Category Archives: Container gardening

Growing Fruit and Vegetables – September

August merged seamlessly into September, the drought continued and the bugs, despite my best efforts continued to thrive and multiply.

The latest visitor to take up residence bored its way into several of the tomatoes, growing in pots. Once discovered I quickly disposed of these (that’s the tomatoes not the pots) and then wished I’d cut open one of the tomatoes to discover who had moved in. I’m still none the wiser as to their identity – any clues please?

An insect bored into my tomatoes!
An insect bored into my tomatoes!

Read more about my successes and failures over at Piglet in Portugal

White insects on my Rhubarb

My rhubarb in June, considering it’s growing in a large container, was relatively healthy.

This was my Rhubarb in June
This was my Rhubarb in June

I proudly harvested a small crop of rhubarb in June and left the rest to grow.

Then, today disaster struck.

Rhubarb leaf with white bug
Rhubarb leaf with white bug

Today I noticed lots of white bugs had taken up residence in the crown of the rhubarb.

White bugs on rhubarb stalk
White bugs on rhubarb stalk

I consulted Mr Google

According to Rhubarb Central

Rhubarb Pests are usually not a common problem for the rhubarb gardener. Rhubarb is a hardy and resistant type of plant, and not bothered by many pests.

I discovered white bugs in the rhubarb crown and crawling up the stalk
I discovered white bugs in the rhubarb crown and crawling up the stalk

I think the white bugs are a member of the scale family, maybe mealy bug, so I’m going to treat my rhubarb by experimenting with the following methods.


Because the infestation is quite small at the moment I’m going to “spot” treat by dabbing alcohol, using a soft disposable cloth, directly on the insects and wiping them away as I do so.

Dishwashing Liquid

If this does not work I’m going to try the washing up liquid spray.
Dilute 50/50 with water. The theory is the soap suffocates the mealy bug.

I’m not sure if the above will work, but I will report back!

Any other suggestions as to the bugs identity and cures gratefully received!

How to Propagate Hibiscus in 10 Easy Steps

Hibiscus are my favourite plants (shrubs) because they are SO easy to grow and reward me with an abundance of beautiful flowers throughout the year.

Red Hibiscus
Red Hibiscus

I began experimenting as to the best method of propagating hibiscus from cuttings a couple of years ago when the cost of buying plants in Portugal rose significantly. I’m talking about a 100% rise, so a great incentive to master the technique!

There are several different methods used to propagate shrubby plants, but this one consistently works for me.

How to to propagate Hibiscus

1. Take green cuttings (new growth) of about six inches long from the parent plant and remove all but a couple of the smaller leaves.

2. Immerse cutting into the hormone powder or gel so once planted the “treated” area is higher than the planting depth. There should be at least one growth node under the soil.

Hibiscus cuttings
Hibiscus cuttings

3. Fill suitable plastic plant pot with damp sandy soil and press down firmly.

4. Make small hole for each cutting – about a couple of inches deep (I use a small stick). Insert the cutting so at least one of the nodes are under the soil. Firm the soil around the cutting.

Cover Hibiscus cuttings with platic cover
Cover Hibiscus cuttings with plastic cover

5. Create a humid environment for the cuttings by adding a plastic cover. Some people use a plastic bag – I use half a plastic bottle.

6. Stand the pot in a tray of water so the soil remains damp, but be careful not too wet. If the soil should become waterlogged I remove from pot from water tray to restore the balance. I usually only follow this process for about a six weeks. If the cuttings are “happy” in the environment you have created the leaves on the hibiscus cutting should still look green and healthy. If the rooting process is not working and the leaves are brown and shrivelled, discard and start the process again.

7. Move pot to a sheltered location out of direct sunlight. I find dappled shade is best.

8. Once the cuttings are established and new leaves begin to grow I remove the plastic cover so the young plants adapt.

9. After about a six months, sometimes more, depending on how quickly the cuttings grow, repot cuttings to individual pots using good quality compost and you will have several young plants ready to pot on.

Hibiscus cuttings one year later
Hibiscus cuttings one year later

10. Hey presto! This healthy plant is just one of three I grew using the above method.

I grow my mature hibiscus plants in containers close to the house to shelter them from the destructive salt winds. This was originally a temporary measure to protect them while hardier plants and shrubs matured. However, I have been so pleased with the results the hibiscus have remained in the original containers where they were planted six years ago. Hibiscus are normally planted in the ground here, and the shrubs easily grow to over six feet tall.

Their versatility has surprised me as they grow well in either sun or shade. And, providing you keep them well watered, fed and pruned they are very easy to grow – certainly far easier than vegetables!

My Tomatoes Have Blossom End Rot

Blossom End Rot
Blossom End Rot

Over the last few days I’ve been so absorbed in other gardening projects that I shamefully admit I neglected to watch over all the tomato plants growing in containers.

You can imagine my concern when I noticed that the end of some of the tomatoes, grown in one particular container, looked sort of flat. Curious, I went over to investigate and to my horror the end of the tomatoes were black and moldy.

My tomatoes have blossom end rot
My tomatoes have blossom end rot

I immediately consulted Mr Google…

Garden Web advised…

This is not a pest, parasite or disease process but is a physiological problem caused by a low-level of calcium in the fruit itself.

Further investigation, on a variety of other gardening websites, revealed that blossom end rot is a common problem with container grown tomato plants because if watering is not consistent and the tomato plants are allowed to dry out they are then unable to absorb the calcium in the soil.

OK, Piglet is guilty as charged and the loss of about eight tomatoes due to blossom end rot is entirely down to neglect!

Lucky, because with a bumper crop of tomatoes in other pots I was beginning to panic I was about to lose my entire crop due to a nasty disease!

Mr Tomato King  also advised

Too much nitrogen in the soil can also cause rot. In this case, a handful of lime around the base of each plant might help. It is important to cut back on your fertilising or switch to a brand that has a low nitrogen and high phosphorous to high potassium ratio. Standard tomato feeds are usually high potassium.

I then went on to read if I over water my tomato plants I could end up with “Splitting Fruit”.

I also read somewhere about using Epsom Salts – anyone tried this?

Another lesson learned!!!

Sometimes I feel gardening is almost like rubbing your tummy while patting your head at the same time!

There is never a dull moment here at Piglet’s plot!

What other common or not so common pests and diseases should I be aware of?

Problem Cucumbers – Is it Anthracnose, Downy Mildew or…?


I don’t pigging believe it – the cucumber plants I’m growing in pots are dying…

The picture below, taken in July 2012, shows a healthy cucumber plant.

My healthy cucumber July 2012
My healthy cucumber July 2012

However, by August brown spots had appeared on the plant and the baby cucumbers failed to develop. A little research revealed the problem could either be caused by a fungus called Anthracnose or Downy Mildew. Or could it be something else?

August Cucumber leaves with brown spots
August – Cucumber leaves with brown spots

And to top it off I then discovered another cucumber plant has white mold growing on the stems. I wonder if it is Sclerotinia Stem Rot?

August - Cucumber with white mold on stem
Cucumber with white mold on stem

The baby cucumber plants I’m bringing on to provide Autumn cucumbers are also affected. So I need to find a cure…urgently!

I’m now off to search for, and trial some natural recipes – baking powder and milk seem popular ingredients – I hope they work!

If you have any suggestions re. diagnosis and/or natural cures please, PLEASE share in the comments section below.