This tomato has early blight. Photo by Doug Oster
A cool spring has morphed into a hot and muggy early summer which is providing the perfect storm for early blight to infect tomato plants.
Don’t panic, this weather has just about every gardener worried when they look down at the yellowing spotted foliage of America’s favorite home grown vegetable.
Early blight is not a death sentence for tomatoes though.
The firs step is to remove infected foliage, new sprouts will form in their place. Be careful not to spread the disease to healthy plants.
I pull by hand and only work with infected plants. The diseased foliage is not added to the compost pile. I dispose of mine in a pile of weeds and diseased discards. I’ll throw a few shovelfuls of woodland soil over them. Before I do any more work with tomatoes, I go inside and wash up.
Early blight is soil borne, so if plants have not been mulched yet, they should be. This will stop the spores from splashing up on the plant.
Some varieties are more prone to fungal issues than others, it’s always a good idea to grow lots of different tomatoes.
It’s not too late to plant either. I’ve been to nurseries who are almost giving away big, healthy plants filled with tennis ball sized tomatoes. I’m still planting as other crops are harvested. The plants will take off in this warm soil.
Fungicides can help slow the onset of early blight. Most are best applied BEFORE signs of damage appear. Serenade on the other hand is an organic fungicide which attacks the spores themselves. It’s my number one choice when dealing with most fungal issues.
Don’t let early blight worry you, the plants will rebound when things dry out and the season progresses.
Blossom end rot is always a prblem for gardeners as we get into the summer. A sunken black or brown decay will form where the blossom was on the bottom of the fruit. This is caused when the plant can’t get the calcium it needs. The nutrient is probably in the soil, but unavailable when the soil dries out. The way to beat blossom end rot is to keep the soil evenly moist. Don’t let the plant go through periods of drought then to be deluged in a summer thunderstorm. A good thick layer of mulch helps.
Some varieties of tomato are more susceptible than others, often sauce or paste tomatoes are hit hard. Tomatoes grown in containers are also prone to the problem. They need constant watering or you might consider a self watering container. This video explains how to build one.
But it’s not just tomatoes that gardeners need to be worried about, eggplant, peppers and zucchini all can fall victim to the affliction.
I’ve had countless gardeners calling me, worried that late blight has hit their tomatoes, when in actuality it’s only blossom end rot. As always, identify the problem, and then take action.
Late blight is the worst thing that can happen to tomatoes. Luckily it’s only been found in the eastern part of the state and doesn’t threaten us yet. Only time will tell if the disease will move west.
Late blight is airborne, creating millions of spores and spreading them as far as they can float. The good news is the season is almost over. The bad news is I might not be able to pick the last tomatoes and ripen them indoors as I usually do.
In the case of late blight, there’s nothing a gardener can do as far as the soil is concerned. One there’s a freeze, the spores are killed. Next season we’re not any more prone to the disease because the plant were infected this year. The most important control is to remove any plant infected with late blight. They can’t be composted and need to be either bagged, buried or burned. Even though a freeze will kill the spores above ground, the disease can survive underground.
We had a season a few years ago where late blight ran rampant mid-season and many gardeners didn’t pick tomatoes that summer.
There are preventative measures which can be taken during the season though to combat late blight. The number one thing I should have done was treat the plants with an organic fungicide like Serenade. This is only effective in the case of late blight by treating BEFORE seeing signs of damage.