Category Archives: Garden lore

Wisdom and hints

Does ‘Hit the Deck’ work?

‘Just spray it on, brush it off and rinse.’

I was so discouraged by the state of swimming pool decking that I succumbed to advertising and bought some “Hit the Deck”. I can’t remember how much I paid for it but it wasn’t cheap. But the deck, the deck. We laid it maybe 18 years ago and in the time since, it has been water blasted (jet washed) once. That didn’t do the grooved non-slip surface any good. It is low grade, plantation grown, quick turnover Pinus radiata that we use in this country, tanalised to extend its life span but still a soft wood which will rough up badly with water blasting. Hence the “Hit the Deck” to deal to the blackened and slippery surface before we start swimming this summer.

My test area

Did it work? Yes, but it wasn’t as easy as it looked in the advertisements. If you look closely at the TV advert, they are using it on flat timber, not the grooved product that is widely sold for non-slip decking. It would not just brush off with the stiff broom they sell for this purpose. I did a small test area and found that to get it off, I had to get on my hands and knees with a stiff scrubbing brush. It is not possible to get a powerful enough scrubbing motion at the end of a long handled broom. It is a reasonably large deck and I didn’t fancy doing the whole area on my hands and knees so I handed the job over to Our Lloyd and suggested he try a very light cleaning with the water blaster, so as not to rough up the surface more but to get enough pressure to spray off the mix and the accumulated mosses, moulds and lichens. That worked and it was both faster and not as back-breaking but it still isn’t an easy job that you can knock out in an hour.

The deck looks hugely improved. Not perfect but the decking is getting on in years. So yes, the product does work.

Somewhat belatedly, I looked at what the Hit the Deck contains. I had turned a blind eye to this when I was more worried by the slippery decking. I can report that it is sodium percarbonate. And that, Reader, is a mixture of washing soda and hydrogen peroxide. You can check its chemical properties on Wikipedia which notes: “The product is used in some eco-friendly bleaches and other cleaning products…”. So it is relatively harmless and I guess you could mix your own if you wished and I am sure that it is likely to cheaper because there are no advertising and branding costs to be factored in.

I have written about the moss-killing properties of washing soda or soda ash before. It does work, I can vouch for that.

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.

Garden lore: protecting arms

Puttees. But for lower arms. We have large swathes of bromeliads that need an occasional clean out of accumulated debris and dead foliage. Many bromeliads have finely prickled edges that can rip arms to shreds and will find the small gap between glove and long sleeves. These are my DIY solution and are equally useful for reaching into many prickly or scratchy plants.

They are just the sleeves from a denim shirt cut to size and elasticised top and bottom and I keep them to hand in my gardening basket. While I find my shredded arms heal remarkably quickly (the reddening and discomfort will disappear overnight if I coat them in that potent  liniment still made by Rawleighs and sold as antiseptic salve), I am mindful that as we age and skin thins, it may be wiser to try and avoid tempting fate. Gardens host all sorts of fungi and bacteria which may not be good on broken skin. I have heard horror stories over the years about bad infections from wounds caused by rose thorns.

The colour match between my puttees and the pair of gardening gloves was mere serendipity.

Look at all those little hooks on the margins of the bromeliad leaves

When a handle is a thing of beauty

Behold a simple thing of great beauty. At least that is what I thought when I saw it leaning against the side of the porch. This is Mark’s designated spade for the digging out of trees and large shrubs. It is not that he is seven feet tall, but that he likes a long handle to avoid having to bend his back. He is a man who has learned the hard way to be seriously protective of his back.

The handle is yew, harvested from a dead tree in the park, hand whittled to size and required smoothness, oiled with linseed applied in repeated thin coats. You can’t feel it in the photograph, but I can assure you it is wondrously smooth and tactile, for nobody wants to get splinters from a spade handle.

Mark has always been a fan of yew as a timber. Back in the days when he was a woodturner, the favourite timber of most was, and probably still is, NZ kauri. That is because it is so easy to work with – in Mark’s words, it cuts like butter. It doesn’t have a particularly interesting grain like other woods, including heart rimu. Yew is not native but it also cuts like butter, so to speak, and has a beautiful grain. It was the traditional timber for longbows, presumably because it is both long lasting and stable. It does not warp and bend out of shape as readily as many other timbers. Just perfect for a long handled spade. I see another long handle being prepared for the drainage fork we use to clear out water weeds.

These examples of yew treen date back a few decades to when Mark was a craftsman woodturner, before his nurseryman, plant breeder days but post his university days.

Yew – commonly Taxus baccata, although there are other yew species.
NZ kauri – Agathis australis
NZ rimu – Dacrydium cupressinum

Garden lore: don’t do this at home

img_3822Well lookee here. When I was submitting three new articles a week to the Waikato Times – that was in the days before syndicated features and the resulting copy that became the newspaper equivalent of elevator muzak – I used to be on constant alert for subject matter. Old habits die hard and I reached for my camera to bring you this example of what not to do, photographed on a street in Auckland’s upmarket Mount Eden.

