IPM: Smart pest management for the vegetable garden

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an integral part of a smart garden.

Posted on January 15, 2015 by Diane Brown, and Gretchen Voyle, Michigan State University Extension

Keeping pests away from cole crops, such as this kohlrabi, can be as simple as placing a row cover over for protection. Photo credit: Mary Wilson, MSU Extension

Keeping pests away from cole crops, such as this kohlrabi, can be as simple as placing a row cover over for protection. Photo credit: Mary Wilson, MSU Extension

What is IPM and why is it smart?

IPM stands for “Integrated Pest Management.” The principles of IPM can be applied to managing a lawn or landscape, pests in a home or producing food in a vegetable garden. IPM uses a series of common-sense steps to manage pests and optimize plant health. The term “pest” includes insects and mites, diseases, weeds and animals. Using IPM to manage garden problems is smart because it incorporates a variety of methods that are economical and effective to keep plants healthy and achieve a bountiful harvest. While IPM takes advantage of all appropriate pest management options including judicious use of pesticides, by incorporating a variety of methods it is possible to reduce or eliminate pesticide applications while still addressing garden problems. Smart gardeners use IPM to protect human health and the environment by making more environmentally-friendly pest management choices.

Are IPM and organic methods the same thing?

No. Although organic food production applies many of the same concepts as IPM, it restricts the use of pesticides and fertilizers to those that are produced from natural sources instead of allowing synthetic chemicals.

Steps to following IPM

Identify pests and understand their lifecycles. Only a few insects are actually pests; many are beneficial or do no harm. Take time to identify beneficial insects and pollinators. For help in identifying insects and diseases, call the toll-free garden hotline at 1-888-678-3464, or send samples to MSU Diagnostic Services. For information on how to send samples and a list of available services and fees, visit www.pestid.msu.edu.

Different life stages of a beneficial lady beetle: larva, pupa, adult. Photo credit: Bugwood.org: Larva – Frank Peairs, CO St U, pupa and adult – Russ Ottens, UofGA

Learn how to identify common pests and pest damage on vegetables. Understand that different life stages of pests do not look alike and that not all stages cause damage or can be managed. By understanding their lifecycles, you learn the best timing for successful management strategies.

Scout for pests. Check your garden regularly for insects and diseases and make written records of what you find. Jotting down the information in a garden journal is helpful instead of relying on memory. Keep a magnifying glass or hand lens handy to see more details for better identification. Use the information collected to help you plan pest management for the following year. Yellow sticky cards placed just above the plant canopy can be helpful for detecting some insects.

Be realistic with IPM: prevent or limit damage. Once you have identified a problem, determine what options you have for managing it. Some pests are more damaging than others. Establish tolerances for pests and pest damage. Don’t expect vegetables to look picture perfect. Some insect damage can be tolerated and will still allow a good quality vegetable harvest. In general, diseases are best managed by preventing them; many cannot be easily controlled once they are established.

Implement your IPM Program. Select effective and environmentally-friendly methods, such as the examples given below. Record what worked and what didn’t, and make adjustments accordingly.

How to implement IPM in your vegetable garden

Right plant, right site. Vegetables grow best in well-drained soils and full sun – a minimum of six hours a day, ideally eight to 10 hours. Avoid low areas where cold air settles as plants are more prone to frost damage in these locations. Get a soil test to find out about soil pH, needed nutrients, organic matter content, soil type and to receive recommendations to improve the soil. You are aiming for a soil pH of around 6.5 and an organic matter content of 5 percent or more. Knowing your soil type, whether it is sandy or contains a lot of clay, enables you to make decisions to improve the garden area. Supply missing nutrients for the garden; add compost or composted manure for organic matter, not as a fertilizer substitute.

Michigan State University Extension recommends testing the soil before starting a new garden and retesting every three to four years. The Gardening in Michigan website has good resources for additional information on growing specific vegetables.

Start with healthy plants. Buy well-branched, stocky transplants with healthy leaves, sturdy stems and well-established root systems. Transplants need good root systems to quickly establish in the garden. Roots should be well formed, white and hold the soil mass together. Avoid older transplants with flowers or fruit as this will limit yields. Reject plants with soft, brown or rotten roots. Select varieties with multiple disease and insect resistance or tolerance, if possible.

Employ environmentally-friendly pest management methods

Use good sanitation practices. Keep tools and equipment clean by using a solution of 10 percent chlorine bleach to disinfest tools after using them on diseased plants. Keep plantings clean by removing and destroying diseased plants or those that are severely infested with insects during the growing season. Do not compost – burn or bury instead. Remove crop residues at the end of the growing season. This can be a place for certain garden pests to spend the winter. Control weeds all year long. Weeds compete with crops for water and nutrients and often provide a place for pest insects to hide and a good environment for disease organisms.

