Wednesday, 27 July 2016


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Dragonflies and damselflies are often found along riverbanks, ponds and lakes on sunny summer days, patrolling the area and snatch small insects out of the sky. Sometimes females can be spotted laying their eggs on a stem in the water by dipping their abdomen on the surface of the water.

Dragonflies and damselflies belong to the insect order known as Odonata, meaning toothed jaw as they have serrated mouth parts..Both share the same life cycle, transforming from egg to nymph to a flying adult. However there are some key differences that distinguish the two, including the wing shape, position of the wings at rest, the eyes and body shape.


Dragonflies are big and powerful flying insects, and patrol their area at speed. They can often be founds flying well away from water. 

You can distinguish a dragonfly by its thick body, the wings held out horizontal while at rest, the eyes that wrap around to the front of the head, and the broad wings that get thicker from tip to base.  

Dragonflies belong to the sub-order Anisoptera, meaning unequal-winged. The dragonfly has two sets of wings, one behind the other,  that can be used in tandem or independently. Their hind wings are shorter and broader than their fore wings. Dragonflies hold their wings out perpendicular to their bodies when resting, like an air plane

Dragonflies have much larger eyes than damselflies, with the eyes taking up most of the head as they wrap around from the side to the front of the face. 
Dragonflies have bulkier bodies than damselflies, with a shorter, thicker appearance. 


Damselflies are small, weakly flying insects that stay close to the water margins or water surface. They can be distinguished from dragonflies as they have a much thinner body, eyes that sit at the side of the head, and narrower wings that taper at the base and which are held together above the body. 

Damselflies are more slender than dragonflies and fold their wings up when they land. 

Damselflies are insect in the sub-order Zygoptera, meaning yoke-winged. Like dragonflies they also have two sets of wings, but they are equal in size and the same shape for both sets, tapering down as they join the body. Damselflies fold their wings up and hold them together across the top of their backs when they are resting. 

The eyes of a damselfly are large, but there is always a gap of space between them.
Damselflies have a very narrow, twig like body, whilst dragonflies are thick and stocky. 

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Wednesday, 20 July 2016


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Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) was brought over in the nineteenth century by Victorian plant collectors, who admired the heart shaped leaves and bamboo like stems.  Unfortunately today Japanese Knotweed is the most invasive plant in Britain, colonising most habitats and able to grow through walls, tarmac and concrete.

Japanese knotweed stems are green, with red or purple specks.  They form dense, cane like clumps that  can grow up to 3 metres tall.  The leaves are green and heart shaped, up to 12 mm long and with a flat base.  Creamy clusters of flowers are borne on tips of most stems during August till October.  The roots consist of rhizomes, which are yellow when cut.

Japanese knotweed is a highly vigorous plant with the ability to spread quickly from an enormous underground network of stems (rhizomes), which can be up to 3 meters below the plant and spread 7 meters across.

It can spread via fragments of roots and stem often with human assistance as plant material or as fragments in soil, and pieces of rhizome as small as 1cm can produce new plants and the cut green stems readily re grow. Fortunately, Japanese knotweed in this country is infertile and so cannot produce viable plants from seed.

Under the 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act, made it an offence to plant or cause it to grow in the wild. Section 34 of the Environment Protection Act 1990 places a duty of care on all waste producers to ensure that any wastes are disposed of safely, namely that Japanese knotweed crowns should neither be composted nor removed from a site without a waste license.

Do not cut down Japanese knotweed on site, as this will spread the plant.  Instead treat chemically with an herbicide to kill the stems and then burn them on site.

You can use either a glyphosate or trichopyr based herbicide.  Glyphosate (Roundup) is best used is when the plant is actively growing in the spring or at the end of the season in the autumn when the plant is dying down. Trichopyr (Icade) is an excellent chemical for control in areas not near trees and has the advantage of killing any surround grass.

You will need to repeat the application several times each season, and it can take up to five years to eradicate the plant entirely.

How to remove moss
Common British weeds
Giant Hogweed

Japanese Knotweed

Tuesday, 12 July 2016


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We recently visited a garden and spotted giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum).  It is an impressive plant, looking just like its smaller brother common hogweed but on steroids. You will be able to spot the difference as true to its name giant hogweed is MASSIVE, and truly looks like it belongs in a giant's garden.

Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is a close relative of cow parsley.  It originates from Southern Russia and Georgia, and was brought over to Britain by Victorian plant collectors. Although an impressive sight when fully grown, giant hogweed is invasive and potentially harmful and therefore most gardeners will wish to eradicate it from their garden.

