GROW — practical gardening tips
Everyone knows that I love tomatoes, but not everyone knows that for a long time I have been dealing with soil borne diseases on my tomato plants. Despite various preventative measures I’ve tried, this year is no different. Early blight has hit several of my tomato plants. After I posted a picture of them and said that I would begin rescue operations when it was drier outside, a friend in Chicago said she had the same problem and asked what to do about it. I’m writing this post to answer that question for her and anyone else who is dealing with early blight and other fungal diseases.
As already noted, I wait until the tomato plants are dry before I do anything. Then the first thing I do is prune away all the yellowed and spotted leaves. These do NOT go into my compost. The disease moves from the bottom up, so the plants will start to look leggy as the season progresses. With clean pruners, I also remove any non-fruit bearing suckers I see higher up the plant. Removing those unneeded branches will provide better air circulation for the plants, which also helps keep the disease from spreading.
In order to avoid spreading the disease from plant to plant, I spray the pruners with Lysol whenever I move from one plant to the next. When I first took the master gardener course, I learned that bleach is not instantly effective for sanitizing tools because it requires at least 10 minutes of soaking. Who has time to do that between every plant? Moreover, bleach is corrosive, so it could damage your tools. Someone in the class suggested we do what he had heard rosarians do: spray rubbing alcohol on the pruners. I did that for years until someone in Midwest Fruit Explorers passed around a study that suggested that straight Lysol was more effective, so that is what I have done ever since. You could explore the various options for yourself. I keep the Lysol in a little spray bottle, and I use a paper towel or a clean rag for wiping off the clippers.
Then I spray the plants thoroughly with an organic fungicide to help keep the disease from spreading. Years ago I tried an organic copper fungicide, but I have had better success in recent years at slowing the disease down with an organic biofungicide called Serenade. I buy it at local garden centers and go through a bottle or two every year. After I prune each plant, I spray it from the bottom up. When all the pruning is done, I spray all the plants in the bed from every angle, all around, as best I can.
I have also taken to wearing latex gloves when I perform this whole rescue operation. I can just throw them away when I’m done and not have to wash them before I use them again (as I should with regular garden gloves). I do not recommend doing this job with bare hands–they can get irritated by the sprays and plant oils.
That’s how I fight the blight! At another time, I will talk about the measures I take each year to try to prevent these soil borne diseases.