healthily for three good reasons, food, in other words, soil nutrients, sun, and water. That’s all they need. All these are great environments to allow a plant to grow healthily. But the most important issue that will keep your plants healthy for many years to come is to attach an automatic irrigation system and a timer to water each pot. Why? so that you can give your plants water consistently – little and often, for instance, to set the timer so that the plants get watered for one minute a day. That’s all, one minute – however, this sounds a little strange but because the plant in the pot knows it’s getting watered every day, it won’t hold its root growth back and won’t conserve its water, therefore it will continue to grow healthy leaves and growth just like it should do. So we need to have some sort of outside water supply to be able to connect an outside irrigation system. For instance we need an outside tap, a timer, some 20mm pipe and some offset smaller trickle pipes to feed each pot. If this is not possible then you will have to go out and water your plants a small amount of water every single day and that is a great task. But growing plants in pots creates another problem. With pots we have a fourth issue. How do you keep a plant healthy if it has been in a pot for so long that it has grown its roots down to the bottom of the pot? We have to either continue to feed the plant adequate nutrients for the rest of its life or we have to repot the plant into a bigger pot with a lot more fresh soil and compost.

Plants also don’t like having restricted root growth. The most common mistake that most people make is that they put a plant that has grown to a good mature size into a pot half its size. In other words, if a plant has 2 foot of growing height above the ground it will have 2 foot of roots below the ground. This is not the case with most dwarf plants, however, such as slow growing species. Plants that are more suitable for pots are ones that have been grafted as ornamental varieties. So when you are looking for plants to grow in pots ask your garden centre to show you plants that have been grafted to become slow growing or are ornamental varieties. The final issue is the type of soil that you use when you repot a plant. When planting any perennial plants, shrubs, trees or plants for permanent display, remember that preparation is important. When you find a good sized terracotta pot ready for planting try to place a good base of gravel in the bottom of the pot to allow for adequate drainage. Then, if you are planting established plants such as shrubs, ornamental trees or perennial plants for permanent display, you will need to find a good quality topsoil to mix with a bag of tree and shrub compost, say 70% soil to 30% compost, this will give the best nutrient value for a long period for your plant. If you are planting more annual type plants consider using 30% soil and 70% compost for bedding plants.

Most plants will tolerate the above neutral pH soil consistency, nevertheless there are exceptions to this, for example, any acid-soil loving plants such as Hydrangeas, Camellias and Rhododendrons need to be potted in ericaceous compost, but these plants are the only exception to this rule. Again, try to remember, regular watering, a small amount every day, and try to water at the same time every day, and plant any permanent plants in the largest pot you can possibly find.

Need some plant advice? For more details, pest and disease advice or plant ideas for your own individual garden conditions – please contact me on the home page or write to me at the plant diagnostic service contact home page www.plantandgardendoctor.com

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Stabilizing Mediterranean Gardens on Slopes

When my garden landscape company was in business a few years ago in the Mediterranean I had to undergo a very difficult garden project set on one of the steepest sloped Mediterranean gardens I have ever seen. The gradient of the slope was so steep that the staff building the garden with me had to use ropes to climb up and down in order to carry the materials. The owners had just moved into their new home and they were very disappointed that they could not use the garden, as a pleasant aesthetic garden to walk around. For instance, to walk, admire the views and sit outside in the warm summer evenings. And because the house was situated on a steep slope they had good views all around to the valleys below, great for sitting and admiring the views but at the moment the garden had absolutely no aesthetic attraction – no plants, just a lot of unhealthy and dying old trees and also bad quality soil. And to make it worse the gradient of the garden was so steep that it made it almost impossible to walk on – so this was a challenge – how was I going to make it into a garden fit for plants to grow happily and how was I going to make it a garden inviting for people to walk around? It was a tall order, however, the solution came to me very simply. We need to make an old stepping-stone path around the garden and in between the stones we plant low growing spreading plants that will bind the soil and hold the rocks and soil in place. In other words we use plants to stabilize the soil. It could be done but it was going to be a lot of hard work. But I like challenges – and so I set about talking to the owner about my design ideas.

