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Gardening with Jack

Great love affairs: Romeo and Juliet, Abelard and Heloise, Bogie and Bacall, Rose and Parsley… Rose bushes grow better with parsley planted around the base and the parsley will grow green and lush.

It is a good idea to prune your rose bushes in April and October each year. The new growth after pruning will quickly adapt to the warmer weather following April and the cooler conditions after October without the need to shed any old leaves. That said, it is important not to remove more than one-third of the foliage from any tree or shrub you prune. Cut away too much foliage and you may stress the plant to the point of killing it. No need to fertilize immediately after pruning because the roots stay the same size and will be servicing a smaller plant.

Give your fruit trees a good feeding three times a year. Dormant periods in the tropics are brief and can be ignored. Feed your trees every season but not when they are bearing fruit. Apply a drench of Sequestrene 138 chelated iron to the base of each tree, following the instructions that come with the chemical. Sequestrene 138 was developed for the citrus industry in Florida where the soil is heavily alkaline, just like ours. Besides providing iron Sequestrene 138 allows for greater absorption of nutrients in the soil which otherwise are tied up by high alkalinity. Apply a citrus and tropical fruit fertilizer to the circular drip line or use Miracle Gro Fruit and Citrus fertilizer spikes. Complete the seasonal feeding with a minor nutrient spray applied to all the foliage and using a sticker-spreader for adhesion.

Another time we should refrain from fertilizing is immediately after a transplant. Give the transplants – tomatoes, peppers, onions sets, et cetera – time to establish their roots in the soil for a week or two before applying fertilizer.

A word on fertilizers: The standard all-purpose granular fertilizer mix is called 6-6-6 because it contains 6% of the major nutrients nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as smaller amounts of other elements in salt form. There is a reason 6-6-6 is the standard; it can be applied quite liberally without burning the roots of plants. It may seem that a 10-10-10 fertilizer is better value but it must be used with great restraint, almost like moving from a sedan to a sports car.

If your bell pepper seedlings start to bud when they are very small you should nip them off and allow another few weeks of growth before letting flowers – then fruits – develop. If a tiny plant produces a massive pepper it will never recover fully and will give poor returns thereafter. When it comes to mangoes, however, a young tree will usually shed small fruits if it feels stressed. Some growers like to pick off the first year’s fruits early or leave just one or two. This is easily done when you have a number of mature mango trees to provide fruits in the meantime but much harder if all you have are saplings.

Found an ant hill in your garden? The cheapest effective way to remove the nest is to use a carbon dioxide source in the form of soda water (club soda). Spray around the hill with a commercial ant killer to catch escapees that will head straight for your feet. Break the surface of the ant hill and pour in a litre of good quality soda water. Those bubbles contain carbon dioxide, which is heavier than air. The carbon dioxide settles to the bottom of the nest and kills the ants by suffocation. Like us, ants live on oxygen from the air but absorb it through their exoskeleton. Their first reaction will be to attack the invader and that is why you spray around the nest; the second is to remove the queen to safety through a series of passages below the nest. If the ants achieve the safe evacuation of their queen they will build a new nest and you will buy another litre of soda water and win in the end.

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