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Skaggs: A little planning prevents diseases

POSTED: January 16, 2009 1:00 a.m.

While it may be bitter cold outside, many gardeners are thinking about their spring vegetable gardens.

Now is a great time to peruse the gardening catalogs and Web sites and begin planning your spring selections. And if you're looking for that hard-to-find tomato or cucumber, order early as some varieties sell out quickly.

Also, now is the time to be thinking ahead to how you will manage any pest problems that may crop up in the veggie garden.

Folks typically think of insect pests like tomato horn worms and aphids, but do not forget the many fungal diseases that can ruin a bountiful harvest.

Some of the more common vegetable diseases include damping off, anthracnose, early blight and powdery mildew. While such diseases can make gardening a challenge, it's not impossible for home gardeners to keep some of these diseases in check.

The first step is to scout your garden regularly, especially when conditions are wet and warm. During these times, vegetable plants are more susceptible to diseases caused by fungi and bacteria. In particular, young seedlings are particularly susceptible to damping off disease which results in rotting of the stem at the soil surface.

Many plant diseases can be on or within the seeds. Because you can't distinguish healthy seeds from diseased ones, buy seeds from a reputable dealer. Also, make sure you follow directions on when and how to plant them.

Using varieties that are resistant to plant diseases is the best way to avoid disease losses. The types of disease resistance for each variety are noted on the seed container or in a seed catalog.

Extension pathologist David Langston offers more tips to help keep your garden disease free:

Rotate your crops

Grow the same or closely related vegetable plants in the same soil only once every three to five years. This practice starves out most pathogens that cause stem and leaf diseases. Two of the larger vegetable families are Cucurbitaceae (cantaloupes, cucumbers, honeydew melons, pumpkins, squash and watermelons) and Solanaceae (eggplant, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes).

Plant for insects

Plant a few rows of a crop like rye or corn around your main garden. This will tempt insects to feed there first, reducing the risk of diseases some small insects are known to carry.

Watch your water

When you water the garden, don't splash soil onto the foliage. If possible, run the water between the rows. Use a mulch layer of straw, bark, shredded paper or plastic to keep soil from splashing onto plants, and keep fruit from touching bare ground.

Wash your hands

If you use tobacco, wash your hands thoroughly before handling plants. This will prevent the spread of tobacco mosaic virus, which can infect many kinds of vegetables, particularly tomatoes and peppers.

Sanitize your tools

After harvest, remove and destroy all plants from the garden and sanitize your garden equipment. This will reduce the overwintering of disease-causing organisms.

Thanks to Brad Haire & David Langston of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.



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