Protecting biodiversity: keeping your garden in blooming health

To mark Plant Health Week from 6–12 May 2024, here are 10 top tips for keeping our gardens healthy and minimising pests and disease

With ever-increasing threats to our gardens, parks and urban spaces from plant health problems, it’s important for gardeners to protect biodiversity and keep gardens in blooming health.  Here are some easy things we can all do to promote good plant health in our own gardens.

1. Source new plants carefully

 Plant health problems are most commonly introduced on new plants, plant parts, and associated growing media.

Where possible, purchase plants grown in the UK, and always buy from reputable suppliers. Propagating your own plants from seed or local cuttings also reduces risk.

2. Check new plants

 Inspect any new plants coming into the garden or home for signs of pests or diseases, ideally before purchase. Keep new plants separately in an isolated part of the garden for a few weeks and monitor them to ensure they are problem-free before adding them to your plant collection.

If you spot unusual symptoms, contact the supplier or RHS Gardening Advice.

3. Avoid bringing plant material back from abroad

 Resist the temptation to bring plants, seeds, flowers, fruit and vegetables back from abroad, as this is a common way in which new pests and diseases arrive in the UK. 

4. Encourage biodiversity in the garden

 Promoting wildlife-friendly practices in your garden will encourage a wider variety of beneficial organisms, including insects, fungi and bacteria, which will help you by reducing populations of unwelcome visitors.

A biodiverse garden containing a wildlife pond5. Choose the right plant for the right place

 Consider your garden’s particular conditions when choosing plants, and try to choose species that will naturally thrive in those conditions. Stressed plants are more susceptible to plant health problems.

6. Keep your plants healthy

 Good plant husbandry can reduce the impact of pests and diseases, so make sure to give your plants the right care and attention for their needs. Strong, healthy plants are more resilient and less likely to be severely affected by plant health problems.

7. Make leaf mulch from healthy fallen leaves

Mulching is great for wildlife, and improves soil health. It not only feeds plants to increase their vigour, but may also prevent some pests and diseases from leaving the soil and infecting the above-ground parts of your plants.

However, make sure to dispose of any diseased leaves and stems to prevent reinfection next year.

8. Tolerate some damage and avoid using pesticides

 Pesticides are usually indiscriminate and also kill beneficial organisms, such as the pest’s natural predators,  along with the pests. This can lead to a vicious circle of worsening pest outbreaks.

Use cultural and biological controls instead, and try to accept some level of plant damage.

9. Keep it clean

 Keep your garden tools, greenhouses and water butts clean to reduce the likelihood of providing a refuge and means of spread for plant health problems.

10. Deal with garden waste appropriately

 Garden waste affected by plant health problems should be disposed of carefully. In most cases this is via council garden waste schemes, as these compost at higher temperatures than home composting and therefore kill more pests and diseases.

A final word

Keeping our gardens free of pests and diseases has always been high on gardeners’ agendas. With the frequent appearance of novel pests and diseases from abroad, planning for healthy gardens has become even more urgent.

The arrival of new pests and diseases in the UK is linked to the rise in the volume and diversity of plants being imported. Changes in climate, especially warmer winters, may also enable more pests and diseases to become established in our gardens.

Keeping an eye out for pests and diseases means that problems are more likely to be noticed early and before they cause serious damage. Early detection is also likely to mean that the problem is easier to control. RHS web profiles are an excellent source of advice for specific pests and diseases.

RHS members can also make use of RHS Gardening Advice to access free diagnostic and control advice. The RHS will also provide advice to members of the public where a plant is suspected to be affected by an exotic pest or disease (one that has not previously been reported in the UK).
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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.