When I was growing up, my brother and I would stay outside playing as long as we could, but it never failed that Momma would call us in for our baths. We could always tell how much fun we had that day by how dirty the bath water was.
Then the question would come: Did you wash behind your ears? As I grew older, I realized that the little things such as washing behind your ears can make a difference. The same can be said of our landscapes and gardens. Sometimes we forget to do the little things.
When it comes to plant diseases, there are some easy steps that we can follow to help reduce the chance of having problems. We need to have the least favorable conditions for plant diseases to grow. Therefore, we must do some basic sanitation practices to reduce the chance of our plants getting a disease.
To begin with, remove dead, damaged and weakened parts of the plant. Dead limbs, branches and leaves harbor organisms that infected the plant last year. They overwinter in the cracks and crevasses on these limbs, waiting on warm weather. When water splashes on these fungi, the disease cycle starts all over again. You need to prune out the dead and diseased limbs.
Another place that diseases can spread from is the diseased leaves that fell off the plant last year. The spores from the fungus are present, and all it takes is for water to hit these leaves and splash the fungus spores on the new leaves. To take care of this problem, you need to replace the old mulch.
When you see a few diseased leaves on your plants, you can pick these leaves off and dispose of them. You are removing the source of infection. One of the problems that we will see very soon will be azalea leaf gall. The infected leaves are swollen and pale in color. When you see this, pick off these leaves and dispose of them.
In the vegetable garden, you can reduce the chance of diseases by following some simple steps. Begin by removing plant material from last year's garden. One way to do that is to deep turn the old plant material into the soil. This places the diseased organisms deep into the soil, where they can't infect the new crop of vegetables. Deep turning also adds organic matter to the soil, and this will help improve the soil in your garden.
The next step is to rotate where you plant your vegetables. If you plant the same vegetable or family of vegetables in the same area every year, you will build up the insect and disease pressure for those vegetables.
A three-year rotation is preferred. This means that you plant tomatoes in an area of the garden once every three years. Don't plant vegetables in the same family in that area during that three-year period. Vegetables that are in the same family as tomatoes are peppers, eggplant and potatoes.
Another good practice to help with diseases is the use of mulches. Mulches not only provide help to retain soil moisture and reduce weed populations but they also help block soil from splashing on the leaves while it is raining or irrigation water is being applied.
I like to use mulches that will decompose and add organic matter to the soil. Some of these are newspaper, small grain straw and leaves.
Watering plants at their base helps keep water off the leaves. You can keep leaves dry by hand watering, using soaker hoses or drip irrigation systems. Stay out of the garden when the leaves are wet. When they are wet and you walk through your wet garden, you can get water droplets on your clothes or hands. When you brush up against another plant, you can transfer the water. This droplet could have disease spores in it.
When a vegetable stops producing, remove it from the garden. As these plants stay in the garden, diseases and insects continue to attack and will continue to increase the population of these organisms. By removing them, you have removed the host and the pest numbers will be reduced.
Like washing behind our ears to make sure that we are clean, we can follow some simple sanitation and growing practices to make sure that our landscapes and gardens are less prone to disease problems.
Columbia County Extension Service agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The office's Web address is www.ugaextension.com/Columbia.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.