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The dreaded lily beetles on the march.

IT'S a busy month in the garden with many jobs to do and my bank of Rhododendrons has been an absolute picture.

They require very little attention but there are one or two tasks that will make for better plants next year. It definitely pays to deadhead.

The removal of old flowerheads seems to promote healthier, more vigorous growth, and gives a better overall appearance.

Deadheading is done using finger and thumb to twist out sideways the old flowered stems.

This is best done just as new shoots are emerging at the base of the old spike. Early flowering varieties will need doing in the next couple of weeks.

I've also topped up my cocoa shell mulch, it definitely conserves moisture and feeds the plants.

Even on my west facing bank the soil is moist just under the surface in spite of being well drained.

My Colchicums have thrown up their ugly huge leaves and during June they will die down. The debris can be gently lifted away without disturbing the bulbs.

The same goes for any daffodils or other spring flowering bulbs, never cut off or tie up bulb foliage.

Still on the subject of bulbs, several readers have asked about a beetle - red in colour and a little larger than a ladybird.

This is the dreaded lily beetle and I would recommend dusting the foliage of lilies with any insecticidal powder.

I shall be planting a few Hollyhocks at the back of my Rhododendron bed and it's worth spraying any Hollyhocks with Systhane in the next couple of weeks in an attempt to prevent Hollyhock rust which causes orange brown rust-like spots all over the foliag e.

It is very difficult to control once it has broken out, so a preventative spray is far more effective.

With the few hot dry days, pests and diseases are building up in vast numbers and my gooseberries will receive an application of fungicide based on Carbendazim such as Bio Systemic or Miracle Spotless (you must not use Systhane on food crops as thisfung icide is not approved for use on edible material).

I add a Derris based insecticide to the spray, hoping to keep away the gooseberry sawfly which can quickly defoliate gooseberries. I shall also use the fungicide/insecticide mix on my fruit trees.

For best results, instead of using Derris, choose a systemic insecticide approved for use on top fruit as it will be more long term in its effect.

I am having a planting time at the moment, conditions are perfect for planting the last of those evergreens such as conifers, Rhododendrons or Camellias. Don't use peat unnecessarily, there are several good substitutes made from renewable resources that are as good if not better.

Carrs Soil Conditioner or Planting Medium is ideal and is made up from spent animal manures, straw and other farmyard waste. Unlike peat it supplies nutrients as well as improving the soil structure and conserving moisture.

It pays to leave a slight depression round the base of evergreens for water to collect as it can be extremely dry under the canopy of foliage.

I've been planting up a number of alpine areas, it's a great time for throwing away tired old plants or just giving them a really good haircut and making room for some new subjects.

I always try to choose alpines that will give a long succession of colour.

Earlier in the year I had Saxifraga and Primula in flower and now several weeks on the Dianthus and Viola are coming into their own.

There are several good plants worthy of a spot in the alpine bed or at the front of a border or raised bed.

Take the new Hebe Pink Elephant which has a creamy white variegation and a pink hue to the edge of the leaf.

It only reaches ten to 14 inches in height and you should find it in better garden centres. Another good plant on my raised bed is the Lewisia Ashwood Carousel which was in flower in March and should continue having bursts of flower right through until l ate autumn.

I've noticed some cracking Primulas being offered for sale at the moment. Most of these need damp or moist conditions but there are a few such as the Red Hot Poker Primula that is more suited to the sunny rock garden.

Some years ago I purchased a plant of Primula Chungensis. It's now seeded itself and I must have 30 or more good strong plants.

Young seedlings like this can be either transplanted just prior to flowering, or immediately after but of course you will lose the seed crop.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:May 31, 1998
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