Avoiding Late Blight on Tomatoes

Singing: "When I was just a little seed, I asked Mother Nature what would I be, would I be pretty or would I have blight, here's what she said to me – Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, the garden's not yours you see, que sera sera!" My vegetable seedlings awaiting their fate.

For those of you who garden in a large swath from Georgia to Maine, you may remember last year as the season without tomatoes. Late blight, a ruthless mold disease eliminated every plant in my garden – and in the garden of everyone else I knew.  Rumored to have begun in a shipment of tomatos from Bonnie Plants to the box stores, the disease, which is naturally present (though generally late in the season, hence the name), more likely got a boost from the incredibly wet weather the region experienced in June. Either way, the problem may still be lurking in many gardens around us. Though the spores are generally destroyed by cold winter weather, bad gardening practice can preserve the disease and relaunch it next season. What can you do? Three important things.

1) ROTATE YOUR CROPS. For fertility reasons, you should never plant successive crops in the same place, as year after year of the same species will deplete the soil of specific nutrients. In terms of disease control, shifting crops is especially important. Make sure your tomatoes (and potatoes, which are equally affected) are located in a different section of the garden than last year. If the spores can’t make contact with the plant, they can’t begin the infection process.

2) CLEAN UP ALL DEBRIS. If you still have ratty tomato foliage dangling on your cages from last season, you’ve got a perfect source of contamination. Remove all infected debris and dispose offsite or burn. Do NOT add infected plants to the compost pile. For good measure this year, I intend to powerwash all my tomato cages with a light bleach solution.

3)BUY ONLY HEALTHY PLANTS. If a plant looks ill for any reason, alert the nursery, and don’t buy it. Sounds simple, but you would be surprised how often people don’t inspect plants before purchase, and then import disease and pests into their garden.

That’s about all we can do for now. So, let’s keep our fingers crossed, shall we?


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