Crop rotation. If space is available, rotate the location of the garden every few years to avoid the buildup of plant diseases and insects. The least you could do is rotate the location in the garden among plant families. For example, the nightshade or Solanaceous family is made of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes. They share several insect pests and diseases, so rotating the family to different locations from year to year can lessen or prevent problems.

Weed management. Start with a clean seedbed. Limit herbicide applications to spot treatments or application prior to planting. A cover crop of annual ryegrass or spring oats sown in late summer or fall will help keep weeds out of garden areas and increase organic matter. The cover crop should be tilled into the soil about a month before planting in the spring. Hand pull, cultivate soil or hoe to control weeds. Eliminate weeds before they go to seed. Apply organic mulches after the soil warms to keep weeds down and retain soil moisture.

Using straw as organic mulch will help manage weeds. Photo credit: Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension

Insect and mite management. Use insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils on soft-bodied insects and mites. Always follow label directions for application and use only insecticides that are registered for the crop. Hand-pick larger insects such as potato beetles and tomato hornworms. Japanese beetles can be knocked off plants into a container of soapy water to drown. Gardens managed with minimal insecticides often have abundant natural enemies present to help keep some insect pests at bay. Create refuges of nectar and pollen plants for beneficial insects nearby. Floating row covers can be used to exclude insect pests, but will need to be removed before pollination can take place.

Disease management. Diseases are best managed by prevention rather than treatment. Select disease-resistant vegetable varieties and avoid working in the garden when plants are wet as it can spread diseases. Although we can’t control when it rains, we can take charge of when we irrigate. Watering late in the day leaves plants wet overnight, setting up favorable conditions for many fungal diseases. When watering is needed, use drip irrigation or soaker hoses instead of watering overhead. It keeps leaf surfaces dry, making conditions less favorable for most diseases, and is more economical. Water is directed where the plant roots can use it, not sprayed up into the air where it evaporates.

Give plants enough space to grow by thinning seedlings to avoid overcrowding. Crowded plants tend to be weaker and more stressed, making them more vulnerable to diseases. Stake plants and use mulches to keep fruit off the ground. Among the plants that benefit from not laying on the ground are tomatoes, peas, pole beans and cucumbers.

IPM for animal pests

If you have problems with deer, rabbits or woodchucks, it may be necessary to construct a sturdy fence to keep them out of the garden. Some people have difficulties with raccoons or squirrels, so try to determine what your garden critter is so that something appropriate can be constructed. If the animal pest digs, you may want to bury a portion of the fence in the ground so digging does not lead to a food reward. Bend the bottom portion of the fence into an “L” shape and bury it. The underground “wing” will prevent digging under the fence. It is also possible to construct an electric fence with the same parts used for farm livestock except put the bottom of the fence only several inches off the ground. Check local regulations to determine if electric fencing is permitted in the community where you live. Do not forget about putting up a gate that closes tightly.

For more information on a wide variety of Smart Gardening articles, or to find out about Smart Gardening classes and events, visit www.migarden.msu.edu.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit http://bit.ly/MSUENews. To contact an expert in your area, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

Smart fertilizer use: A vegetable garden begins with a soil management plan

A healthy soil is vital for a successful vegetable garden.

Posted on January 15, 2015 by Rebecca Krans, Michigan State University Extension

This garden makes use of compost and straw as mulch that will later decompose, providing needed organic matter to the soil. Photo credit: Mary Wilson, MSU Extension

This garden makes use of compost and straw as mulch that will later decompose, providing needed organic matter to the soil. Photo credit: Mary Wilson, MSU Extension

Soil is the foundational medium for plant growth, supplying the necessary nutrients while providing spaces to hold air and water. Healthy soils contain organic matter which supports living organisms such as worms and insects. This same organic matter also supplies food for microorganisms, like bacteria and fungi that in turn make nutrients available for plant roots. When a soil is well-managed, it is able to support healthy, vigorous root growth. So how does a gardener know when and how much fertilizer to provide?

A plan that has lasting benefits

Smart fertilizer use focuses on good soil management as a long-term process to improve soil quality. Soil management techniques such as adding organic matter, avoiding or reducing tillage, planting cover crops and avoiding compaction will result in short-term gains such as improved plant root systems and reduction of susceptibility to diseases and insect pests. Over the long haul, when organic matter is increased, better soil porosity and water infiltration leads to an increase in water-holding capacity, helping the smart gardener reduce water usage.

Standing water
Soils with appropriate amounts of organic matter will have better porosity and water infiltration, preventing the pooling of water as seen here. Photo credit: Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension

Before deciding to fertilize, determine the soil type, pH, if existing nutrients are either lacking or in over-abundance in your garden soil, and the nutrient requirements of the vegetables you wish to grow. An MSU soil test will reveal this information and tell you how much organic matter is present. Test vegetable garden soils every three years to monitor your soil management progress. For more information on soil tests, see the Michigan State University Extension smart gardening tip sheet “Don’t guess – soil test!

