THIS week a beauty — and a beast of a problem — are highlighted by gardener Paul Dyer.

First, the seasonal beauty — Christmas cactus, perfect to think of at this time of year because they make an excellent, eye-catching present.

Paul’s is a lovely snow white, but the trumpet-shaped flowers appearing between mid-November to January also come in pink, red, purple and yellow.

Christmas cacti (Schlumbergera) have flat, segmented and trailing stems which look quite attractive all year.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Paul Dyer's beautiful Christmas cactus.

Native to tropical rainforests, where they grow in niches on trees, here they need to be kept away from bright sunlight and like plenty of humidity, so mist them a couple of times a week and keep them away from drying radiators.

Christmas cacti will flower every year given the right care.

The main thing to remember is that they need two periods of rest (in a cool room, with less water) once after flowering and again in autumn. Given that care they are long-lasting, so much so that they are often passed down through the generations.

Next, the beastly peach leaf curl, which has been an especially persistent problem after the copper-based Bordeaux mixture was banned.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Peach leaf curl destroys leaves and crops.

Some swear by regular watering of the base of trees with dilute Epsom salts. Others point to disease-resistant species, like Avalon, which I have grown with success previously.

Others, like our chum, Paul Bailey, are just lucky, I guess. His peach yields are massively impressive even though he doesn’t especially like peaches.

He was told the young was a nectarine, which he loves...

A preventive measure, which works, is to construct an open-ended lean-to polythene tent over fence or wall-trained trees which prevents the rain-borne fungus getting an infectious foothold.

Chlorothalonil is the only non-copper fungicide spray currently available to manage peach leaf curl for home growers.

This protectant fungicide does not work after symptoms of peach leaf curl appear in the spring, making it important to apply it during the winter.

Leaf curl affects not only peaches and nectarines but apricot and almond trees as well as decorative prunus.

Airborne spores land on buds to infest newly-emerging leaves in spring.

The fungus feeds on the young leaves and affects their development so that they become red and distorted. It weakens trees making the flowers and fruit fall off.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Paul Bailey's peach leaves unaffected by leaf curl.

In the wake of the Bordeaux ban wily Paul (Dyer) has come up with another copper-based solution.

“I managed to cure the leaf curl I had. I sprayed the tree with a Vitax copper mixed solution, then painted the trunk with fruit tree grease about six inches from the soil and about four inches wide.

“I did this late October and sprayed again early spring just as the new buds appeared.”

Now, Vitax Copper Mixture is a micronutrient mixture designed to protect edible crops from trace element deficiencies, not — specifically — disease.

A blend of three vital trace elements, it protects plants from copper, manganese and zinc deficiency

It is designed to be applied as a leaf spray to protect potatoes, beans and peas, beet, brassicas, carrots, celery, fruit and onions from trace element deficiencies. But, Paul swears by its alternative application.

I would be interested to hear about other treatments too as I am planning on some more soft fruit — as soon as I get a fence for fan-training trees against...


  • Cover compost bins with a piece of old carpet or some plastic sheeting to prevent compost becoming too cold and wet to rot.
  • After pruning fruit trees keep the twigs for pea sticks or shred them for your compost bin.
  • Turn your compost heaps to mix the ingredients and help the contents decompose.
  • Make a pile of old logs in an undisturbed corner of the garden to provide shelter for toads and other wildlife.
  • Carefully plan your vegetable garden’s crop rotation for next year to avoid a build-up of pests and diseases and exhausting nutrients.
  • Order flower and veg seeds for next year bearing in mind what worked well and what didn’t this year, and don’t be afraid to try new ideas — there are so many out there.
  • Take an inventory of tools and equipment that you need for next year. Santa might load up his sleigh.
  • Order fruit trees now for planting in early spring. If space is limited, or you can only have containers, try growing varieties grafted onto dwarfing rootstock.

Are you an Isle of Wight gardener with a question for Richard? You can email him on