The owner liked my thoughts and asked us to set about with the project. However, before we began, preparation was needed, the garden had to be cleared. It was full of old, dying trees and old bushes and weeds. So we set to work. The first major step was to remove and kill all the old unhealthy trees by cutting the trees down to their stumps. The tree stumps were kept to hold the soil stable. It didn’t matter if the stumps were left because we could disguise them with plants and rocks around them. As long as the stumps were not allowed to grow back again of course. The second task was in three stages, first we needed to stabilize the soil so that in the winter months the rain would not erode and wash the soil down the slope. It would have been possible to stabilize the soil by building a large retaining wall with terraces and steps down to each terrace. However, because the garden was so big, this would have cost the owner thousands. It was a nice idea but not financially practical and in my eyes, this would not have been an interesting garden. The answer was to build this lovely dry-stone stepping stone path meandering through the garden, creating a natural effect and at the same time eliminating the chance of soil erosion. And for extra stability to prevent more soil erosion larger boulder rocks were placed throughout the garden so that when the plants were introduced the plants would then hold the soil, again, to stop erosion. Imagine carrying and placing 2 x 26 tonne lorries of boulder rocks and stepping stones down a slope and the only foothold the staff had was hanging onto a rope for security!

The final task was planting. The soil around the house and other houses around this vicinity were renowned for very poor chalky soils, therefore all the plants had to be sub-planted with at least 2 foot of really good quality red top soil and compost – again each plant was planted with the staff going up and down the slope on ropes. But the major importance, and the one reason this garden would be a success or failure was the types of plants that we used.

Because of the steepness of the slopes the plants needed to be particular plants that would stabilise the soil, soil-binding and spreading species. We chose to use a lot of evergreen dwarf spreading conifers, such as, Juniperus horizontalis, Thuju aurea nana, Rosmarinus corsicus ‘Prostratus’ or Rosmarinus officinalis lavandulaceus and Pinus Mugo nana. We also chose to use dwarf grasses, that would spread but give a mixture of different colours, especially for the winter months, such as Festuca glauca (Blue/grey grass), Ophiopogon (lush green grass), Carex (variegated yellow grass) and Bambusa nana (compact lush green mini bamboo). Because all of the above are classed as evergreen plants giving permanent green throughout the winter and summer, it was also necessary to include some spreading, compact plants that would give colour, especially throughout the summer and winter months such as; Margarita rose (pink button flowers), Mounding Santolina’s (yellow button flowers), Osteospermum (lovely purple and white spreading flowers), spreading bush bougainvilleas, giving a dominant selection of either red flowers or pink flowers, the bush variety is not very common but if you find it, it can be ideal to use as a colourful-spreading plant, and Felicia, with its lush green mound and lovely purple daisy-type flowers, and last but not least, a few different varieties of Lavender stoechas, the french lavender to give long-lasting purple & blue flowers and Tulbaghia violacea, also known as society garlic or pink agapanthus, is a species of flowering plant in the onion family Alliaceae and has compact perennial grass-like leaves with heads of dense purple flowers throughout the summer and winter months.

All these plants are ideal for slopes, but do remember, all these flowering plants were put onto an automatic irrigation system and so they were watered for 3 minutes every day. Obviously this will keep all the plants healthy and happy but with full sun in the Mediterranean it means that the flowering plants will grow very rapidly and must be cut back regularly over the summer months, down to the last green shoots. All of the flowering plants will be mature in about six months and will look stunning once they have spread over the big boulder rocks and blending with the lovely meandering stepping-stone path!!

Need some plant advice? For more details, pest and disease advice or plant ideas for your own individual garden conditions – please contact me on the home page or write to me at the plant diagnostic service contact home page www.plantandgardendoctor.com

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Keep your Gardens Healthy

After spending many years studying plants, learning the habit of different plant cultivars in the UK, it then became necessary after starting a new business in the Mediterranean, in 2004 to begin the process all over again – this time studying Mediterranean plants and their habits.

As you can imagine it was a very long process, but one that was vital in order to consider each garden situation and its conditions and so that all the plants that I used in the garden landscape projects would stay healthy year after year. It is necessary because all plants in the Mediterranean grow ten times quicker then they do in most countries. This is due several reasons; high and long light levels, therefore higher photosynthesis levels and once gardens are connected to an automatic irrigation system, the plants grow healthily and happily with little needs except occasional feeding and heavy pruning. The purpose of initially choosing the correct plants for your garden and knowing how to maintain these plans is vital, especially if you have a house that is not lived in regularly or is rented. And because plants grow ten times quicker than they do in any other country, this means that a lot of plants also get older ten times faster. Therefore plants need to be pruned often in order to keep their healthy shape, foliage and their conditions, obviously, then, this will prolong their lifespan, and will mean you will not have to dig out and replace your plants if they grow old and woody.

