Powdery mildew, aphids and blight – oh my!! It’s been an incredible year for gardening. In comparison to last year’s cool and rainy season, this year’s hotter than hot summer has made my garden prolific. It’s a wild jungle of plants that are double the size they were this time last year. That said, this time of year I start to really notice pests and problems in my garden. Below are a few I’m experiencing and what I plan to do to combat them.
I feel like I wage battle on this sneaky spore every year. Last year was epic as the cool, wet weather created a perfect breeding ground for mildew to grow. This year it’s not as bad, but this past week I’ve started to see it show up. You may notice a white dusty covering or spots on some of your veggies, like cucumbers or squash. It shows up on flowers too, like peonies, calendula and lilac leaves.
The good news? It very rarely kills a plant, but you want to start treating right away as it can greatly impact their growth and/or production. It can make plants weak and susceptible to other diseases. As well, if the coating of spores become thick enough, it can interfere with photosynthesis, causing leaves to fall prematurely or fruit and veggies to lose their sweet summer taste.
Remove any affected leaves very carefully and put them immediately into a garden bag or the the garbage. Make sure the bag is kept far away from the garden as these spores can travel on the breeze.
Water from below and early in the morning. If you shower your whole plant with water and the leaves stay moist, this can help the growth and spread of mildew. You want to minimize moisture on the leaves and give the sun a chance to dry out any water that’s splashed up onto the foliage. A great way to water low is to install a soaker hose throughout your garden. You can make life really easy by installing a timer on your hose — set it and forget it!
Next season you can plan ahead and add a little extra room around your plants. The more space they have so air can circulate, the less of a chance mildew has to start forming. Pruning established plants can help create air circulation too.
Milk – it does your plants good! Milk is actually very helpful in preventing powdery mildew. Mix 1 part milk and 2 parts water in a spray bottle and mist plants. This will really help your cucurbits like squash and cukes! Repeat the application every seven days.
These nasty little bugs just love the milkweed and calendula in my garden! They are small bugs that suck the juices from plant stems and leaves. Last year they were all over my kale and brussel sprouts, and I had to yank them all! But I did notice, right before the aphids invaded, that there had been a lot of ants on these plants. I’ve since learned that aphids secrete a sticky substance called “honeydew.” It’s a sweet liquid that ants love.
This year, I was able recognize that the ants meant aphids were on the way and gave my plants a good dose of diatomaceous earth. DE is a fine powder of crushed up fossils of small aquatic organisms called diatoms. The powder is all natural and totally safe to use on veggie plants and flowers. It is incredibly dehydrating and if the aphids ingest any, it simply dries them out and kills them. The powder will wash off with rain or your next watering so you can re-apply as needed. Pro Tip – wear a dust mask when applying as it does tend to fly around and while its not toxic, it’s better if you’re not breathing it in.
You can also hand-pick aphids or spray them off with the hose, but I have found these measures only work temporarily. The diatomaceous earth has been the best way I’ve found to fight these bugs.
Blight broke my tomato loving heart this year. I’ve been fortunate enough to never experience it, but this year when I saw my tomato leaves turning yellow, I knew something was up. At first I thought I needed to water more, but then the leaves started to curl and had brown splotches on them.
A fungus, Blight (or sometimes called Early Blight) can affect the whole plant. It weakens the plant and slows fruit production. I think I’ll be lucky to get one or two tomatoes from my precious heirloom plants! Early Blight can be somewhat controlled by picking off yellow leaves consistently or you can look into organic copper or sulphur sprays to use when you notice the early signs – brown spots, curling leaves and concentric circles on leaves or stems. Keep an eye on your potato plants too, as they are susceptible!
Late Blight is another, more serious problem that can impact tomatoes and potatoes. It is the same disease that wiped out potato crops in Ireland in the 1840s.
In short, it is crucial in the fall to immediately dispose of any vegetation that is infected or was next to infected plants. Deeply till your garden bed so the spores aren’t left undisturbed. Adding a fresh layer of compost and sand to your soil can help with drainage. Soil that drains well helps prevent the growth of spores. Rotate your crops next season to a new location and buy organic, disease resistant seeds and seedlings. Give ample space to plants and prune when needed to create air flow Lastly, mulch heavily! This helps the soil retain moisture and keeps the spores covered up so they can’t spread.
By Jen Lehman