Designing the plan

Your soil management plan will become a tool to help you build a sustainable soil system. Organic matter will build up over time and the benefits that come with increasing organic matter will also be realized over several seasons. This sustainable approach focuses on “feeding the soil to feed the plant.” Nutrients within the soil are mainly supplied to garden plants through active organic matter containing living microbes, which break down the material within a few months to a year.

Each type of vegetable requires different levels of nutrients at varying quantities during the growing season. Synthetic and organic fertilizers are used to augment the necessary nutrient requirements that vegetables need. See the smart gardening tip sheet “Fertilizer basics for the smart gardener.”

Granulated and water soluble forms of fertilizer are nearly 100 percent available in the first year after application. However, organic forms such as animal manures or meals, compost and green manure release about one-third to half of their total nutrients in the first year after application. By using organic forms of fertilizer, you are adding to your soil’s organic matter and reducing the chance that nutrients will leach out, ending up in waterways and natural ecosystems.

The next step is to focus on management options – tillage reduction, cover crop use, applying animal manure and composting. Reducing the amount and degree to which you till up the soil helps provide a more stable environment for microbial activity. Less carbon is released into the air which can be used by microbes in decomposition and release of nutrients for plants to feed on.

Sandy soil
This sandy soil will benefit from the addition of organic matter, improving its water-holding capacity, nutrient availability and soil structure. Photo credit: Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension

The big cover-up

Cover crops are used to improve soil quality by adding organic matter, decreasing compaction and erosion. The plant roots and leaves will be left behind long after your garden plants have been harvested. Cover crops could include annual ryegrass, winter wheat, winter rye, buckwheat, oilseed radishes and hairy vetch. Find out which are best suited to your needs at www.mccc.msu.edu.  

Once you’ve harvested the top portion, leaving the roots of garden plants such as beans and peas will also help support microorganisms. Since plants in this family are known to “fix” or accumulate nitrogen in their roots, the material left behind will provide nutrients to the next crop you plant.

Nutrient values of animal manure differ depending on the animal species, method of storage, bedding material used, and what the animal was fed. Compost can vary too. Many commercial composted manure products are available to purchase.

Less is more

General recommendations are given for use of synthetic fertilizers by the manufacturer. Be sure you follow the specific recommendations and apply at the correct time and amounts. A smart gardener is very thoughtful on placement of fertilizer as well as reducing overall applications. Many manufacturers recommend fertilizer products be “broadcast” over a generalized growing area. This is the best approach for lawns, but for newly emerging garden plants, more directed application methods are less wasteful. The “side-dressing” method can be used once the plants are growing by applying fertilizer on both sides of the row 6 to 8 inches away from the plants. “Banding” is applying narrow bands of fertilizer in furrows 2 to 3 inches to the side of the planting area and 1 to 2 inches deeper than the seeds or plants will be planted. In this case, placing the fertilizer at the proper depth is required to prevent burning new seedling roots.

Overall, smart fertilizer use involves much more than applications of fertilizer. It focuses on determining a soil management plan that, over time, will create a more sustainable soil system. Remember, feed the soil to feed your plants.

For more information on a wide variety of Smart Gardening articles, or to find out about Smart Gardening classes and events, visit www.migarden.msu.edu.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit http://bit.ly/MSUENews. To contact an expert in your area, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

Mr Digwell’s podcast: improving garden soil

It might not be easy to get perfect soil but you can make your soil a little more useful.

By adding organic material and constantly working your soil, you will improve it but it can be a slow job that takes many seasons.

Plants need air for their roots, water and nutrients – the basic building blocks to grow. This generally means a nice fluffy soil that is stuffed with organic material and different sized particles – some larger to allow excess water to drain away, and some smaller ones that encourages some water to seep really close to root hairs.

Clay soil is wet but has no air and is very cold. Sandy soil is dry because the water drains away too much.  Adding compost or well rotted manure to both soil types will improve them.  On really heavy clay I tend to build raised beds and make new soil by mixing compost and brought in loam, and just let it sit on the surface. Over the years, the clay has provided plenty of water and you get great results.

Have a listen to the above podcast for more tips, and for this week’s special offer visit www.mrdigwell.com            


Kitchen moths: Winged invaders in kitchen-land

Little, tan moths are a common thing to find in kitchens during the winter months.

Posted on January 8, 2015 by Gretchen Voyle, Michigan State University Extension

Indianmeal moth adult. Photo credit: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Indianmeal moth adult. Photo credit: Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

“I have little, tan moths flying aimlessly around my kitchen. How could they be coming in my house now when it is snowing, and what are they doing?” This is a familiar question many Michigan State University Extension horticulture educators and Master Gardener hotlines across Michigan have received this time of year. These callers are not experiencing an invasion of strange snow moths. The moths are already living indoors and enjoying the bounty of food found in the kitchen. There are two kitchen moths that can be feeding on a number of food products found in almost all kitchens: the Indianmeal moth, the more common species, and the Mediterranean flour moth.

