There has been a small flurry of media reports over the past few months about what has been reported as a ‘game changing’ plant disease that threatens commercial horticulture in the UK.
Xyella fastidiosa is endemic in America but until a few years ago wasn’t known to be present in Europe. Then in 2013 whole olive groves in southern Italy were being wiped out and Xyella fastidiosa was discovered to be the culprit. It was later found in Corsica and mainland France. Centuries old olive groves have been destroyed by the disease.
It works through infecting the water carrying systems within the host plant – the xylem- (hence its name) spreading via insects that feed on the xylem such as leafhoppers and spittlebugs. It inhibits the transmission of water and nutrients through the plant which is ultimately starved to death. Its visible symptoms include things like necrotic leaves, leaf scorch, wilt and drop which are indistinguishable from other diseases making it tricky to spot. If found in the UK host plants within 100m would be destroyed and there would be restrictions on movement of plants within a 5km radius for five years – obviously causing considerable problems for surrounding nurseries and garden centres.
Experts believe that it’s most likely to appear in the UK via the importation of infected plant material rather than via insects and as a result commercial growers and retailers are likely to spot it first. As a precautionary measure the RHS will this year only allow British-grown hebe, rosemary, lavender, oleander, olives, polygala, coffee, Spanish broom and prunus at its shows including the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show.
Xyella fastidiosa has a wide range of host plants and a comprehensive list can be found here.
One means by which to restrict the chances of the disease reaching these shores and then spreading is to support local growers. The shorter the distance a plant has to travel the better for the environment, the less chance there is of disease spreading. What’s more you get to support good local businesses run by people who are passionate about what they do.
The backbone of my January diary is made up of fruit tree pruning. I like this time of year for that reason – with the rest of the garden sleeping I get chance to take my time over some lovely trees be they small and well trained in suburban gardens or the remnants of ancient orchards. I sometime fantasise about a life spent looking after commercial orchards but for now I’m quite happy with the few dozen fruit trees in my charge. This month will see me giving a light trim to a few trees I’ve cared for over the last few years and undertaking more substantial renovation pruning jobs on one or two older ones.
It’s very satisfying work and what’s more…I get to climb trees..
Why prune ? Neglected trees eventually grow congested and become less productive over time. It’s very satisfying to see a tree that has only produced half a dozen fruits for a few years become bountiful. Pruning takes place at this time of year when the tree is dormant and before the new growing season begins in earnest. Good fruit tree pruning often feels like solving a puzzle, you’re trying to work out how to bring out the best in each tree which if neglected will have grown in its own idiosyncratic way over time.
If you’ve got some fruit trees that you think might be in need of a prune don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Here’s one of the apple trees I look after in all its fruiting glory
As the year turns I always start to anticipate the gardening year ahead with a sense of excitement. Each year invariably brings new clients , new gardens, things to learn, plants to get to know, dogs and cats to meet and miles to put in on the bike.
Before that though I’ve some time this week to do some work in my own garden. It often gets a little neglected when I’m flat out gardening during the summer months. What I’ve discovered is if I start the year fully on top of it then I stand a better chance of it staying that way as the year progresses.
Being passionate about wildlife gardening I can get away with a slightly shaggier look, but the abundant perennial style of planting I love does mean it can sometimes get carried away with itself.
This week I’ll be planting a Ribston Pippin apple tree and under planting it with a selection of bulbs.
When it’s dank, dark and dreary outside this is definitely the time of year to start imagining what your garden might look like in the summer. Anticipation of what’s to come is one of the great pleasures of being a gardener.