Garden lore: seasonal garden advice

Herewith your annual reminder of three seasonal matters.

  • If your magnolia appears to have plenty of furry buds but when they go to open, all you get is a few damaged petals – or nothing – the culprit is almost certainly a possum. They can develop a taste for the buds and eat the centre out without the damage being overly obvious to the casual eye until the blooms fail to open. A single possum is quite capable of taking out most of the buds on a tree over a few nights. Mark and the dogs head out every dry night at this time of the year on a possums-in-the-magnolias round. The price of our glorious display is seasonal vigilance (and high velocity lead, which is not an option for city dwellers).

    One of the first blooms on Magnolia Felix Jury

  • If you feel you must spray your lawn, do it on the next fine day and do not delay if if you have deciduous magnolias (or indeed kiwi fruit or any other plants that are susceptible to hormone spray drift). The faintest whiff of lawn spray at the time the leaf buds are breaking dormancy is likely to damage them badly and magnolias are particularly susceptible. Most magnolias break into leaf just as flowering finishes. Every year we get enquiries from people worrying about the deformed new foliage on their trees. Invariably, the cause is lawn spray. Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot you can do about spray-happy neighbours.
  • Get any tree or large shrub pruning done urgently. The birds will be building nests full time shortly. I am not sure what killing off birds’ eggs – or worse, later in the season, hatchlings – is called. Aviancide, perhaps? But if you have ever taken the time to watch the birds gathering materials for nests, you will realise what a huge amount of time and effort it takes. It seems very mean to destroy them, all for failing to factor that into planning for pruning.

    Vulcan in its full glory today.

14 thoughts on “Garden lore: seasonal garden advice

  1. Tm Dutton

    Hmmm, we are wondering why people spray lawns and what sort of spray drift does that sort of damage. Needless to say, we’ve never considered spraying ours!
    Lovely photo of ‘Vulcan’ in full bloom too.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I try not to be too judgemental, Tim, but many folk feel the need to spray their lawn. We manage to survive with a green award that sees neither spray nor fertiliser. And while some folk are deeply anxious over glyphosate, the nature of lawn sprays passes under the radar. They are a powerful brew and the faintest hint of drift causes foliar damage on magnolias up and down the country every year. We know because of the repeated enquiries we receive.

  2. Tim Dutton

    Ah, stuff like Banvine then, a broadleaf weedkiller? If we used anything like that we wouldn’t have a green sward at all, as our lawns usually have less than 50% grass. At this time of year moss is the predominant plant in some of the lawns: we wouldn’t win any awards for them, that’s for sure. My motto is, if it is green and can be mowed then it is a lawn.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I am no expert on lawn sprays but many are of the hormone based type – often organo-phosphates. I would add small leafed to the green and mowable requirements for a lawn.

  3. mmhurst1

    I don’t have a lawn, I have “occasionally mowed green stuff, very occasionally”. Since it would barely hold 2 cars (if they could get up the bank) and is behind the garage, not visible from the road, who cares? Certainly no spray, but I do pull a few dandelions when the weather has been very wet and their long roots come out easily.

  4. tonytomeo

    I did not know that possums lived in New Zealand! I thought that they only lived in Australia! The opossums here have some of the same bad habits, and will take developing fruit.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      The common brushtail possum was introduced to NZ by the early settlers and is a massive pest in NZ. There are no natural controls on them here and they have found NZ way more hospitable than their original homeland. The only reason we get an orange harvest, flowers on roses and magnolias is because Mark maintains a constant, daily vigil. He shoots at least 70 a year just on our small block.

      1. Abbie Jury Post author

        Mark carries out an autopsy on the stomach contents of every possum he shoots, in order to determine what they have been eating, then plucks the fur which we accumulate in the freezer until our son makes a visit home and takes them to the fur buyer, before jointing the possum to feed to our dogs. The fur is used to mix with fine wools, usually, to make a high grade product used for expensive socks, scarves and hats. Nothing wasted.

      2. tonytomeo

        Someone else mentioned that the fur (or pelts) are valuable. Our opossums are nothing like that! They have raspy fur that always seems to be dirty. No one minds wasting it. Opossums do not often get eaten in California. Most live in urban areas where they eat trash, and they do not taste very good. I really dislike them, but it is sad that they get wasted at such a rate! It was worst in Beverly Hills (in the Los Angeles region) where they proliferate in the dense and commonly overgrown urban landscapes. Yet, they are rare out in the chaparral just a few miles away.

      3. Abbie Jury Post author

        NZ used to do a steady trade in possum pelts, which gave some level of population control and a top grade pelt could be worth up to $30 each back in 1980. Which was a lot when hunters were bringing in skins by the 100s. I recall this because Mark spent one year possum hunting before he set up the plant nursery. But the worldwide trend against wearing fur saw the market collapse so these days it is used as a blend with wool instead. It has a hollow fibre so is particularly good for insulating and holding warmth. The bodies are generally only eaten by eccentrics here but they form a mainstay of the diet of our dogs and have done for over 30 years. The Australian brushtail mostly eats fresh growth, buds and fruit and with all our bush and forest in NZ (and no predators other than humans and the motor car), they are a huge and destructive issue. All the ones Mark shoots are smaller, younger animals so they are clearly moving in constantly from surrounding areas.

      4. tonytomeo

        Although our opossums are native, they proliferate ridiculously in overgrown landscapes, particularly where there are vegetable gardens and fruit and nut trees! Regions like San Jose and Los Angeles might have had a few opossums living in them when they were chaparral, but are now thickly landscaped. Opossums also eat cat and dog food. People think that urban areas destroy habitat, which they do in regard to the natives. However, some natives and many exotics have a field day in big cities! There is more flora and fauna in San Jose than there has ever been!

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