They feed in a number of food products that are not refrigerated, canned or in airtight containers. Their food choices include grain-based foods like corn meal, pancake and muffin mix, flour, rice, barley, cereal, oatmeal, pasta, unpopped popcorn, corn starch, dry bread crumbs and instant mashed potato flakes. These moths prefer finely ground grains or little pieces because they are small larvae when they are feeding. They could also be found in dried fruit and nuts. Often, dry pet food and birdseed are how they make it into the house. Spices like paprika, spice rubs and red pepper wreaths, chocolate and powdered milk can be targeted. Sometimes they are feeding in grain-based rodent baits tucked away from sight.

The Indianmeal moth has about a half-inch wing span and is silvery-beige with the lower portion of the wings a coppery color. At rest, this moth carries its wings close to its body rather than over its back. The Mediterranean flour moth holds its wings in the same position and is the same size, except the silvery-beige wings have scattered dark flecks. Both moths are poor fliers and fly erratically. The larvae look identical and are smooth, segmented, cream-colored caterpillars with brown heads.

Mediterranean flour moth
Mediterranean flour moth adult. Photo credit: Pest and Disease Image Library, Bugwood.org

The story begins when someone brings a food product into the house with Indianmeal moth or Mediterranean flour moth eggs or larvae inside. The larvae feed in the food product until they get as large as they will grow. As they travel, they leave a characteristic dusty silken thread behind them. Often, people mistake the threads for spider webs. They then leave the food product to pupate in another location like in a box of coffee filters, napkins or drinking straws. They will spin a silken cocoon around themselves and in about a week, they will emerge as an adult moth with wings.

Adults have only one purpose: date and mate. The eating days are over. The fertilized female looks for a food product to wiggle into. Eggs are laid on the food surface and mommy exits stage left. The eggs hatch and more larvae are feeding in the kitchen. Another generation is born.

The solution to the Moths of Misery is not found with pesticides. It has to do with checking all possible products and either disposing of them if they have “guests” or putting all good food into other containers. Because the moths can chew through plastic bags and various wraps and wiggle into aluminum foil, more durable containers are needed. Plastic or glass containers with screw tops or snap down lids work well. You can recycle food grade containers and re-label them. Plastic containers that originally held basmati or jasmine rice is an example. Food can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Larger amounts of dry dog food and bird seed can be stored in its original bag in a clean garage container with a lid in the garage until the moth problem has been solved.

Protect your assets from these hungry food wreckers. Your falafel mix will thank you.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit http://bit.ly/MSUENews. To contact an expert in your area, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

Garden planning at its best

Old advice can be new advice for beginning gardeners.

Posted on January 8, 2015 by Gretchen Voyle, Michigan State University Extension

Vegetable garden. Photo by Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension

Vegetable garden. Photo by Rebecca Finneran, MSU Extension

In the late 1800s, a professor by the name of Liberty Hyde Bailey wrote and lectured extensively about a new field called horticulture. He is considered to be one of the founders of the Extension Service and the father of modern horticulture. Bailey was the first superintendent of the Horticulture Department at Michigan State University in 1886. He wrote: “A garden is half-made when it is well planned. The best gardener is one who does the most gardening by the winter fire.”


The months of the winter fire are upon us and so is the season of planning for your coming growing adventure. Whether it is a vegetable garden or flowers, this is the time to consider a location if this is a new garden. When plans are on paper and you have an eraser, changes are easy. Vegetable gardens need a good eight hours of direct sunlight to flourish. Consider surrounding trees and where shade will fall during the day. If the garden is close to a sidewalk or where people pass by, some vegetables could be damaged or disappear. Ripe cherry tomatoes tempt the more honest of people.


Consider how easy it is to get water to this location. If vegetables are to be grown, it is a good idea to have potable water available. That essentially means the water is suitable for drinking. If it is not, extra time and care will be necessary to wash vegetables, especially if they are to be eaten raw. If more hoses are needed to connect your water supply to the garden, start hunting now. At slightly over 8 pounds a gallon, carrying water sounds exciting but gets very tiresome, unless the garden being grown is the size of a card table.

Soil test

If the garden area has not had a soil test within the last three years, get one. You want to know before the first seed is planted if you need to add fertilizer or adjust the soil pH. You are aiming for a soil pH of around 6.5 and at least 5 percent organic matter. There will be a recommendation for nutrients in most cases and now is the time to locate the fertilizer. Michigan State University Extension has soil test self-mailers available at www.msusoiltest.com for $25. Use and keep your results and in another three years, test again and see what has improved through your efforts.

Buying seeds or transplants

Many seed companies have free catalogs if you request them – this is the time of year many gardening magazines are filled with blow-in cards to fill out and mail away for catalogs. You can also go online and start deciding what you would like to grow. There is nothing like looking at vegetables and fruit to motivate you to grow something new or different. It is good to order early before what you want has been sold out. More people than ever are gardening, so there are more buyers. Certain plants can be purchased as transplants to give them more weeks in the garden, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, head cabbage and giant pumpkins. Find a local source.