Chemicals in the sap can cause photodermatitis or photosensitivity, where the skin becomes very sensitive to sunlight and may suffer blistering, pigmentation and long-lasting scars. Blisters are photosensitive, triggered by sunlight, and may recur for up to 6 years after initial contact. 

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 lists giant hogweed as an invasive weed (Schedule 9, Section 14), meaning it is an offence to cause giant hogweed to grow in the wild in England and Wales. Similar legislation applies in Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

Although there is no statutory obligation for landowners to eliminate giant hogweed, local authorities will often take action to remove infestations in public areas. It can be the subject of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders where occupiers of giant hogweed infested ground can be required to remove the weed or face penalties.


Giant hogweed is a tall, cow parsley-like plant with flat topped clusters of white flowers held in umbels, like though of carrots or cow parsley. It has thick, bristly stems that are often purple-blotched. It is the enormous size of the plant that distinguishes giant hogweed. Flower heads can be as large as 60 cm (2ft) across and it can reach a height of 3.5 m (11.5ft) or more. 

Giant hogweed can be either a biennial or perennial weed, forming a rosette of deeply lobed leaves in the first year and then sending up a flower spike in the second year in order to set seed. Giant hogweed seeds are tough and can germinate in the soil up to fifteen years after broadcast.


;"> Care must be taken when handling giant hogweed as contact with the plant can result in serious injury. When working near giant hogweed always wear gloves, cover your arms and legs and wear googles or a face mask. 

The sap within the plant can remain active for 2 hours after cutting, so contaminated clothing and tools are potentially hazardous too. Wash any skin that comes in contact with the plant with soap and water immediately. 

Where there are many plants it is best to treat chemically, in order to minimise contact with the plant.  Applying a tough weedkiller containing glyphosate or triclopyr.
Ideally, spray the young foliage in May which is 1 metre high or less and re-treated in August or September as necessary. Mature plants are likely to need more than one treatment to kill them. 

Giant hogweed is a controlled waste, similar to Japanese knotweed, so if it is taken off site it can only be disposed of in licensed landfill sites with the required documentation. Avoid this by allowing plant material to die and then burning in a garden incinerator on site.

How to remove moss
Common British weeds
Giant Hogweed
Japanese Knotweed

Monday, 11 July 2016


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Moss, including algae, liverworts, lichens and moss, can help to age a garden and add a lovely weathered in appearance.  On stone and timber features lichens and moss can be very attractive and give a mature look to the garden. Such growths do not harm the surfaces on which they grow, and are a natural part of the garden ecosystem.

However moss on hard surfaces and garden furniture can be a pain, covering patios, steps, driveways and lawns. As well as looking unsightly moss can cause a surface to become slippery and so it is best to remove it.

Moss likes damp, humid, shady conditions, clean air and poor drainage. It thrives in dark, damp conditions and so is prevalent in shady areas, especially in the wetter autumn and winter months. Winter is traditionally the time when algal, moss and liverwort growth is most significant, but build-up can occur during any wet period or in shady, humid areas.


It is better to prevent the build up of moss than to treat it repeatedly. This can be achieved by improving light conditions and ventilation to mossy areas.  Cut back overhanging vegetation and improve drainage to the surrounding areas by digging channels at the edge of affected areas and filling with gravel, digging over soil areas and keeping drains and channels clear of leaves and other debris.

Consider the use of permeable surfaces rather than less porous hard surfaces, which drain poorly.  Brush surfaces on a regular basis to prevent the build up of mossy patches.

Non chemical control of moss

Small areas of moss can be removed manually by scraping off the moss with a hoe, sharp knife or wire broom.  This method is best carried out in the summer when the moss is dry and looser.  Once the moss is loosened sweep up with a stiff broom and dispose of the collected moss.

Alternatively a pressure washer can be used to remove moss.  However, although this gives an instant effect it can spread moss spores across the surface area, and if the surface is poorly drained the extra water can exacerbate the issue.  

Moss can be removed from grass areas by raking with a spring-tine rake or use of a scarifier.

Chemical control of moss

Algae, lichens and liverworts can be removed from hard surfaces with most proprietary patio cleaners. Larger areas can be treated chemically using a moss killer containing benzalkonium chloride, acetic acid, fatty acids or nitrilo triacetic acid/trisodium salt.  these include product such as Bayer Moss killer, Bayer path and patio cleaner and Jeyes fluid.  I find that in addition, moss can be controlled by the application of rock salt along pathways.

