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Wheeler: Take steps now to head off blossom end rot

POSTED: February 1, 2013 1:00 a.m.

I see it year after year in the Extension Office: Clients come in wondering what to do about their tomatoes or peppers that are being laid to waste by disease. Many times, the problem in question is part of fungal diseases that can occur. Other times the problem is what is called blossom end rot.

Blossom end rot is a disorder found on the fruit near the blossom end and first appears as a darkened, sunken and leathery scar. This condition usually causes the fruit to ripen prematurely and makes it worthless.

Blossom end rot can be caused by several factors, and the severity of this condition can be compounded when two or more of these factors interact with each other. It is known that inadequate calcium levels in the fruit can cause this condition. A low soil calcium level, in combination with inadequate soil moisture, can compound the situation.

Proper calcium levels in the soil and the plants, and uniform soil moisture throughout the growing season are critical in preventing blossom end rot.

Severely pruned tomato plants are more prone to develop blossom end rot than unpruned plants. In order to control blossom end rot, the home gardener will need to take several steps. Start early, even before the crop is planted, if this condition is to be prevented.

Steps to control blossom end rot include the following:

Soil test early and apply dolomitic lime if needed. This should be done several weeks before planting.

In gardens where this condition has been severe in the past, also broadcast 5 pounds of dolomitic lime per 100 square feet just before planting and plow the ground 6 to 8 inches deep.

Use mulch around your plants to prevent moisture loss. Apply irrigation to keep soil uniformly moist throughout the season.

A calcium spray first applied when the fruits are just visible can help prevent some of the fruit from being damaged. However calcium does not get absorbed well through the leaves so this is not a sure fire way to prevent all of the disorder.

Take special care to get the nutrient status of your garden right this winter in order to prepare for a good gardening season this summer.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears weekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.


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