Sunday, May 30, 2010

How To Fight Tomato Blight Before it Starts!

 Fight Tomato Blight!

Actually, there is no real way to avoid Tomato Blight completely. The spores live in the soil from year to year and when the conditions are right (as they were last year all over the US) nothing can completely stop it.

Last year we had a lot of moisture and cool weather that made conditions perfect for Tomato Blight. We were actually hit with the same blight that  hit Ireland in the 1840's and caused the Great Potato Famine when whole families starved to death from the effects.

Here it was called the Late Tomato Blight. Many people do not know that Tomato Plants and Potato Plants are related. Another asside: Tobacco and Tomato plants are also related. Tomato plants can catch Tobacco Mosaic. A word to the wise; smoking around tomato plants can transmit Tobacco Mozaic to Tomato Plants. Don't do it.

However, there are a few steps you can take that will definitely help  in more normal  weather conditons when planting and caring for Tomato Plants:

  • Mulch Your Tomato Plants.   Keep a barrier between the leaves of your tomato plants and the ground. A good rain or just your sprinkling can cause the Blight Spores to be splashed up into the lower leaves of the plant. The blight when started, travels up from the bottom of the Tomato plants lower leaves quickly into the upper areas. Most people use Wheat Straw. I used shredded office paper and newspaper to good effect last year although I think wheat straw would have been better. (I refused to pay $6 for a $2 bale of Straw!
  • Keep Your Tomato Plants Dry.  When you water. Water on the Ground at the base of the plant. Don't sprinkle if you can help it. Soaker hoses are perfect for this or just run water from the hose laying on the ground. Spraying the plant - incourages the blight spores - to be splashed up on the bottom of the plant where it can easily take hold in the cool shade and moist limbs and leaves.
  • Space Your Plants Generously. Plants that are planted on top of each other, encourage lots of shade and moisture near the bottom areas close to the ground. Blight Spores thrive on these conditions. A Bare minimum would be 3 feet. 4 to 5 feet would be better! 
  • Stake or Trellis Your Plants. Staking each plant or using a trellis or wire cage prevents the branches from sagging over to touch the ground. I have a short article on this blog explaing how to make great Tomato Stakes from Cedar Fence board. I will be using them extensively this year after testing out their utility for a few years. A Cedar Fence Board will cost you about $3.50 or less and you can rip out about 8 - 6 foot stakes. This year I will stain them Red Wood color instead of Green like last year. Easier to see in the plant foliage for tying up the plants as they grow big.
Trim Plants at the Bottom at least 12 Inches. Low hanging limbs that are close to the ground can easily pick-up and transmit Blight Spores upward to the plant. From the very first,  keep lower leaves trimmed off.   This is the only trimming an "Indeterminate" tomato ever really needs unless you are going for Giant tomatoes where only a few are allowed to grow and all unessential limbs are chopped of. This is done to send more nutrients to the few tomatoes left on. "Determinate" tomatoes are often pruned and "suckers" removed anyway - but you still need to observe especially the 1 foot rule from the ground of the lowest branches.                  

Copyright Robert Mader 2010
All Rights Reserved


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