It’s a bird-eatcaterpillar world
Cabbage white butterflies
With the warmer weather, white butterflies will soon be hatching and then laying their distinctive yellow, bullet-shaped eggs on the underside of leaves – brassicas are their favourite.
The ensuing green caterpillars feed on the host plant usually to its detriment. Young plants may die; mature ones become weakened and susceptible to other pests and diseases.
A mature caterpillar is about 2cm to 3cm long and roughly as thick as a pencil. Within a fortnight of spinning its chrysalis, it hatches into a butterfly and the cycle continues – up to three times a year in optimum conditions.
To combat – at the butterfly stage, cover bed with fine netting.
At the larvae stage, handpicking them off the undersides of leaves is effective, but note they are often hidden along the ribs.
At the caterpillar stage, flour sprinkled over the plants apparently clogs and kill the larvae. Another trick is to place a birdbath in or near the cabbage patch to encourage birds that like to eat the caterpillars.
Strawberries are starting to flower. Keep them watered and keep an eye out for slugs (and treat according to your philosophy). Hand-weed carefully around plants as they have feeding roots which lie close to the soil surface.
Make small but successive sowings of lettuce, radish and spring onions to ensure continuity of supply – and avoid the glut or famine scenarios.
Other vegetables to be sown direct into the garden now include beans, beetroot, peas and spinach.
Sow corn, courgettes and pumpkins under glass and they’ll be ready for transplanting out once the weather settles.
Remove winter and spring annuals after flowering and prepare ground for summer plants by removing weeds and digging in compost. Don’t throw away spent polyanthus and primroses. Divide them up into pieces as small as possible – as long as each section has a root – and replant in a cooler, shady part of the garden where they will bulk up and flower again next winter.
Mulch around trees and shrubs – especially young ones – in preparation for summer. Mulch reduces moisture loss from the soil and helps suppress weeds. Compost, pea straw, wood chips, lawn clippings, long grass clippings, chopped leaves, mushroom compost, and well-rotted horse manure are all suitable.
Sow new lawns and make any repairs needed in old ones. Older lawns may need de-thatching. A rake is perfectly adequate for the job, but if the problem is severe or the lawn large then use a de-thatching machine.
– Mary Lovell-Smith
Put a birdbath near your cabbage patch and with luck, the birds will eat the pesky caterpillars. Below: Strawberries are beginning to flower, so watch out for slugs.