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.

Jenny, Spiders, Wildlife

Spiders are cute.

Wait, hear me out! Ok, “cute” might have been pushing it a little but spiders are essential little creatures you should be thrilled to have about.

why spiders are good for your garden
Look at this little guy. Oh, or don’t. Sorry!

Here are the ten best reasons to love having spiders around your home and garden.

  1. They might make you rich. According to legend, finding a money spider in your hair means you will gain riches beyond your wildest dreams. According to my own experience, finding a spider in my hair meant lots of flailing and screaming beyond my previously wildest screams but hey, who am I to question folklore?
  2. MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR SPIDER’S FAVOUR! They fight to the death. They aren’t fond of each other as they are territorial. If another spider gets in your spider’s space they fight. Winner eats the loser. The best way to control spider numbers? Use more spiders. Like fighting fire with fire but with more legs.
  3. Fancy having royalty in your home? Spider blood contains a chemical called haemocyanin which turns blue when it carries oxygen so they have “blue blood”. Basically like having the Queen round for tea right?
  4. Spiders are efficient predators and prey on all manner of insects. They protect your garden from a variety of pests that would otherwise feast on your flowers and other delicate plants.
  5. Spiders protect you too. They hunt and eat many household pests that can transmit diseases to humans such as mosquitoes, fleas, bedbugs, cockroaches and a host of other disease-carrying little beasties. You’re welcome!
  6. Forget the bee’s knees. Spiders are fascinating little creatures which most of us know have eight legs and eight eyes. Did you know that a spider has six joints on each leg? That gives them a whopping forty eight knees.
  7. Full of festive cheer! Eastern European legends tell of a poor family who had no money to decorate their Christmas tree. They put up the tree anyway and when they woke on Christmas morning the tree was full of sparkles from the sun’s early rays caught on beautiful spider webs. I can’t tell if this is magical or horrifying but either way you’ll probably feel a little different about tinsel from now on.
  8. Spiders are super strong. They can carry up to 170 times their own body weight while scuttling across a ceiling. That would be like a human being carrying a double decker bus… upside down… Think comic book heroes but more ridiculous.
  9. Most spiders are not capable of biting through human skin. They can chomp away on household and garden pests but trust me! You’re safe.
  10. You might as well like them, they have us seriously outnumbered. With approximately 670 species of spiders in the UK alone it is estimated that for every individual in Britain there are 500,000 spiders.
cute spider
Cute or creepy, they do have their charms

Convinced? Great! Now how do you go about encouraging spiders to come stay in your garden? Fill your garden with tall plants for spiders to cast their webs on. Flowers will also encourage spiders to settle in your garden. Leaving a small portion of the garden mulched, for moisture and cover and will create a place for the spiders to lay their eggs, a great way to achieve this is to start composting. A great way to encourage spiders to stay in your garden is to plant a beneficial insect border or row in early spring. You can encourage a host of beneficial bugs, from teeny tiny predators to big and beautiful pollinators, there are lots of habitats on the market to help encourage these beneficial bugs to set up shop in your garden.

Not convinced? Don’t worry. You aren’t alone. Studies have shown that up to 18% of Brits admit to being afraid of spiders. Really afraid! Fear not, we have alternative solutions too.

Jenny at PrimroseJenny works in the Primrose Product Loading team working on adding new and exciting products to the website. When she’s not writing, proofreading or drinking the strongest coffee possible Jenny loves to climb and can often be found halfway up a wall at the local climbing centre.

See all of Jenny’s posts.

Composting, Garden Design, Garden Edging, Gardening, How To, Insects, Liam, Make over, Planting, Trees

In this step-by-step guide we’ll not only show you how to mulch but explain the different kinds and what will work best for your plants and garden. Mulches are a thin layer of organic or inorganic material placed over a bed or the soil surrounding plants. The more attractive ones may grab your attention and look like a great addition to formal landscaping, but the practical uses are vast. 

Mulches are used primarily to improve the soil around plants, reduce weeds, increase fertility, help the retention of moisture and during winter can protect the roots of the plant from damaging frosts. Using the right mulch for your plants can help eliminate the need for chemical pesticides and fertilisers which is fantastic for your garden’s biodiversity. This all contributes to a healthy, great looking garden you can be proud of.

Now that Autumn is approaching it is the perfect time to start planning!