Lawns can be treated for moss with chemicals containing ferrous iron (sulphate of iron), which will blacken the moss and green up your lawn. Apply in the spring or early autumn and remove after two or three weeks with a spring-tine rake when it blackens.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016


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A weed is defined any wild plant that grows in an unwanted place, especially in a garden or field where it prevents the cultivated plants from growing freely. However weeds can include any unwanted vigorous cultivated plants that have spread or set seed in your border.  

That doesn't always help when weeding the garden as we can be reluctant to remove plants we do not normally categorise as weeds. One of the biggest complaints about gardeners is that they have a lack of understanding of which plants are unwanted and have removed precious plants along with the weeds. 

There are some typical British weeds that grow in gardens that can be easily identified and will enable you to decide which plant to remove and which to keep.  These include annual weeds such as chickweed, growing and setting seed in a single year and are easy to remove by manual cultivation techniques such as hoeing.  Perennial weeds such as dandelions have a life cycle beyond a year and are tougher to eradicate, often requiring digging out of chemical control.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
With its distinctive toothed leaves that give it its names dandelion (teeth of lion), this rosette shaped weed has distinctive yellow flowers followed by dandelion clocks. Dandelions have a long tap root from which new plants can grow.  Larger weeds will require chemical control with glyphosate but smaller weeds can be removed with a trowel if the long tap root is removed too.

Creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense)
Creeping thistle loves grassland and uncultivated soil.  It can quickly spread and once established it can be difficult to eradicate permanently. Spreading by creeping roots and airborne seeds, repeated digging out of roots reduces the problem but chemical control will provide a quicker solution.

Chickweed (Stellaria media)
This annual weeds quickly spreads out and smoothers other seedlings.  Thriving in rich soils it sets seed quickly.  Remove it promptly by hand or using a hoe.

Shepherds purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
This annual weed forms a rosette, sending up characteristic heart-shaped seed pods after white flowers. Remove potential plants as soon as you see them and remove seed heads as soon as you spot them as seeds can live for up to 30 years in the soil.

Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris)
This annual weed produces seeds all year round, which are spread by the wind.  Although hoeing seedlings is effective, remove larger uprooted plants as these can still set seeds that germinate. 

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica
This perennial nettle is usually considered to be weeds, although if you have the space to leave some, they can be an excellent source of food and habitat for butterflies such as the red admiral, peacock and small tortoiseshell.  Stinging nettles thrive in loose, newly cultivated soil, especially where phosphate levels are high.  Cut down in mid-summer before flowering to prevent setting of seed and remove by cultivation or chemical control.

Annual Nettle (Urtica urens)
Smaller than its larger big brother the stinging nettle, this nettle favours rich, fertile soil such as well-manured vegetable gardens. If you remove by hand, wear gloves to avoid stings.

Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)
This annual weed is low growing but can spread significantly in borders. Short flower stems can propel seeds several feet away do remove the plant as soon as you spot it. 
Bindweed (Calystegia sepium)
This weed quickly swamps other plants with its climbing, twisting stems and has distinctive white trumpet flowers.  Pull by hand to remove from other plants and then treat with glyphosate.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica)
This weed is invasive, and I mean invasive.  Japanese knotweed used to be such a concern it was once a notifiable weed, but is now much more common and that status has been removed.  It can take up to five years to eradicate this plant with chemical control. Luckily enough, this plant is herbaceous and dies down in the winter and is infertile, spreading by underground rhizomes only.
Do not cut, mow or spread any of the weed as new plants can grow from just a few millimetres of plant material.  Instead treat chemically with glyphosate in midsummer and then again in the autumn, as the stems are dying down.

Ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria)
Ground elder sends out underground rhizomes, which wind around garden flowers and strangle them. Gently pull the underground stems to remove from the soil, repeating if necessary, or apply a glyphosate-based weed killer. 

Field horsetail (Equisetum arvense)
Similar to its water loving cousin Mares tail, this weed can spread rapidly in compacted soil and is difficult to control. Although digging out will weaken the plant large areas require chemical control.

This prickly weed has sharp thorns which are a nuisance. Bramble bushes have long, thorny, arching shoots and root easily. They send up long, arching canes that do not flower or set fruit until the second year of growth. Cut back hard and dig out roots or treat with a chemical.

Willow herb (Epilobium)
This common annual weed sets seed in the border quickly. However it is easy to pull up by hand, which is best done before the pink flowers set seed.

How to remove moss
Common British weeds
Giant Hogweed