Phuket Gardening – Keeping the flies at bay

PHUKET: As gardeners, we are all susceptible to mosquito bites every morning and evening in Phuket. Unfortunately, there are few entirely effective natural repellents against the dreaded mosquito bite of Aedes aegyptiae, the mosquito that can spread dengue fever and other maladies.

DEET, the chemical ingredient in most sprays, certainly is effective. A high intake of garlic may also help.

As for plant remedies, opinions vary. But most readers will agree that the following plants stave off insects: lemongrass, thyme, peppermint and pennyroyal, basil, rosemary and cinnamon.

Borders of Geranium, African marigold or Lantana may also discourage the critters.

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If you want to try something really different, try the pitcher plant. It drowns insects such as mosquitoes in its cupped flowers, then slowly dissolves and ingests them.

Some authorities believe that lavender flowers, with their intense fragrance, are effective mosquito repellents. After all, mosquitoes have an incredibly sensitive sense of smell and Lavender has an intense fragrance.

Lavender is quintessentially a Mediterranean shrub. But the question is: “Will it survive in Phuket?”. In a recent email, Joseph Survetnick asked: “I wish to plant Lavender. Where would you recommend purchasing the plants and soil? Are potted plants available? What instructions can you provide for growing this plant here in Phuket?

In Thailand, it’s successfully cultivated near Chiang Mai but I’ve never come across it in any of the local plant nurseries.

Searching the internet for ‘Asian lavender’ will result in numerous hits for bistros and bars – but none on the Lavender plant itself. Yet its range includes southern India and southwest Asia, so some varieties should be able to survive here.

In my Andalusian garden in southern Spain, Lavender was a real star – it grew into a thick, fragrant hedge. It flourished there as Lavender loves dry, gravelly conditions and dislikes wet, organic soil. In fact, soil that is consistently moist and rich in humus will likely produce root rot.

If you can find some potted plants, look for the stoechas varieties, sometimes known as Spanish, Mexican or French Lavender. These varieties are better at withstanding remorseless sunshine than Angustifolia, or English lavender.

Angustifolia, has longer, bluish or lavender spikes which tend to flower at the same time. In both species, the flowers rise well above attractive, narrow leaves. The tiny leaves are sometimes toothed, and can vary from the traditional blue-gray to bright green. In maturity, it forms a dense and distinctive bush.

If you cannot find Lavender plants on the island, consider growing it from seed. Lavender can be grown this way, in theory, but it’s not easy. Germinating seeds need almost no water, and a sandy potting mix. Surprisingly, there is no guarantee that seedlings will be the same as the parent. Propagation and maturation is slow – it may take up to three years before you have a well established Lavender border. But it’s well worth the effort.

Lavender has other useful features as well. For example, lavender oil has proven to have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory powers, so it can be used to treat insect bites. It is also grown commercially for the perfume industry in southern France – there are huge fields of Lavender in Provence.

Phuket gardening tip of the week

A microclimate can be created by many factors: rainfall patterns certainly, but also by humidity, evaporation, wind, and temperature. The affected area is, of course, small – such as a park, a valley, or even a section of your garden.

Your garden may have different soil types, and variations in the density of its shrubs or shaded areas. Areas under large trees are not only shadier, but also drier on account of the water taken up by thirsty tree roots. Walls and paved areas absorb heat and re-radiate the heat at night, thus elevating nighttime temperatures.

Sandy and shallow areas lose moisture more rapidly, so think about planting desert dwellers. Carpets of low-growing spiderwort or Wedelia help increase water vapor through transpiration and can insulate the ground beneath.

Phuket Gardening is Phuket Gazette columnist Patrick Campbell’s feature of all things flora.

If you have a garden that you would like featured on this page, please email Patrick by clicking here.

Keep checking our online Phuket Lifestyle pages for regular gardening features and tips.

— Patrick Campbell

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

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