May is a busy time in the garden keeping on top of the weeds and fruit tree pests that appear after the Spring rains. But don’t automatically reach for the chemical sprays, because there are plenty of ecological alternatives to ensure that you keep your garden safe for the family, pets and wildlife. By Dick and Clodagh Handscombe

THE Spring rains and warm weather are a great stimulant to pests and fungal diseases that affect fruit trees. And, as with weeds, it’s wise to use ecological controls rather than strong chemicals. This, not only to reduce air pollution that can be dangerous to the family and wildlife, but also to prevent the contamination of fruit with residual chemicals. Five common problems and effective solutions are as follows.

  1. Leaf Curl is a common Spring problem with peach, nectarine, cherry, plum and apricot trees. It is easily recognised by the blistering and curling up of leaves. First remove as many damaged leaves as possible from the trees and also collect up fallen leaves and burn them if possible. Do not put them on the compost heap. Then spray with a decoction of Horsetail, nettle leaves and a strong natural nitrogen feed to stimulate new growth (this could be bird droppings, but you could also use nettle leaves). To prepare the decoction, simmer the ingredients in boiling water for 15 minutes and cool before use.
  2. Mealy Bugs (right) mostly seem to attack citrus fruits and apple trees. Look out for sticky white lumps on branches covered with aphids and often ants. Scrub off if possible with an old toothbrush with a potassium soap or washing up liquid, or brush with alcohol. If trees are tall, spray with a strong jet of the soap solution or, believe it or not, beer!
  3. Scale is a major problem on citrus trees and appears as hard blackish scales or lumps on the bark of young or old branches. If you catch it early the most effective solution is to scrub the scales off with an old toothbrush and potassium soap or washing up liquid diluted with water. If the infestation is greater spray with the same solution during the Spring and Summer and with Neem during Autumn and Winter.
  4. Sooty leaves is also a common citrus problem and can build up and totally block the pores of the affected leaves and eventually kill a tree.
  5. Honey fungus – hongo miel – looks like lumps of sticky jelly hanging from branches. Sometimes aphids move in and feed off the jelly. It can occur on many types of fruit trees but is most prevalent on stone fruits such as nectarines, apricots and peaches and pip trees such as pears and apples. We treat by spraying with a Neem and Horsetail or Propolis mix. Heavily affected branches are best cut out and burnt.

PS No doubt many readers will see independent attacks of small green white and black aphids from time to time. These are best controlled with a monthly Neem spray.

Since we are surrounded by deserted orchards all around Andalucia we expect to experience one or more of the above problems each month and we spray most fruit trees preventively with a cocktail of Neem (an insecticide), Propolis or Horsetail (both fungicides) and Nettle (a foliar feed to stimulate replacements for affected leaves and as an additional mild insecticide).

Top Ten tips for dealing with weeds

  1. Give windblown seeds less chance to germinate and grow into mature plants by planting your flowering plants more closely together and make more use of ground cover plants that keep out the light. There are dozens to choose from
  2. Plant trees and cacti beds through black plastic covered with five centimetres of attractive stone chippings
  3. On the vegetable plot plant onions, tomatoes, peppers, squashes etc through holes in black plastic sheeting to suppress the weeds and conserve moisture. Strawberries can also be grown in the same way
  4. Recognise that chick weed is loved by cage birds such as budgerigars. Likewise dandelion plants are loved by laying hens and by rabbits if at first sun dried
  5. All weeds are excellent for the compost heap so strim large areas and rake up the cuttings for the compost. Home-made compost is excellent for working into the soil and for mulching around shrubs and trees. You can also mulch around hard wood shrubs and trees with bark chippings. But beware this can attract unwanted fungal spores
  6. Leave deep fallen leaves under hedges. As they rot they add nutrients to the soil, prevent the soil from drying out, reduce watering and stop weeds from growing
  7. The number of flocks of sheep or goats is in a rapid decline so imported meat is on the rise creating unnecessary food mles. So why not ensure your annual local, organic Easter lamb or kid by keeping the weeds in the orchard down with a few of your own sheep or goats. Or at the very least let your neighbouring shepherd use your land for a few hours a day
  8. Nettle plants are valuable to the eco-gardener for they can be turned into a valuable fertiliser by putting them in a barrel of water for two or three weeks and a cooled infusion is an excellent foliar feed and mild insecticide for fruit trees
  9. Use solid rather than woven plastic under all areas of stone chippings. This prevents even strong perennial weeds from growing and also allows you to channel rain water to where most required in the garden
  10. Cover undeveloped areas of the garden or unplanted areas of the vegetable plot with old carpets or plastic sheeting until you are ready to work on those areas

Not only are such actions safer than the use of strong chemical weed killers but they will save you money and reduce the time required for maintaining a weed free garden not only in the Spring, but at all times of the year.

Clodagh and Dick’s books ‘Your Garden in Spain’, ‘Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain’ and ‘ Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain’ can be obtained from or by phone on 952 485 838

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  1. I met Dick & Clodagh recently at the flower festival in Parcent and bought some Neem Oil to deal with leaf curl on the peach tree. Clodagh said to add some Propolis (which I bought(70%) at great cost)to the Neem Oil but I cannot remember how much she said to add. I was really looking for a contact for them on the web-site but this is not available.
    When I met Clodagh at the festival she said to get the Propolis at the Honey shop in Jalon, when I told the assistant that it was for the garden she looked a little surprised as she drinks it and said it was good for the skin.Please can you tell me more, do I drink it or use it on the garden????? Thank you Janice Ruston(Murla)

  2. please can you tell me how to get rid of mealy bugs on my dama de noche and other shrubs, it is all over my garden and I could not use the ‘toothbrush ‘ method. Is it ok to spray flowering shrubs with washing up liquid mix? why am I getting this infestation? How can I avoid it in the future?

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