These are some examples of problem plants that can get out of hand in Mediterranean countries if they are not controlled correctly: Honeysuckle (Lonicera), is a very woody climber, very pretty but grows very vigorous so do chose this plant if you want to cover a large fence or gap. Also the same occurs with climbers and shrubs such as; Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), Evergreen Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides, T. asiaticum), Bougainvillea, Solanum (Solanum crispum ‘Glasnevin’ or
Chilean potato tree), Lavenders, Rosemary, Pandorea jasminoides, Anisodontea (Anisodontea hypomandarum – Cape Mallow), Plumbago auriculata (common names blue plumbago, Cape plumbago or Cape leadwort), Roses and any other woody stemmed plants. You can do more harm than good by leaving these plants than if you prune regularly. For example, if you see these plants flowering happily but getting very long and overgrown, take the courage to cut them back severely – you know that most people don’t like cutting plants back when in flower but don’t worry, after a few months they will be back flowering as healthy and happy as before.

Nonetheless, for Mediterranean gardening do make sure that you have a good irrigation system connected, set on a regular watering timer, and feed every 3 months with a good rose and shrub fertilizer. This technique will also help to control pests and diseases, as plants have problems when the pests and diseases are sheltered in thick foliage with no aeration, therefore giving them an ideal habit for them to breed.

As discussed earlier it has taken a few years studying different plant cultivars in order to learn some very good and healthy, all year round “cut and come again plants”. Try to find the following in garden centres if you would like some successful colourful and pretty flowering shrubs; Margarita rose (pink not white, prune well every 3 months), Tulbaghia violacea, also known as society garlic or pink agapanthus, is a species of flowering plant in the onion family Alliaceae, indigenous to southern Africa (flowers permanently, no pruning required), Lavenders (prune to 20 cm every 3 months, even when flowering but don’t prune into the old wood), Mini Roses (prune well every 3 months), Rosemary (Prune well every 3 months), Anisodontea (prune well every 3 months), Solanum (prune well every 3 months), Plumbago (prune well every 3 months).

Need some plant advice? For more details, pest and disease advice or plant ideas for your own individual garden conditions – please contact me on the home page or write to me at the plant diagnostic service contact home page www.plantandgardendoctor.com

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Mediterranean Plant Pests and Diseases

Summer is the time when a Global Plant Doctor will start to see an accumulation of pest and diseases hidden in our gardens, either they have been dormant over the winter months, or we simply find that new pests appear this year because of several factors. The major reason why we have an abundance of pests and diseases, more so in Mediterranean countries rather than the colder countries is because of the much higher temperatures – beginning mid April and carrying on through the summer into late December.

Plant pests and diseases love to find shelter in dense perennial plants, shrubs, conifers, hedging and climbers, the denser the plant and the less aeration the more the adequate an environment is established for the pests to breed. And they will breed much more quickly if there is no rain or wind to be able to blow the pests away. Once they are able to get inside the foliage and reproduce they will breed ten times quicker if they are left without disturbance such as wind, rain, or aeration. And as you will discover there will nothing that you can do to get rid of them, except of spraying with toxic chemicals and sometimes this is worse than the pest itself, causing non-evasive, non-predators to suffer. This is why it is vital that at this time of year to really start to take notice of your plants. Try to spend at least ten minutes in your garden throughout the summer months to identify any changes in the colour, health and condition of your plants. It’s easy to do, here’s a few tips – try to get down close enough to the shrub, tree or flowering plants so that you can study the leaves underneath, as well as above of course. If your shrub, bush, tree or conifer is dense, separate the foliage and look deep inside the centre of the plant to discover if there are any signs of unhealthy change. There are particular signs that can be recognised with each plant pest and disease to look out for – try to identify and diagnose the problem yourself. For instance, at this time (mid to end of April) a particular pest, commonly known as cuckoo spit is found. (We can see this pest in the UK quite often). It is a small pest known as froghopper, it’s scientific name is Philaenus spumarius. It encircles itself with something that can only be described as something that looks like spit. The symptoms that you will see with these pests are severe distortion of the leaves causing them to curl up and become deformed, sometimes even, before they have had chance to develop into a full leaf. The spit is made from a small greenish adult hopping-type insect which creates a cocoon of spit around it’s small cuckoo spit larva, created by the sap of the plant leaf. There are no safe chemical controls for this pest. The safest, more organic method to get rid of the spit is to spray the completely infected plant with a hosepipe – very lightly on top of the leaf and under the leaf. However, you must hose the plant in the evening when the weather is cooler. If the plants get wet in high season, the sun will scorch the leaf so avoid spraying in the daytime and only spray early evening. The other major problem that occurs in Mediterranean countries is a pest called Leafminer. This is usually seen on Citrus trees – a bit later in the year but if it is left unnoticed it will damage the blossom of Citrus trees so it must be controlled before it can take hold. The symptoms are a seen by a small mining line that mines through the leaf of the citrus plant and if severe enough eventually causes the leaf to become distorted. You can tell this is Leafminer (scientific name Phyllognistis) because it creates this distinct mining effect, just like someone has drawn a thin uneven line through the leaf. For an organic prevention and to prevent this insect from damaging the new blossom and leaf growth for the new spring season try to place sticky traps on the trees early on in the season or prune the tree from the previous seasons growth and keep an eye on the tree in case you see new signs of damage in the next year’s leaf growth. Try to avoid using a systemic insecticide – although in some cases, if the symptoms are severe enough this is the only solution.

