One of the trickiest challenges of gardening can be dealing with plant diseases. Fungus, mildew and many soil-borne diseases can quickly turn a healthy crop into waste that is not even good for the compost bin. Check out these 15 tips for garden disease control and you’ll have a better shot at avoiding these conditions altogether. Prevention is always the first defense against disease in the garden.
CHOOSE DISEASE RESISTANT VARIETIES
The best way to avoid plant disease is to grow disease-resistant cultivars. Some will be resistant of only one disease while others will be disease tolerant, meaning they will grow despite most any disease. Consult with local growers about the vegetables you intend to grow to find out the best varieties for your area and which diseases to proactively try and avoid.
NEVER BUY UNHEALTHY SEEDLINGS
Sometimes it’s easier to start with seedlings than to sow your own seeds; some cultivars are just too difficult to grow from seed. When purchasing seedlings, always buy from a reputable source. Choose only the healthiest looking plants. Avoid diseased or pest-infected plants at all cost, but unhealthy seedlings will be much more prone to disease. Droopy, wilting or discolored leaves are good signs of an unhealthy seedling. Tall, spindly seedlings have already suffered from a lack of light and should be avoided.
KEEP A TIDY GARDEN
Start when you prepare your garden for planting and practice tidy gardening throughout the growing season. Remove all debris, including sticks, old leaves, grass, and weed trimmings. Debris built up over winter or summer can harbor disease and also attract pests.
KEEP WEEDS AT BAY
Weeds can wreak havoc on a vegetable garden. They steal valuable nutrients from the soil, invite pests and can even carry and spread diseases. Cultivate thoroughly to get rid of weeds. Many vegetables have shallow, sensitive root systems – hand weed carefully to avoid disturbing them.
Stop weeds before they have a chance to grow. Till your garden bed thoroughly for several weeks prior to planting. Stir up the top few inches to constantly expose young weed seeds to the hot dry air, which will cause many of them to die.
Mulch is the best way to keep down weeds without harming your plants. Organic mulch like wood chips, pine needles, straw, grass clippings and leaves all work great. Cover the soil around each of your plants with a thick layer of mulch. Mulch will deprive any weeds of light and air while also keeping the soil moist and warm for your vegetable plants to thrive.
Pruning can help to create better aeration for plants, a critical element of disease prevention. Many plants will bunch up, creating ideal conditions for fungus, mold and other plant diseases to fester. Pruning also allows the plants to focus more of their energy and nutrients into the least amount of stems and fruit, making them healthier and more fit to fight disease.
DO NOT OVERCROWD PLANTS
Vegetables need room to breathe. Good aeration is the key to preventing mildew, fungus and other plant diseases. Some vegetables need to be close together for proper pollination, but otherwise they should be given their own space in which to thrive. This does not mean planting them at opposite ends of the garden, but try not to bunch them too close together.
PRACTICE STRICT CROP ROTATION
Crop rotation not only ensures a healthy, fertile soil in which your plants may thrive but also limits the risk of soil-borne diseases. Plant each vegetable in a different space in your garden each year. Learn which vegetables are of the same plant family and do not plant them in the same space each year. Legumes should not be planted in the same space but once every four years.
REMOVE DISEASED PLANTS
One diseased plant can easily infect an entire crop. Try to catch and treat any diseases early, but it may be best to simply get rid of one diseased plant if the rest aren’t yet infected. Prune off any diseased foliage or vines as soon as you see them. Remove any diseased, insect infested or rotting fruit as soon as you see them.
DO NOT PLANT TOO EARLY
Adhere to temperature guidelines your vegetables need in order to germinate and grow properly. Chilled plants may not produce fruit, may grow irregularly and are highly prone to disease.
Water in the early morning and keep the leaves and foliage of the plants dry. This will allow most of the water to reach the plant roots without creating a moist environment in which mold, mildew and other diseases can thrive. Keep your water routine consistent and avoid water stress at all costs. Plants that do not have enough water are highly prone to infection.
HARVEST WHEN RIPE
Do not leave fruits and vegetables on the vines too long. Once they begin to rot they become a magnet for pests and disease.
PREVENT INSECT DAMAGE
Bites and damage from insects can quickly manifest into infection. Keep insects at bay with organic sprays, handpicking, netting and other organic means.
Keep your plants properly fed. Fertilizer will promote rapid, healthy growth but over-fertilizing can be dangerous. In particular, try to avoid giving the plants too much nitrogen.
KEEP VINES & FRUIT OFF THE GROUND
For indeterminate plants (vine or pole varieties), use stakes, a trellis or other means of support to keep the vines off of the ground. This will help to deter pests and lessen the risk of disease. For large plants like watermelons and pumpkins that must rest on the ground, carefully slid a board underneath them to separate them from the earth.