How To, Jorge, Mice & Rats, Pest Advice, Pest Control

Rats in the loft are a worrying sign for any homeowner due to their propensity to spread disease, damage property and steal food. Worse, rodents in the loft indicate that they have spread deep into the property, forming a network throughout your walls. To deal with rodents it is can be useful to first identify the type of rodent before addressing structural issues and then dealing with the rodents themselves.

Types of Rodent

In the UK, the most common type of rat is the brown rat, followed by the black rat a distant second. As omnivores, these rats will consume nearly anything and are fond of burrowing; hence, in urban areas they will enter properties for shelter and warmth, which usually occurs at the end of the summer and autumn when the weather starts to turn. Of the two, the black rat is incredibly agile and can often be found inhabiting the upper areas of buildings, while the brown rat is more likely to stick to lower levels.

The two rats can be distinguished by their length, weight, body proportions and facial features with the brown rat significantly larger (40 vs 24cm long) and heavier (500 vs 200g) with small ears and eyes and a slanted snout. By contrast, the black rat possesses large ears and eyes and a pointed snout. Unsurprisingly, its body is slender with its tail longer than the rest of its body, hence the difference in weight. The brown rat is the opposite with a thick body and tail shorter than the rest of its body.

brown vs black rat comparison
Rattus rattus is the scientific name for the black rat, and Rattus norvegicus for the brown rat. Picture credit: Sponk licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Of mice, the most common species found in UK homes is the house mouse followed by the closely related field and yellow-necked field mouse. The house mouse is particularly problematic as it can enter dwellings at any point of the year. Concentrated in rural areas, the field mouse will rarely enter homes, although may pose a problem to farm buildings. The house mouse can easily be distinguished from the field mouse by its colour with the former grey and the latter a sandy-orange.

A visual comparison of the field (L) and house mouse (R). Note the difference in colour. Picture credit: Hans Hillewaert licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Significantly smaller than rats, mice can survive on a mere 3 grams of food a day and even go without water for significant periods. They are all excellent climbers and can multiply quickly. The house mouse, for example, can produce up to 8 litters a year with a gestation period of only 30 days. Hence, we recommend you act quickly to solve any rodent problem.

Safety Precautions

Rodents carry a wide range of diseases, some of which are deadly and others airbourne. Hence, other than wearing gloves and using a facemask, we recommend you air out any space before removing carcasses or excrements.

Detection

Rodents are usually identified by their droppings or the sound of crawling, scratching and gnawing, although can also be identified by chewed wires or pipes. In general, rats are more audible than mice and you are less likely to hear the latter crawling. Brown rat’s droppings are the largest between 1.5-2cm, black rat’s up to 1.5cm and mice less than 0.75cm. If you are having trouble locating your intruders, you can use rodent tracker dust to identify their comings and goings and aid trap placement. 

Addressing Structural Issues

Rodents, along with other pests, can enter your property through small cracks in the brickwork. They can enter your property through climbing shrubs and trees, and black rats may enter your loft directly. Hence, we recommend you seal any cracks with insulation foam and cut back overgrown plants. Rodents will often first take interest in a home due to overgrown gardens and easy access to waste. Hence, it is important to keep your rubbish tidied away.

Solutions

Primrose has over 10 years’ experience developing pest control products and offers a large range of solutions to rodent infestations, divided into clinical and humane solutions. Of all our products, we’d recommend ultrasonic repellents. They work by emitting ultrasound waves, inaudible to humans, but painful for rodents, who use this frequency to listen for predators. Disturbed, they will move out of the vicinity of the sound. We offer both battery and mains powered repellents, of which the former can be useful if you do not have a socket in your loft.

Our battery-powered ultrasonic rodent repeller is perfect for lofts and camouflages as a smoke alarm.

Clinical solutions include mouse and glue traps. In the vast majority of cases a mouse trap will kill a rodent instantly, so they are humane in a sense. Glue traps are extremely effective and work great in tandem with conventional traps. However, the major problem with clinical solutions is that they rarely provide a long term solution as killing existing rodents simply makes room for new ones. Hence, we recommend you start with any ultrasonic repellent, before moving onto these solutions.

If you are using ultrasonic repellents, it is important to first give it time to work and then seal cracks in your property to allow room for the rodents to escape. If you plan to just use just clinical solutions, it is important to first seal your property. Ultimately, it can be useful to use all three solutions in tandem that have proven to be highly effective in dealing with the worst problems, and significantly cheaper than relying on professional pest control solutions.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

Flowers, Gardening, Grow Your Own, How To, Insects, Liam, Pest Advice, Planting, Plants

Apples are the nation’s favourite fruit; we grow it more than any other kind. Unlike many other fruits the apple is at home here. Yet despite this, for those who grow apples there is always risk of having a disappointing year.