Another very important pest that occurs on orange trees, deforming the fruit, is the Mediterranean Fruit Fly, (Ceratitis Capitata). The fly lays their eggs in the fruit and then the eggs hatch into larvae. The symptoms can be seen on the face of the oranges showing small black dots. The fruit drops into the soil, the larvae then create a new generation of fly. It can reproduce up to 6-8 generations per year therefore your fruit is always under threat. The best biological control for this is, again, sticky traps placed early on in the season before the fly begins its adult stage. These sticky traps are safe and can be found in most agricultural stores.

The longer you leave pest problems, the more severe the damage to the plants – sometimes you will find you will need to replace the plants if the damage is too severe. Going back to the reason why we accumulate more pests in Mediterranean countries – it is simply this. We have abundance of much higher heat levels allowing for the ability for insects to breed more easily, and coupled with this, less rainfall and less aeration circulating through plants and we have the perfect environment for pests to breed. Any dense-foliaged plants will be a pleasure for any new pests arriving to find a nice home, and allow them to settle down and breed ten times quicker than they would, say in any other cold climate.

One of the most consistent problems in Mediterranean countries, especially in protected and sheltered gardens, is the pest, the red spider mite (scientific name tetranychus urticae). This is a very tiny red spider, so small it cannot be seen with a naked eye. You need a microscope to diagnose the problem. The obvious signs, is the mottling effect that can be seen on the upper side of the leaves. The leaves will turn from a lovely green colour to a milky, faded grey colour. This is because the damage from the spiders sucking the sap is so small it’s like thousands of tiny pin-pricks all over the leaf and when the leaf is full of these pin-pricks it looks like the colour of the leaf has faded. If the damage is too severe, it can eventually kill the plant.

The other, very obvious sign shown under the microscopic is mass webbing on the plant. If you have a plant with dense foliage i.e. mostly conifers and flowering shrubs etc. then look closely into the foliage and you will see a matt of dense webbing, similar to the webbing found on larger spiders webs. If the webbing is quite dense then you need to act quickly. There are two methods to prevent the pest spreading, one is a biological approach which is much more safe for the environment, the other is a chemical control.

If you use the chemical control you need a contact insecticide which will kill the pest, but to prevent its reoccurrence you need a systemic insecticide. If you are going to use chemical methods as a long term cure, you must be aware that red spider mite is becoming resistant to some chemicals, therefore using this on a long term basis is not recommended. Please always contact your Plant Advisor, Plant Doctor or Garden Doctor if you are using chemical controls.

The other biological methods are much more safe, both for the animals and for the environment. The first technique uses another, predator spider mite called phytoseiulus persimilis. If this spider mite is placed with the pest spider mite it will devour the pest spider mite and also breed at the same time, so therefore reducing the possibility of the pest reoccurring in the garden. You will not find this spider mite in gardens in more cooler climates. The spider mites need hot, dry conditions to breed out of doors. However, if you are growing plants or vegetables under glass or polythene tunnels you will most likely find this pest breeding if the conditions are adequate, in other words if the glasshouse or poly-tunnel is warm and free from aeration.

