One of the most common problems a gardener will face during the growing season is blight – a fungal infection that resides in the soil and quickly devours plants like tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, and eggplants.
What begins as a small black or brown spot on the bottom leaves of the plant will quickly spread up the stem and onto the other leaves. If left alone, the blight can prevent plants from flowering and fruit from maturing.
What Causes Blight?
This disease thrives in wet, humid conditions, where temperatures range between 60º-80º F. It most commonly occurs on tomatoes when over-watering occurs from above and a mixture of moisture and dirt have made contact with the leaves of the plant. This bacterial fungus can spread quickly through excessive watering or by hand and can reside in the soil for many years.
The most effective way to fight this infection is to prevent it altogether. Here's some steps every gardener should take.
1. Start Your Own Seeds – If you grow them yourself, you'll know your plants' history. You'll have guaranteed healthy, disease-free transplants.
2. Establish Good Air Circulation – Give your plants space – at least 3 feet between tomatoes – for your plants to breathe and to allow moisture to dry quickly. It's important to keep the branches off the ground and out of the soil too.
3. Mulch – Use leaves, grass clippings, or straw to cover the base of each tomato plant to protect the foliage from soil getting splashed and to retain moisture for the root system.
4. Water at Ground Level – Use soaker hoses or drip irrigation to keep foliage dry and water in the morning.
5. Crop Rotation – This step is key if you've had blight in previous years. Rotate your plantings so that the same vegetable is not grown in the same place for 3-4 years if possible.
How to Fight Blight – After It's Arrived
Sometimes it's too late to prevent a problem. Sometimes the problems just beat us to the punch. Blight is a hard one to fix in the garden. Here's a few ways to help the headache, though, and save some of those vegetables.
1. Visit your Local Garden Center, Hardware Store, or Nursery for a Fungicide that Fights Blight –
If you're wanting an organic, natural solution, find a copper-based fungicide. This will help control the disease, but it may not cure it.
2. Try one of these Homemade Remedies:
a. Mix 3 cups compost, 1/2 cup powdered nonfat milk, 1/2 cup Epsom salts, and 1 Tbs. baking soda. Add a handful of this mixture into each planting hole and put more powdered milk on the soil every couple weeks throughout the season.
b. Mix 1 part skim milk and 9 parts water together and spray on plants to the point where it runs off. Apply early in the summer to discourage diseases from starting.
c. Sprinkle crushed egg shells and/or compost tea around the plants to help fight the blight naturally.
3. Discard Infected Leaves & Wash Your Hands
It may be hard to break off those branches, but if you don't you could lose the entire plant. And do not toss them in the compost pile. The bacteria will breed in the dirt there. It's important to wash your hands with soap after handling any blight-affected plants or you could unknowingly spread the disease on to other plants in your garden.
Blight is one of those things that simply comes with the gardening territory. You're not alone in the fight! Follow these steps mentioned above and grow a blight-free garden for years to come.