The Types:

You can roughly separate the different types of mulch into two categories; organic and inorganic.

Organic mulches are best for improving the fertility and overall structure of the soil. Over time the mulch will degrade and replenish the soils nutrients including nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Organic material also promotes biodiversity and encourages insects such as worms and spiders which will actually keep pests at bay while further enriching the quality of your soil.

For this reason an organic mulch is fantastic for plants try to establish themselves or are just generally hungry. Roses for example love a good organic mulch of well-rotted manure. More on this to follow.

Inorganic mulches are used to protect the soil around the plant and can also have an aesthetic edge to them. The benefits include locking in water to the soil, keeping weeds at bay and unlike some organic mulches it won’t wash away which is brilliant if you are planting on a slope.

Bark and Wood-Chippings

Here is a mulch which is attractive but also helps improve your soil’s nutrients and structure as it rots down. It also allows water to flow through it without binding throughout the year and really is a fantastic for pretty much all plants and circumstances. The only issue with it is that it is difficult to move or work around and so is best for around trees where you won’t be doing any more planting. Bark and wood-chippings will last you through the year and maybe even two depending on the grade, see how far it has broken down and replace if necessary.

Wood Chippings Mulch

Leaf-Mould

Leaf-mould is arguably the most nutritious and nature-friendly mulch you can apply. Pretty much every plant loves it and what’s more it can be completely free! It may not look like the most attractive mulch but apply in Autumn and by spring it will have blended in with and really enriched your soil. The only major drawback is that leaves do take some while to decompose and if you plan to DIY this is something you plan for a year in advance.

Collect as many leaves as possible in black bags and cut some small holes to let the air in. Ensure the leaves are thoroughly wet as leaves break down through fungi. Come next Autumn you’ll have some of the finest and richest mulch money can buy… not that you have to spend a penny! Of course, leaf mould is available to purchase in fairly substantial bulks.

Compost

There are two main reasons why compost can make a great mulch: 1) It is packed full of nutrients ready to leach down into the soil and 2) It is something you can make yourself free of charge. Additionally it helps with keeping the soil moist and fending off weeds. One thing to look out for however is that no weeds have made their way into the compost as these will simply sprout up from the compost and steal your plants nutrients.

Manure

As I’ve briefly mentioned before, when it comes to roses and other phosphate hungry plants nothing compares to some well-rotted manure. Like a compost that has gone through a far more strenuous decomposition process it is packed full of nutrients and its dense texture protects the roots and keeps the water locked in. It is also a really great mulch for trees and shrubs although to prevent waterlogging it may be worth mixing with some sand to allow for greater drainage.

Manure – As is Comes From a Stable or Farm

Gravel, Slate and Stone Chippings

There really isn’t a great difference here between them as you will want roughly the same thickness of layers. Stone mulches are fantastic for drainage and keep the soil underneath moist. It is also brilliant for retaining heat and so should be used for plants that are used to very hot conditions and can be worked into a Mediterranean themed garden well. Overall many stone mulches look fantastic and can maintain a pristine look for formal garden structures. They do not however add any nutrients to the soil and can become too hot during summer for more tender plants and young trees.

Rainbow Foras Tumbles Coloured Pebbles

When to Mulch

The best time to apply a mulch is in Autumn, as you come into bare-root season, and spring. You will need to apply the mulch when the ground is relatively warm and moist, avoid periods when it is frozen or waterlogged. When the ground is good to dig and plant, it will be good to mulch which is very handy!

How to Mulch

  • Before you apply your mulch first you have to prepare the soil. Clear the ground of any weeds and give it a watering if the soil appears too dry.
  • If you are reapplying a mulch now is a good time to break up any old layers which may have matted to allow better water penetration.
  • Then cover the ground in a layer of mulch roughly 2 inches thick. Avoid mulching right up to the stems of plants and trees as this can cause them to become soft and rot.
  • Level out with a rake to an even finish. This is imperative, some people mulch little mounds, especially around trees. This will cause the bottom of the trunk to grow soft and rot while also drawing water away from the roots.
  • If you noticed that your mulch has matted over the year and become a hard layer, simply break  and fluff up a bit.

You can apply a fertiliser on top of the mulch through the year if you wish. Follow these rules and you should be all set!

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.

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.

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