Weather plays its part and so there may be anguish across different parts of the country but even a fellow gardener down the road may be having some trouble which tells us there are things we can do to ensure a bumper crop of delicious and ripe apples.

Symptoms

The typical signs of a poor harvest may be that you only have a few, or even no apples at all.

Sometimes an apple tree can fall into a biennial harvest cycle, which means it only produces fruit every two or more years. This is typically because the tree has exhausted itself the year prior or isn’t receiving all the essentials.

Equally having a large amount of apples, but all of them being very small and poorly developed defines a thin crop. Surprisingly then, having too many apples as well as too few are signs of a failing tree. These symptoms lead to some different and some similar remedies.

Weather

Before I mention the different issues we do have some control over, it is worth mentioning the one critical factor over which we have less power; the weather.

  • Periods of extended heat and the resulting drought can be particularly catastrophic for young apple trees trying to establish themselves. With underdeveloped leaves and roots they are far more susceptible to losing water and being damaged by hot temperatures.
  • Drought aside, periods of long extended rain throughout the summer will prevent pollinating insects coming out which can be devastating. In 2012 Britain faced the worst apple harvest for several decades with orchards losing up to 70% of their entire expected crop for this very reason.
  • Frost, however, is potentially the most damaging force against fruit everywhere. With the ability to destroy blossoms and fruitlets it can severely diminish a tree’s ability to bear fruit. If the country experiences warm weather in the early spring, instigating blossom, followed by a late and harsh frost a tree may struggle to bear any fruit at all. This is something British wine growers are struggling with this year.
Apples Lost to a Late Frost

To help improve your chance of seeing fruit it is important to make sure your tree is well watered, especially if it has been planted within the last 2 years. You can also use a horticultural fleece if there are late extended cold periods. Importantly it is a good idea to have a range of trees which blossom at different times of year to maximise your chances of pollination. See the ‘Pollination’ section for more details.

Thinning

The Problem

The main cause of an abundance of small, poorly developed apples and biennial harvest cycles is a tree which has exhausted itself in trying to produce a bulk load of apples.

Naturally the tree wants to make as many seeds as possible but this process requires incredible amounts of nitrogen. So if you want an annual supply of fully developed and ripe apples it may be necessary to thin your tree early in the fruiting period.

The tree may try to do this naturally in what is known as the ‘June Drop’ but it doesn’t hurt to give mother nature a helping hand. It may be traumatising to waste so many fruitlets but when it comes to human consumption quality certainly beats quantity.

The Solution

  • First of all rid the tree of any diseased, rotting or malformed fruitlets.
  • After this simply remove the remaining apples until you are left with one apple per 4-6in for dessert (eating) varieties and one apple per 6-9in for cooking varieties.
  • When choosing between apples it is always better to rid those on the underside of branches which may not receive as much light or air.

Pollination

The Problem

Pollination is usually the critical factor in how well your tree fruits. If your tree lacks a pollinating partner or the beneficial pollinating insects, cross pollination may not occur, resulting in a poor crop.

The Solution

  • An apple tree typically needs a pollinating partner within a proximity of around 50ft. This partner must also be an apple tree but of a different variety; very few apple trees are self-pollinating.
  • Apple trees are categorised in pollination groups (1-6) based on when they come into bloom (1 being the earliest in the year). An apple tree such as ‘Red Devil’s Dessert’ (group 3) may pollinate a ‘Gala’ (group 4) however a tree such as ‘Bountiful’ (group 2) may have finished flowering before ‘Lord Derby’ (group 5) comes into bloom.
  • In more rural settings, ensure your apple tree has the right pollinating partners nearby if you are to expect fruit. Ensure there are two different varieties with similar pollination groups. You can even plant a Crab-Apple tree, which makes a fantastic ornamental tree, to act as a pollination partner.
  • Some apple trees such as ‘Bramley’s Seedling’ are triploid trees meaning they require two different pollinating partners.
  • Make your garden attractive to pollinating insects. Lavender, Chamomile and Daffodils are all great plants for getting these welcome visitors into the garden early on in the year while also deterring the pests. See our guide to companion plants for fruit trees for fantastic tips on how to bring beneficial pollinators into your garden!