Tools needed

Now is the time to check and see if you have all the tools needed for your garden. This includes enough stakes and strings for rows. Owning a flat hoe for small weeding jobs and a triangular hoe for making small seed trenches can be handy. Having a tiller to turn over soil and incorporate compost is a back saver. This is the time to price and talk to those who own them. Almost all of them will suggest a tiller with the tines in the rear rather than at the front. With the tines in front, you have to lift the handles on most tillers to get the tines into the soil. This can be very tiring on the arms.

As the snow blows by the windows and the wind whistles around the corner of the house, planning your garden by the winter fire can make the smart gardener believe spring is coming and tasty vegetables are on the horizon.

This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit http://bit.ly/MSUENews. To contact an expert in your area, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

Garden Bridge: why we should be brave

Photo: GBT

London seethes with innovation. Famous for writers and painters who break new
ground, for fashion, music and design, this is the city where everyone wants
to live.

Enthusiasm for the new is, of course, always retrospective. Most people only
applaud something once they have got used to an idea. Thousands went online
to predict disaster before the opening ceremony of the Olympics, but the
execution of Danny Boyle’s aim: “to reveal how peculiar and contrary we
are – and how there’s also, I hope, a warmth about us,” proved in the
end, a triumph.

It is never easy to make a case in advance for something that is just
extraordinary. In the 21st century, even in the creative arts, people have
come to expect a watertight rationale.

The Garden Bridge is a poetic and imaginative idea, first dreamed up by Joanna
Lumley with Thomas Heatherwick to design the structure and Dan Pearson to
plant the landscape. At any suggestion of this structure being built,
disaster is increasingly predicted. The pundit voice calls loud, clear and

Long before its construction, the Eiffel Tower provoked outrage, as did the
London Eye. Both of these additions to cityscapes are today not just
accepted, but admired and enjoyed. And centuries ago, when the new post-fire
St Paul’s was built by Sir Christopher Wren, it was greeted with shrieks of

Do we perhaps need to be braver about supporting eccentric art, now that we no
longer have hugely rich patrons to pay for it? Does everything have to be
worthy? Do we always need to count the financial cost of what might seem a
crazy idea, if there is a chance that it will end up being enjoyed for

The critics
have majored in unfavourable comparisons with the High Line in New York.
They carp at the choice of site, and claim that St Paul’s will be hidden,
rather than reframed. They say that the bridge is a waste of money, and that
the garden will be no more than “urban parsley”.

What no one seems to have been fired up by, is the idea of a real garden that
spans a river. The High Line flies over streets and passes buildings that
were once warehouses which Hopper might have painted – but which are now
boutique hotels. It is a remarkable and dramatic place, but less imaginative
than the Garden Bridge, which is the stuff of dreams.

Dan Pearson is the man to make the dream come true. If you doubt his ability
to create a sense of place on an impossible site, head for the approach to
the Maggie’s Centre in Hammersmith. The building by architects Rogers Stirk
has a garden by Dan. Here, next to a roaring road, a corridor of planting
protects a calm green space.

Garden designer Dan Pearson

The bridge occupies a much larger and more ambitious site than the Maggie’s
Centre and it will be, in addition to a refuge, a proper garden. We have
plenty of parks in London, places where people can exercise and escape from
traffic, where the grass is well managed, the trees are beautiful and the
bedding schemes brilliant, but high horticulture is not what parks do best.
For that, the Londoner, or visitor to London, must head to Kew or the
Chelsea Physic Garden.

Gardening is our national obsession. How thrilling to have a proper garden at
the heart of London, planted by a man who trained first at Wisley and then
at Kew and who has the artistry to create a place that will be more than the
sum of its plants. Not a showy display of seasonal flowers, but a place to
linger and, for those who are interested in horticulture, a place to learn,
because there will be work for apprentices, as well as for volunteers.

Dan has gained valuable experience in what will survive salt-laden winds from
designing a private garden on a headland in South Devon, but he says
modestly that making mistakes is part of the process: “You can’t do
this all by yourself.” Jim Gardiner, the Director of Horticulture at
RHS Wisley, has been involved in scrutinising plant choices and is confident
that the bridge will be a horticultural showcase.

The planting plans and lists are so varied and original, with bulbs such as
Tulipa sprengeri and figs from Afghanistan, that close inspection will slow
people to that head-down pace that only happens in an interesting garden. It
will change from season to season and from year to year, as good gardens are
bound to do.

The bridge will offer a series of radiating paths through plant colonies that
lead to framed views. The different areas will be linked by native trees or
shrubs – holly, box, hawthorn and yew – which will give a unity of design.
As a hands-on gardener myself, I have complete confidence that the planting
will work.

