Late Blight Still A Concern For Tomato, Potato Gardeners

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(Host) Gardeners around the region will be transplanting fragile plants like tomatoes and peppers this weekend. And they’ll do so hoping to avoid a late blight that wiped out crops of tomatoes, and ruined many potato plants last year.

Experts say the disease is still a concern, but steps can be taken to prevent its return.

VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb has more.

(Wertlieb) Late blight spores can easily travel hundreds of miles on the wind and quickly kill potatoes and tomatoes in backyard gardens as well as bigger commercial farms.

Vegetable and berry specialist Vern Grubinger of the University of Vermont Extension says last year’s outbreak was one of the worst in decades – the disease was fueled by the early season cool, wet weather the fungus needs to thrive.  And Grubinger says the disease has already been spotted this year.

(Grubinger) "There’s been a few isolated cases in greenhouses down in Pennsylvania and Maryland, very isolated but it just sends out an alert to everyone that we need to be on the lookout for the disease."

(Wertlieb) Late blight needs living tissue to survive. That means that there’s a chance it could have over-wintered in potato tubers left in the ground from last year, and the disease could spread if those tubers sprout. Potato growers should pull up any left-over tubers and move their plants to a different location this season. Grubinger also recommends buying potato seed that’s been certified and inspected.

Late blight can’t survive on tomato seeds, so it’s best to start your own plants. Grubinger says it’s also a good idea to get transplants from local greenhouses:.

(Grubinger) "When you buy tomato transplants, buying locally grown is a good idea because last year we had the disease introduced into the northeast on southern-grown transplants that were sold at some retail stores."

(Wertlieb) Once plants start growing, keep the leaves dry, because that’s where the blight latches on. And Grubinger recommends checking plants regularly for symptoms.

(Grubinger) "You look for the symptoms which are fairly large, dark lesions, water-soaked areas they almost look greasy. And they’re about the size of a nickel to a quarter."

(Wertlieb) Late blight proliferates quickly, with little chance of stopping it if the weather is conducive, so it’s best to take action as soon as the blight is spotted and destroy the plants. UVM’s Master Gardeners can help identify the disease, if gardeners are unsure about whether their plants have been affected.

For VPR News, I’m Mitch Wertlieb.

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