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Michael Wheeler: Stop blossom end rot disorder before you plant
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I see it year after year in the Hall County 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 is part of fungal diseases. Other times it is blossom end rot.

Blossom end rot is a disorder found on the fruit near the blossom end. It first appears as a darkened, sunken and leathery scar.

This condition usually causes the fruit to ripen prematurely, making it worthless.

Blossom end rot can be caused by several factors. One such factor is inadequate calcium levels in the fruit.

The severity of the condition can be compounded when two or more factors interact. For example, a low soil calcium level, in combination with inadequate soil moisture, can compound the situation.

Severely pruned tomato plants are also more prone to develop blossom end rot than unpruned plants.

Gardeners may also follow a couple of steps, even before the crop is planted, to prevent the condition.

One step is having proper calcium levels in the soil and the plants. Another is maintaining uniform soil moisture throughout the growing season. Both are critical in preventing blossom end rot.

A calcium spray first applied when the fruits are 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.

But to control blossom end rot, the home gardener will need to take several steps. They include:

Soil test early and apply dolomitic lime if needed. This should be done now to give the lime a chance to adjust calcium levels and pH prior to planting.

Spread 5 pounds of dolomitic lime per 100 square feet before planting and plow the ground 6 to 8 inches deep.

Use mulch around plants to prevent moisture loss.

Apply irrigation to keep soil uniformly moist throughout the season.

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

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, ugaextension.org/county-offices/hall.html. His column appears biweekly and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.

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