The bridge will enliven the great arc of the Aldwych, and will connect Covent
Garden and the West End theatres to the newer cultural centre of the South
Bank. The crossing begins at Temple where the Knights Templar gardened and
which Shakespeare chose as the setting for the scene in Henry VI, when the
roses of York and Lancaster are picked.

At the turn of the 19th century the RHS was based here; all these historic
connections add resonance to the concept. The airborne garden ends on the
South Bank, where Londoners once flocked to pleasure gardens and where
market crops were cultivated.

It will be at the centre of London life and where people want to be. After the
opening, there may be crowds, but not perhaps early in the day when
commuters can start work with a refreshing walk across the river. Once it
has become part of the fabric of the city the bridge will be useful as well
as beautiful.

The only caveat is that of the £175m that the Garden Bridge will cost to
create, £60m is to come from public funding. Of course there are worthier
causes. Perhaps those of us who feel delighted by the idea of a garden in
the air, a marriage of water, earth and sky, but who are uneasy with the
inequality of life brought about by government cuts, should contribute to
repaying that public money. The bridge will not be ticketed (this is a
misapprehension) but I see no reason why grateful donations should not
follow its completion. For which I can hardly wait.

Have your say in our comments section below

Prize-winning gardener in court over ‘poisoned dwarf’ feud

Prize-winning gardener in court over 'poisoned dwarf' feud
Danuta Cross arriving at Beverley Magistrates Court Photo: Ross Parry

By Tristan Kirk

6:47PM GMT 30 Dec 2014

A prize-winning gardener who branded her neighbours “poisoned dwarves”
in a five-year feud over her picturesque hanging baskets has been told to
stop the abuse or face being locked up.

Retired teaching assistant Danuta Cross was once the envy of the village when
years of work cultivating her flowers won her an award for having the best
front garden.

But her pride turned to suspicion when she accused neighbours Dave Myhill and
his partner Alex Smith of jealously peering through the nine-foot dividing
fence at her plant rows.

The spat soon turned into a full-out war as Cross put her neighbours – both
former civil servants – through a “living hell”, accusing Mr Myhill of
spying on her in her underwear and threatening to hang him from a tree.

Mr Myhill, 59, said Cross had called him a paedophile and threatened to blind
him and maim him with an iron rod during a campaign of abuse stretching five

Cross, 64, who has admitted “appalling behaviour” but still insists she is the
real victim, has now been told to end the dispute or face a spell behind

Beverley Magistrates Court heard Cross had once been a pillar of the community
in the quiet Yorkshire village of South Cave, raising £800 for the war
memorial fund with a barbecue in her beloved garden.

Danuta Cross’s garden (Ross Parry)

Andrew Vaughn, prosecuting, said Cross branded her neighbours “poisoned
dwarves” and aimed “abuse and threatening language through the
garden divide”.

He said: “Mrs Cross was heard to say, ‘Hang from that f***ing tree. I’ll
let you hang from that f***ing tree and leave you to f***ing dangle’.

“‘I know you’re watching me I can see you when I’m in my underwear.
That’s what you want to see isn’t it, Dave you old boy?'”

Mr Vaughn added that the couple’s lives had been made “a misery” by the
constant stream of threats and accusations which began in 2009 and continued
after police were called in.

Mr Myhill and his partner were forced to keep a log of all the incidents,
which included 11 threats of violence from Cross in one month alone.

“We have been subject to many threats and allegations, including death
threats and untrue, damaging claims about me”, he said.

“Threats have included hanging us in the tree and having a ‘good laugh’,
maiming us with an iron rod and spraying our eyes to blind us.

“She has alleged I’m a paedophile, a spy and that I leer into her house
watching her in her underwear.”

District Judge Frederick Rutherford dubbed the case “bizarre” as he was handed
a stack of references of Cross’ good work in the community.

“It’s a sad situation indeed that a woman your age is before the court. If you
continue to offend you will place yourself in prison”, he told her.

Cross was fined £900 plus a £130 victim surcharge and costs, and issued with a
three year restraining order banning her from contacting her neighbours.

She was given a conditional discharge in December last year, but ignored it to
continue her campaign of harassment.

Her solicitor Michael Copeman said: “She perceived herself to be the
victim and still does, although she accepts that her actions have been
absolutely appalling.”

Mrs Smith, 65, said there had been no further incidents since the latest case
came to court.

“Now that this is done we just want to move on and enjoy our lives”, she

“The police have been really helpful, but there’s no victory in all of this
until everyone just moves on.”

The plant factory: is micropropagation a force for good?

In the lab:micropropagation was originally developed for crop research but has since benefited gardeners
 Photo: Getty Images/Science Photo Libra

As a 20-year-old, working in a lowly post in vegetable research, I was in a
small team that used micropropagation to eradicate virus from rhubarb stock
plants owned by commercial growers in Yorkshire. The technique was to cut
pieces from the growing tips and place them in glass flasks full of gel-like
growing media under light and heat.