Don’t. Just don’t do this at home. The homeowner is disposing of lawn clippings by building a small grass mountain around the street tree on the road verge outside. It is not good for the tree and may even kill it over time. Building that mound can cause a condition called ‘collar rot’ – opening up the tree to fungi that attack the bark around the base of the tree. Bark needs to breathe, not be suffocated. Grass heaps also heat up as they start to decompose and that heat is bad for the tree, potentially killing the bark. Then the grass compacts down to an anaerobic sludge which can suffocate the surface roots. All this just so the homeowner doesn’t have to put their grass clippings out in the green waste or to find ways to compost it on his or her own property? Tidiness is not everything in the world of gardening and nature.

Garden Lore – when renga renga lilies go bad.

img_3017Our native renga renga lilies are an immensely handy, low maintenance plant for semi shade. However Arthropodium, most commonly A. cirratum, can run into problems. This is particularly evident this spring which may have something to do with the dreary, cool and wet conditions. I saw it out and about while garden visiting around the region last week, most commonly in well established clumps. The unsightly spotting and markings on the foliage looks as if it is a rust but apparently it is not.

I repeat the advice given back in 2010 from a most reliable source, though regrettably these days, it should refer to “the late George Fuller”.

“Esteemed colleague, George Fuller, tells us that it is not a rust that causes orange blotching on renga renga lilies (arthropodium) but in fact a nematode (or wire worm). These critters can build up in a patch over time so if it worries you, it may be necessary to resort to using a systemic insecticide. A systemic insecticide is one that the plant absorbs as opposed to contact insecticides which only kill with a direct hit. The nematode is actually in the plant and it is the same one that attacks chrysanthemums and black currants, answering to the name of afelenchoides ritzemabosi.”

I did a quick net search to see if this is still current advice but after looking a plethora of sites that declare renga rengas to be largely free of pests and diseases, I figured that they hadn’t seen the afflicted plants in Taranaki this year.

Updating for 2016, we are hesitant these days to recommend the routine application of heavy duty systemic insecticide. We don’t know whether a one-off spray will clean up the plants in a single hit or whether repeat applications, maybe even on an ongoing basis, are required. The alternative courses of action are never quite as straightforward of course.

img_6240Because the nematode apparently lives in the leaf, not the soil, it seems unlikely that badly infested plants will grow out of it on their own accord. Firstly, look at the infected plants and note whether they are the oldest, best established clumps in your garden. Also take stock of any plants showing clean foliage or very little damage. Our course would be dig out and dump the worst affected plants. Clean up and dig over the ground and either replant with clean renga renga lilies or an alternative. If you have clean plants in your garden, these can be lifted and divided. It may be that they are not showing damage because they have developed some resistance. Given optimum growing conditions and increased air movement, the plants are likely to respond with vigorous new growth. If you only have a few affected leaves, then cut them off but you can only compost them if you make compost that is hot enough to kill bugs and diseases. Otherwise, you are going to have to remove the foliage well away from the site to prevent re-infecting your new plants.

Whether you take the quick and dirty course of using a spray or the longer and more environmentally friendly course is entirely your choice. If you have a bad infestation, it is likely you will want to do one or the other because the plants can look pretty awful as they are.

Garden Lore – slugs, snails and baits

“Not all slugs cause damage to your garden. The great grey slug is relatively harmless to your precious vegetables and flowers because it generally eats fungi and rotted vegetable matter and even its other, less welcome cousins. The European black slug has as many as 25,000 teeth. Although it will eat your prized plants, it serves a more welcoming purpose by devouring dog and cat poo and turning it into fertilizer.”

The Curious Gardener’s Almanac by Niall Edworthy (2006).

I do not know if we have the great grey slug in New Zealand, maybe not – though it sounds similar to the large tiger slug that we have a-plenty.

Slug bait is not fertiliser

Slug bait is not fertiliser

While out and about garden visiting this week, I came across this little scene. I photographed it for Mark in the first instance because he has long railed against the practice of using slug bait like fertiliser. But it is a good example and time to remind readers again – slug baits have an attractant in them so you do not need to lay entire carpets of bait in the hope that slugs and snails will trip over one.

It is a poison and will find its way into the food chain so do not be lulled into a false sense of security when the packet tells you it is safe for animals and birds. It also needs to be reapplied after rain. Rather than shaking the box to scatter pellets, keep a pair of disposable gloves with the slug bait box. Tip some pellets in one hand and place 2 or 3 pellets by affected plants (Mark would tell you that a single bait is all you need). Cheaper, more environmentally friendly, better for the birds and more pleasing aesthetically.

Or try little bait stations in badly affected areas – a milk bottle lid filled with a few baits and a cover to keep it dry. We use old paua shells. Note: just three baits to this bait station.

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