Tomatoes often are included in summer gardens for their juicy, fresh fruits, and with proper care, tomatoes are relatively easy to grow. However, like other garden plants, tomatoes are not immune to diseases such as blight. Chemical treatments can harm pets and humans, but there are a couple of effective natural treatments for tomato blight. These treatments are most effective when combined with cultural controls.
Types of Blight
There are two types of blight that commonly affect garden tomatoes, early blight and late blight. Early tomato blight, caused by the fungus Alternaria solani, can cause a range of symptoms at all stages of plant growth and thrives in warm, humid conditions. Its most common symptoms include damping-off, stem cankers, crown rot, leaf blight, and fruit rot. Late blight is caused by the fungal-like pathogen Phytophthora infestans, which thrives in cool, wet conditions. Signs of infection include leaf lesions that start out as pale or olive green areas and rapidly change to brown-black. The lesions are water-soaked, appear oily and may produce whitish grey, fuzzy spores. The fruit shows few symptoms initially, but soon develops ringed, golden to chocolate brown lesions or spots that may appear sunken.
Compost teas can be effective at fighting both early and late tomato blight. Compost tea is made by by mixing about one part well-aged compost that is at least 4 months old and 5 to 8 parts of water. The mixture is placed in a covered container and allowed to steep outside at temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit for about five days. The tea must be stirred daily. On the fifth day, the material is poured through a sieve or cheesecloth and the strained tea applied to plants as a foliar spray. Compost tea should not be sprayed on the fruit if you plan to harvest in the following 2 to 3 weeks.
Baking soda has fungicidal properties that can stop or reduce the spread of early and late tomato blight. Baking soda sprays typically contain about 1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved into 1 quart of warm water. Adding a drop of liquid dish soap or 2 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil helps the solution stick to your plant. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and shake thoroughly before applying to the entire plant. Baking soda fungicides should be applied out of direct sunlight to avoid burning your plant, and do not make it too strong. While baking soda helps fight fungus, too much can damage your plants.
Whether you use chemical or natural treatments to control tomato blight, proper cultural controls are also necessary to prevent or limit infection. Never work in your garden during wet conditions, when spores are most likely to be spread. Remove all dead or infected leaves and fruits to prevent the spread of spores to healthy plants. Space your tomato plants so that air can circulate and keep the foliage dry, and water your plants early in the day to encourage rapid drying of the foliage before cooler nighttime temperatures arrive. Control harmful insects in your garden to minimize plant injury and the spread of spores caused by their feeding.
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