The virus was eradicated by raising the temperature of the flasks, rather as
our bodies do when we develop a temperature to fight off influenza. The
simple technique saved the “Yorkshire triangle” rhubarb industry.

Micropropagation is a method of producing certain plants in much larger
numbers than you could by natural methods. There are two major difficulties,

First, time is needed to perfect the growing medium for each type of plant.
Our base ingredient was coconut milk so our lab was always full of coconuts.
The flesh was a waste product and I put my excellent dental health down to
chomping my way through large chunks of the white stuff day after day.

The second problem was weaning, the term for transferring the soft bits of
blobby plant tissue, which looked like plump green buttons, from the
gel-like media to compost.

Everything had to be sterile too, and a lab bench and spirit lamp were key
equipment. On one occasion I blew too hard and ignited the spirit underneath
the lamp’s wick, removing most of my eyelashes and my fringe. But even in
the early Seventies we realised that micropropagation could produce certain
hard-to-propagate plants in commercially viable numbers.

However, I didn’t foresee a use for “microprop” in general horticulture. How
wrong I was. Today it is widely used. If you’ve bought a double primrose, an
agapanthus, a lavender, a lupin, a heuchera or a hosta recently, the chances
are that it started life in a glass flask under light and heat.

For example, orchids are a cinch once the necessary mycorrhizal fungi is added
to the growing medium. And we all know, orchids, for home and garden, are
now available at a fraction of their former price.

Bob Brown, of Cotswold Garden Flowers, was one of the first to realise the
potential of micropropagation. He rediscovered an ivory-white ornamental
blackberry called Rubus rosifolius ‘Coronarius’ in a front garden in America
in the late Eighties and reintroduced it into Britain.

“There was so much demand for it and I couldn’t produce enough of by normal
means,” Bob says. “Everybody wanted it. I was approached at the Malvern Show
and asked if I wanted anything micropropagating and I selected three plants.
Within a year I had too many and decided to sell the surplus plugs to cover
the costs.”

Bob founded Just Must Perennials in 1994 and the company now supplies hundreds
of nurseries with plugs. His biggest success is the maroon-red thistle
Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’, a sterile plant that sets no viable seed.
As it has a tap root, it isn’t amenable to traditional division either, so
it’s almost impossible to propagate by normal means.

At Chelsea Flower Show 2000, this thistle became an “it plant” after being
used in Gardens Illustrated’s Best Show Garden designed by Piet Oudolf and
Arne Maynard.

Science in action: micropropagation is a method of producing certain
plants in much larger numbers than you could by natural methods

The designers used it with deep blue Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ and the red
Astrantia major ‘Ruby Wedding’. Micropropagation made all three widely
available and all are still much admired today although, according to Bob,
‘Ruby Wedding’ has been superseded by ‘Ruby Star’.

Dahlia ‘Murdoch’, a red water lily form, is another plant the nursery has
always struggled to supply enough of. It was passed to Bob by a Mr Murdoch
and raised locally by traditional methods. Their raiser has now retired, so
Just Must has commissioned 5,000 plugs. Dahlia ‘Murdoch’ will now become
widely available through other nurseries.

“The microprop process isn’t mega-fast,” Bob explains. “Ideally, the stock
plants need to have ten growing points each before you can start.” The
growing tips are harvested to be used in the lab, and the average cost per
plug is roughly £1.

As microprop is a labour-intensive process it is only feasible for plants that
are difficult to propagate naturally. Most of Just Must’s plugs are grown in
countries such as Poland, Indonesia and El Salvador in order to keep costs
down, before being shipped back to Britain.

Global effort

Patrick Fairweather, of Fairweather’s Nursery in Hampshire, produces
lavenders, agapanthus, hostas, heucheras and a range of herbaceous
perennials almost exclusively through micropropagation. Twenty years ago he
used British laboratories, but now he uses a broker who farms the work out
to China, India and Indonesia.

“The link with the supplier is more tenuous than it was, but our nursery stock
is carefully monitored for consistency. New plants, consistent to type,
refresh the process every three years,” he says.

Bob Brown readily admits that micropropagation has its critics. “Some say the
plants change character and mutate and some say they lose scent. This is
wrong, although if a plant is naturally mutable when traditionally
propagated, as hostas tend to be for instance, changes will also occur
under micropropagation.

“There is also resentment,” Bob goes on, citing the classic lacy fern
Polystichum setiferum ‘Pulcherrimum Bevis’. “This is very slow to grow and
was held by only a few select nurserymen who guarded it jealously. They are
not at all pleased that it’s now more readily available.”

The handsome ‘Pulcherrimum Bevis’ is for sale more often than it used to be,
but many plants are not true to form, says Angela Tandy, the fern expert at
Fibrex Nurseries. She believes that many of the micropropagated plants are
atypical. She has also noticed that fern modules (or plugs) are reticent to
grow because micropropagated ferns produce lots of crown, but little root.
Growing ferns on from the plug stage can be difficult, as I can confirm
myself, having lost five ‘Bevis’ sporelings so far.

