Are you planting your first vegetable garden this year—or have you gardened in the past but always seem to wind up with one problem or another?
Unfortunately, our commonly grown garden vegetables are prone to certain problems. Tomatoes can get Early Blight, Late Blight, Southern Blight, Gray Leaf Spot, Septoria Leaf Spot, Verticillium Wilt, Anthracnose, Fusarium Wilt, etc. as well as aphids, stink bugs, and tomato hornworms.
Cucumber family members (cukes, squash, melons, pumpkins) can get Wilt, Powdery Mildew, Downy Mildew, Alternaria Leaf Spot, Mosaic, etc. and are particularly prone to squash vine borers and squash bugs.
4 Ways to Prevent Garden Problems
Here are four things you can do to help prevent problems in your garden.
Keep your garden free of weeds and debris
Plants don’t like to compete for nutrients. But even more important, weeds and debris give insects a place to lay eggs and/or hide. And they provide a breeding ground for diseases.
Allow adequate air circulation around your plants
I know—when you have a limited amount of space, you want to cram as much as you can into it. But with our high humidity here in Virginia, we are just asking for trouble. Planting too close together limits air circulation around the foliage and it allows insects and diseases to transmit easily from plant to plant.
Avoid wetting the foliage when watering your garden
We already have high humidity to deal with during summer—and our veggie garden plants don’t like humidity. Why compound the problem by getting water all over the foliage when we water? I’m a big fan of soaker hoses because they put the water right where you need it—on the roots—and not where to don’t need it. If you don’t use a soaker hose, then water with a hose—at the base of the plant where they need it.
Get in the habit of checking your garden every day or two. Insect or disease problems are so much easier to deal with if you catch them early. Check the back of the foliage for insects or eggs and treat them immediately. Eggs can be easily removed by using the sticky side of some tape. Simply pat them and, voila! Gone. Insects can be dealt with Neem oil or any good organic pesticide. Remember to spray just before dark to avoid killing bees.
What to Look For
Check for foliage that doesn’t “look right.” Here is a brief description for some of the more common garden problems—for a better diagnosis, check online for a picture of your problem.
Blight (Early or Late)
Circular or irregularly shaped dark spots surrounded by yellow on older leaves first. Stressed plants are most at risk. Do not allow plants to wilt. Water thoroughly without over-watering. Do not fertilize until the first flowers appear. Use a lower nitrogen fertilizer (like Espoma Organic’s Tomato-tone). Blight can be easily transmitted when foliage is wet so avoid handling plants. Pick off the affected foliage and treat the plant with a mild organic fungicide.
Yellowing and wilting of leaves tend to occur on one side of the plant. In early stages, top growth may wilt in sun and recover in the evening, regardless of whether or not the soil is moist. Planting in a well-draining spot is essential. Remove and destroy infected plants as there is no effective home treatment.
Yellowing and wilting of leaves will occur all over-starting at the bottom. Top growth may wilt in sun, early on, and recover in the evening. Plant tomatoes in well-draining soil only. Remove and destroy infected plants.
Septoria Leaf Spot
Small spots with darker brown margins appear. Heavily infected leaves will turn brown and fall off. Wet foliage and prolonged spells of wet cooler weather can affect. Do not use overhead watering. Remove and destroy infected plants.
Yellowish green and dark green patches. New leaves may be “ferny” and distorted in appearance. The infection of a garden plant can be caused by smoking near tomato family members. Do not smoke or handle tobacco products near tomato or related plants. Mosaic can also show up in cucumber family members.
A grayish-white film appears on foliage. Cucumbers and squash are very prone to it. Our high humidity is the culprit. Avoid getting water on the plant foliage. When it first shows up, remove the worst of the affected foliage and apply an organic sulfur-based fungicide—spray very early in the morning or just before dark to avoid sunburn. Keep weeds and debris out of the garden to avoid spores wintering over.
Blossom End Rot
Ever gone to pick that beautiful ripe tomato only to find the bottom is black? That’s a disease called Blossom End Rot. Tomato family members are prone to it. It is caused by calcium deficiency. This is why I use Tomato-tone—it has added calcium. Eggshells crushed and added to the soil will help—in several years once they have composted down.
Here at the Great Big Greenhouse and Nursery, we love plants and we’re here to answer your questions and make recommendations for your specific garden. Stop by today and let us help you make your garden the envy of the neighborhood.