Battling Fungus

Along with damp weather come the fungal diseases. Most of us are familiar with powdery mildew and black spot. Anyone who has a rose bush or lilac, or has grown phlox, melons, squash or beans has probably seen powdery mildew. A plant with this common fungal disease will exhibit misshapen leaves that appear to be coated with white powder. Black spot, another fungal disease, causes black spots to appear on the leaves followed by a gradual yellowing of the leaf. These diseases start out as spores present in the soil or on the stem of the dormant plant. When conditions become right, these spores incubate and develop into a growing organism. Once fungal diseases take hold, you’ll have no option but to spray with a fungicide or, in extreme cases, removal of the infected plant. Battling fungal diseases can be a frustrating and heartbreaking experience. Fortunately, there are preventative measures that you can take to help keep fungal diseases from assaulting your garden.

We get a clue how to avoid fungal diseases by thinking about one that we humans are susceptible to: athlete’s foot. We know that if we constantly wear damp, dirty sneakers, we increase the chance that we’ll get a case of athlete’s foot. We avoid athlete’s foot by letting our shoes dry out between use and we always (I hope) put on clean socks before we put our sneakers on.

The tactics we use to prevent the spores of athlete’s foot from taking hold are quite similar to those we want to use to prevent powdery mildew, and other diseases from getting a “toe hold” in our flower and vegetable gardens. Good Garden Hygiene.

First, avoid working in your garden when the plants are wet. When you handle wet plants, you may be spreading the spores of fungal diseases from plant to plant; increasing the chances that they will find a plant or location where conditions are favorable. Wait until the plants have dried before you start working.

If you are pruning plants that are susceptible to these diseases (like roses), clean the blades of your pruners with chlorine bleach as you move from plant to plant. This will prevent spreading the disease.

Keep your garden well weeded. Weeds are the perfect place for plant diseases to take hold (as well as insects).
Most important of all, try not to wet the leaves and flowers of your garden plants when you need to water. DON’T SPRAY THEM WITH WATER! This spring, our gardens were already subjected to too much damp weather. When you spray plants with water, you’re recreating the soggy conditions that fungal diseases love (and your plants hate. Give them a break. Get a watering wand so you can soak the soil while wetting the leaves as little as possible. To me, spraying the leaves and flowers is like putting on damp, dirty socks. I know you’ve seen commercials on T.V. showing people, who supposedly know better, misting the flowers. While it IS picturesque, it’s one of the worst things you can do to your garden plants. Some houseplants appreciate misting in a dry, winter home but it’s a practice best avoided in the garden. Those who read me regularly know I’m a bit of a fanatic about this so, no matter hot it gets, you may need to go soak your head but your plants would rather enjoy the dry heat they’ve waited so long for.