Finally, if you would like to find a much safer and organic approach with instant relief from this pest problem, try hosing your plants with a fine rose spray to remove the pest in the evening – after sunset. Evenings are much more suitable and prevent the leaves from scorching once wet. Spray late at night, when it is cooler. However, my own method to prevent this pest from breeding, and should be used as a method to remove all pest and disease issues in the summer months is to prune all of your flowering plants and shrubs back on a regular basis. Prune all flowering shrubs hard back to the last green tips every 3 months. And because plants grow ten times quicker in Mediterranean countries it is also a means of keeping your plants healthy and happy and flowering for many more years to come.

Need some plant advice? For more details, pest and disease advice or plant ideas for your own individual garden conditions – please contact me on the home page or write to me at the plant diagnostic service contact home page www.plantandgardendoctor.com

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Longevity of Mediterranean Plants

This article discusses how we can make our plants live for a much longer period without plants becoming long and leggy and overgrown resulting in eventually having to remove them after a few years and replace them because of their unhealthy poor condition.

Have you ever had a climbing plant, shrub or even perennial plant that you have never pruned or cut back just to find that eventually the nice fresh foliage growth has eventually ended up at the top of the plant, but the bottom of the stems are bare from the base up? Of course after several years you can safely say that the long woody stems look rather unhealthy and ugly. This happens very frequently with Mediterranean plants in gardens. Why? because we are simply not maintaining the garden plants as they should in such hot climatic conditions.

So here’s some tips on how to keep your garden looking in tip top condition for years and years to come. First of all, if you have not been looking after your plants, i.e. pruning regularly then it may not be possible to try to resurrect an old woody stemmed plant. It may simply be too late. Pruning is a method that needs to be adopted right in the first year of planting. The reason for is that plants grown in sunnier climates grow ten times quicker than they do in, say, a colder climate with lower light levels, say the UK. It is connected to photosynthesis and when we grow plants that have a good automatic irrigation system, plenty of sunlight and good conditioned soil, the plant tends to bolt. In other words. Plants rely on 3 things for good healthy growth, sun, water and nutrients and in mediterranean gardens we have abundant of all three and creates photosynthesis to occur much more rapidly. So what is photosynthesis? Photosynthesis is a process used by plants and other organisms to convert light energy, normally from the Sun, into chemical energy that can be later released to fuel the organisms’ activities. So controlling your plants right from the beginning before they get out of hand is so important. For example, take the plant Solanum, you probably recognise this shrub by its abundant displays of deep purple buttercup sized flowers. This is a perfect example of how quickly a plant can start to get overgrown and look out of control. Initially the shrub should be planted very small, so buy it in approximately a 5 Litre pot size. If it is planted in full sun, coupled with an automatic watering the plant will need to be pruned down to its lowest green shoots, the reason for this is that it will then encourage the plant to bush from the base, and if it starts to grow foliage from the base it will always look nice and lush because it will begin it’s life the correct way – it will begin to produce dense foliage from below and then it will always keep foliage from the base.

Most people however, don’t like to cut back hard when they first buy a plant – but, in this instance its better to be cruel than to be kind. As long as the garden is not planted from Dec-March, you will see after, say 3-4 months a lot of rapid growth occurring, then, at this time it is better then to give your plant another prune, but this time, don’t prune so hard back, – try to allow a little more growth, this time, say prune to above 3-4 new shoots, then when the plant begins to grow it will again begin to bush from the base and more lush foliage will be produced.

If you have lived in the Mediterranean climate for a long period of time you will understand that it can be extremely hard work to keep plants under control – however, if you start looking after your plants right from the beginning you will have far less of a headache in the future and a far more beautiful garden for years to come. Here are some more shrubs that need to be treated in a similar way:- Hibiscus, Anisodontea (pink, buttercup size flowers), Plumbago (sky blue trumpet shaped flowers), Margarita rose (button pink flowers), Santolina (button pink flowers), Osteospermum (white or deep pink flowers), Lavenders and Rosemary, bush bougainvilleas. If you are in any doubt always contact a qualified Plant Advisor.

Need some plant advice? For more details, pest and disease advice or plant ideas for your own individual garden conditions – please contact me on the home page or write to me at the plant diagnostic service contact home page www.plantandgardendoctor.com

……and don’t forget to share this entry with your friends!