‘Late Blight’ Afflicts Tomatoes, Potatoes in Maine, Mass.

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(Host) A plant disease that attacks tomatoes and potatoes has surfaced in Maine and in Massachusetts, just south of the Vermont border.

The disease is called "late blight" and it swept across the region last year, decimating both home gardens and commercial operations.

Vern Grubinger is a vegetable and berry specialist with the University of Vermont extension service. He says that, so far, no confirmed cases have been seen in Vermont.

(Grubinger) "There is need for extreme vigilance.  It’s really important to be scouting your potatoes and tomatoes for any signs of this disease. And also to be familiar with what the disease looks like. There are lots of great resources online."

(Host) Last year, late blight spread rapidly because it had been introduced in the area through infected seedlings. Grubinger says that doesn’t appear to be the case this year. But he says the disease apparently maintained a foothold in some places through potato tubers that remained in the soil. Still, Grubinger hopes Vermont will avoid a major outbreak.

(Grubinger) "One of the big differences now is we’re already a month past when we had fairly widespread infections last year. People have potatoes in the ground that are sizing up, there’s tomato fruit that is going to be ripening rapidly here. And we only really have a month plus of really active growing. So if we can sneak by without the disease proliferating, my hope is it won’t have a significant impact."

(Host) Late blight shows up as dark colored splotches on the leaves. Grubinger says if commercial growers suspect that the blight is in their fields, they should send a sample to UVM for testing. Home gardeners should contact the master gardener program at the UVM Extension Service.

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