Pests and Disease

Apple ruined from Brown Rot
An Apple Lost to Brown Rot

The Problem

Unsurprisingly apples are a prime target for a whole host of pests and diseases. These biological annoyances can be the scourge of otherwise perfect fruit, causing ruin, rot and fruit drop. In particular apples suffer from ‘apple scab’, ‘codling moth’, ‘brown rot’ and ‘apple maggot’, among others.

The Solution for Disease

  • Maintaining sound horticultural practices is the best line of defence against pests and disease. Pruning, weeding and keeping your garden clean of fallen leaves and rotting fruit is a simple but effective way of eliminating all those places which harbour apple-destroying life. Equally cutting the grass around your tree and applying a mulch will further help protect it.
  • Most diseases such as Apple Scab and Brown rot are fungal and infect fruit through rotting material which may have been contaminated from last year. Burn infected leaves and fruit or bury at least 1ft under ground to prevent the spread of spores.
  • Regularly check your fruit for any sign of infection or any wounds. Be vigilant when pruning and always sterilise your pruning equipment when dealing with a diseased tree.
  • As the tree is budding in spring, certain fungicide sprays are available such as a copper based solution. This should be sprayed as the leaves emerge and then again 14 days later; this is, however, mainly preventative.

The Solution for Pests

  • For insects such as Apple Maggot and Codling Moth again you want to destroy any potential hiding spots and prune out any areas of congestion. Hiding spots may include plastic tree guards and so a metal mesh guard is recommended instead.
  • Nontoxic horticultural oils are a good way to kill dormant insects and their eggs which should be applied on the tree during spring. Sticky and pheromone traps can be used and should typically be set in early May before the insects mate.
Apple ruined by Codling Moth
A Codling Moth Caterpillar
  • There are several all-purpose bug sprays but these can deter the more beneficial pollinating insects and should only be used when there is a clear infestation.
  • Certain plants, such as chives provide a strong deterrent to pests including deer and rabbits as well as insects yet is attractive to many beneficial pollinating insects. Additionally dill, fennel and nasturtium all provide an organic solution to protect your fruit trees against pests. Again see our Companion Planting post for further details.

Hopefully I have helped to explain why your tree may be fruiting below par and you’ve found a remedy for this frustration.

Liam at PrimroseLiam works in the buying team at Primrose. He is passionate about studying other cultures, especially their history. A lover of sports his favourite pass-time is football, either playing or watching it! In the garden Liam is particularly interested in growing your own food.

See all of Liam’s posts.

Composting, Flowers, Garden Design, Gardening, Grow Your Own, Liam, Pest Advice, Planting, Wildlife

For hundreds of years farmers have used companion planting as a method to help improve their yields and get the most out of their fruit trees. This organic solution does far more than simply prevent pests from eating your fruit. Certain plant combinations serve a whole host of benefits including increased pollination, weed prevention and improved soil nutrition. Additionally it is a great way to cover the space under a fruit tree offering more colour and variety to your garden!

The Basics

As fellow gardeners I’m sure you recognise it is important to try and keep a natural balance, even in your garden. A key premise to companion planting is trying to avoid monocultures by planting a variety of different plants together. Among other things, you make it difficult for pests to find their desired food and spread amongst your crop.

For the Love of Fruit

Many people believe that it is difficult to grow anything under a tree. However, there are a great variety of plants which naturally thrive in this space. With that being said it is important to remember that if your fruit tree is trying to establish itself it is important to water it regularly, especially if you plan on planting more plants around it.

Fruit trees constantly come under attack from various pests because of their delicious fruit. They also require extra levels of potassium to help stimulate bud and fruit growth. If you want to avoid using chemical fertilisers or pesticides here is an essential list of companion plants for your fruit tree:

  • Chives – The scent of chives provides a strong deterrent to pests including deer and rabbits as well as insects and yet is attractive to the more beneficial pollinators. Additionally chives have been known to prevent apple scrab which is a notorious scrounge of apple fruit. A cautionary note is that chives are aggressive growers and so they will require maintenance to stop them invading the entire bed.
  • Nasturtium – A real favourite in the world of companion planting. This is a great plant to lure away aphids and particular caterpillars from your trees. It is a sacrificial crop. Nasturtium requires minimal nutrients, sun or water and so is brilliant for diverting pests while keeping your fruit tree strong. It has also been known to repel codling moth, a particular scrounge of apples.
Companion Planting - Nasturtium
Nasturtium in bloom
  • Fennel – This plant is fantastic for attracting pollinating and predatory insects. Hoverflies, ladybirds and parasitic wasps all love fennel and they love aphids and caterpillars even more. Plant this in your garden to help wage a natural war against these pests. Fennel can of course also be used for cooking and has been known to carry medicinal properties.
  • Dill – Very similar advantages as fennel; it attracts a host of predatory and pollinating insects… and it can also be used in cooking. Win win!
Companion Planting - Dill
A Hoverfly resting on a Dill plant.
  • Comfrey – Not only has this plant been used medicinally by people for nearly 2,500 years it is an amazing miner of soil providing nutrients for your tree! Being a deep-rooted plant it draws nutrients from the soil and then can be cut back and the clippings used as an organic mulch. Comfrey is drought, frost and pest resistant and grows well in partial shade so is perfect for the space under your tree. I would recommend trying to plant the ‘Bocking 14’ variety developed by organic pioneer Lawrence Hills. ‘Bocking 14’ being sterile won’t self-pollinate and spread all over your garden.
  • Chamomile – This beautiful flower deters pests with its strong scent while drawing in pollinators. Being drought and frost resistant and also not afraid of a little shade makes it perfect to plant around a tree. If suffering from a pest infestation a triple strength chamomile tea can be brewed and used as a spray for the affected area.

    Companion Planting - Chamomile
    Chamomile
  • Daffodils – Flowering early in the season daffodils are perfect for bringing in and supporting those pollinating insects. For a splash of spring colour plant in a circle around your tree at around 1ft from the base.
  • Lavender – Truly a favourite amongst all pollinating insects, including and especially bees; it’s strong scent also confuses pests. Lavender not only looks great in your garden but can be used for various DIY product such as soaps or teas. Or you can simply pick it and put it into a bowl for around the home to create a calming aroma.
Companion Planting - Lavender Flowers
Some bees thoroughly enjoying the pollen rich Lavender flowers

Understandably when it comes to food, especially food you’ve devoted labour and love to, you are cautious about spraying it with potentially harmful pesticides or even using fertilisers. Companion planting therefore offers an age-old organic method to ensuring healthy fruit trees while adding a touch of vibrancy and colour to your garden. You may also end up with some extra herbs to liven up your dishes!

Jorge at PrimroseLiam works in the buying team at Primrose. He is passionate about studying other cultures, especially their history. A lover of sports his favourite pass-time is football, either playing or watching it! In the garden Liam is particularly interested in growing your own food.

See all of Liam’s posts.

Geoff Stonebanks, Pest Advice

Slug Killer

 

When you open your garden to the public, it’s important to  me to ensure that all my blooms and foliage look the best they possibly can. With planting so tightly packed to achieve the look I want, it’s very easy for slugs and snails to hide away amongst the foliage unnoticed. Now, I have to admit, I’m not one of those gardeners who is out there with a torch at night, picking the snails off and then driving them  miles away to deposit them.  I need to get rid of them without that hassle. We have a gorgeous little Jack Russell, Albert, so it’s equally as important to find something that is not going to harm him, as he loves to spend time in the garden as well.

 

Slug

 

A few years ago, I discovered a great product that works well for me, Advanced Slug Killer. This slug killer really is  amazing. It’s an innovative blue pellet containing a naturally occurring active ingredient Ferric Phosphate. Once attracted to and consuming the bait pellet, slugs cease to feed, and crawl into a dark secluded place or under the ground to die which eliminates the problems of unsightly slime trails and slug bodies to clear away. All this combines to make Advanced Slug Killer just about the best anti-slug product I’ve found in my  years of gardening. On moist soil or in humid conditions, the pellets absorb some of the moisture and begin to swell. The granules do not decay after a few swellings, also slugs much prefer the moister texture making them an attractive meal instead of my lovely flowers.

Geoff Stonebanks

 

I don’t grow organically or grow vegetables, but the pellets can be used as a bait for the control of slugs on bare ground and around all edible and non-edible crops grown outdoors, in the greenhouse or under other permanent or temporary cover.  More importantly, I find it remains effective after exposure to rain, watering and sunlight too. So, whether you open your garden up or not, if you have a problem with slugs and snails what not give it a go? I always check the garden daily and apply the pellets at first sign of plant damage, putting out  late evening or early morning when slugs are most active.

Read more of my garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk

Geoff Stonebanks lives inGeoff Stonebanks Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex and spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden, Driftwood, he has raised over £76,000 for various charities in 7 years, £40,000 of that for Macmillan. The garden, which first opened to the public in 2009 has featured on BBC2 Gardeners’ World, Good Morning Britain and in many national and local media publications. In his spare time, Geoff is also the National Garden Scheme’s Social Media & Publicity Chair as well as an Assistant County Organiser & Publicity Officer in East & Mid Sussex.

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