Fibrex Nurseries sticks to traditional propagation methods. Once it sent some
aspleniums (hart’s tongue fern) for micropropagation, but: “They came back
looking very different so we renamed them,” says Angela. “However, they only
survived for three years. Often when a thing is rare, it’s rare for a
reason. It’s just slow.”

Professional opinions

David Howard (of the eponymous dahlia fame) and his daughter Christine run a
traditional Norfolk wholesale nursery with 60 acres of field-grown
herbaceous plants. They lift two million plants a year propagated
traditionally by top cuttings, root cuttings and division. “There are pros
and cons,” says David. “We’ve found that micropropagation works well with
kniphofias, but we’ve gone back to raising our verbascums from root cuttings
because the microprop plugs produced such weak plants.”

His worry is that good plants could be lost to cultivation because they don’t
react well to the microprop process. He cites Potentilla ‘Gibson’s Scarlet’,
a plant micropropagated in the early Eighties.

“It came back a poorer plant and I haven’t seen the true ‘Gibson’s Scarlet’
for many years,” he adds.

Some plants, such as Potentilla ‘Gibson’s Scarlet’ don’t react well to

Brian Ellis of Avondale Nursery near Coventry sees microprop as a necessary
evil. “I use some plugs, although most of my propagation is done
traditionally. Like most nurserymen I love propagating,” he says. “I like to
sell plants that can’t be acquired elsewhere.” He’s currently swapping stock
with several European nurseries. “We do grow pinks and echinaceas from
plugs, but some customers have complained that the echinaceas are
short-lived.” However, Brian puts this down to their parentage rather than
the process.

On a personal level, I find that when I go to a plant fair attended by many
nurseries the same plants, grown from widely available plugs, crop up across
the board, diminishing my choice. So I am grateful that nurseries such as
Avondale are still raising most of their plants traditionally. It would be
very tedious if every nursery began to stock the same few things, especially
if they came and went quickly.

However, micropropagation is a useful tool, especially with plants that can’t
be propagated traditionally. As with everything in life, it’s swings
and roundabouts.


Micropropagation, also known as in vitro propagation or tissue culture, is
more than 100 years old. However, it became more widely used in the Sixties
and Seventies. Usually it involves growing plants in glass containers partly
filled with growing medium, rather than soil. The amount of daylight and
heat is controlled and hormones added to produce maximum growth. The flasks
are usually rotated to develop even growth. Using this method, one head of
cauliflower cut into small pieces can produce thousands of clones within
weeks rather than years. The purpose of micropropagation from a commercial
point of view is to produce large numbers of plants that would otherwise be
scarce because they are difficult to propagate.


You can raise difficult-to-propagate plants in commercially viable numbers,
including sterile and double-flowered plants that are much in demand from

Micropropagation can clean up plants prone to disease. Trollius x cultorum
’Alabaster’, for instance, was weak and prone to virus until it was
heat-treated under micropropagation. Now lots of ornamental stock plants are
routinely cleaned up before being used for cuttings and traditional

The constant shimmying of the glass flasks under lights produces symmetrical
rosettes on grasslike plants such as Ophiopogon planiscapus ’Nigrescens’ and
Carex oshimensis ’Evergold’. Agapanthus also make neater rosettes with even
growth on every side.


It’s highly skilled and therefore expensive. In order to justify the costs of
micropropagation, thousands of one plant are produced which can swamp the
market. If a glut remains unsold, that particular plant may not be
propagated again for some time, if at all.

Some plants make a lot of top growth and little root, so some microprop plugs
take a long time to make a strong plant.

Nurserymen and gardeners report that some plants do change under microprop

Certain plants that do not reproduce easily and do not respond well to
microprop may disappear altogether.

The dark-eyed pink ‘Patricia’ is only available to gardeners because of


Double primroses

Double flowers rarely produce seeds and many heritage double primroses were
almost impossible to buy because they couldn’t be divided easily without
losing vigour. Now they pop up everywhere and are widely grown.

Sterile hardy geraniums

Sterile flowers can’t set seed, but they flower their hearts out as they try
and fail. The lovely ‘Rozanne’, the true-blue ‘Orion’ and the dark-eyed pink
‘Patricia’ are only available to gardeners because of micropropagation.


Once it would have taken 10 years or more for a new agapanthus to be available
in great numbers. However, newer beauties, such as ‘Northern Star’ bred by
Dick Fulcher of Pine Cottage Plants in Devon, were available within four
years of being named.


All banana plants for commercial plantations are raised by tissue culture
these days, to produce higher yielding, healthier plants. Blueberries are
also raised this way.


All heucheras are raised from tissue culture and new colours often appear
during the process. The range constantly evolves because plants can be lost
either through a loss of vigour or contamination of the growing media.