Tag Archives: plant diseases

Fall Tasks: Mitigate Plant Diseases

Just like humans, plants are susceptible to a number of diseases. It’s an unfortunate part of gardening. Your cucumbers may suffer from Downey mildew, your tomatoes may get verticillium wilt, your potatoes may suffer from late blight, or your corn may get leaf rust. Thankfully, there are ways to strive for healthier plants. Here are some steps you can take this fall to help mitigate plant diseases. 

Study Plant Diseases

Try to identify the specific plant disease infecting your plants. Once you’ve identified a particular disease, you can find information about the transmission (how it infects your plants), different host plants, and what type of environment it requires to thrive. This information will help you control it. 

For example, you may have had a few tomatoes infected with Fusarium Wilt this year. Fusarium Wilt typically enters the plant through the roots, often in areas damaged by nematodes. Unlike many fungal diseases, it doesn’t spread by the wind. It’s typically brought in on infected soil or equipment. It thrives in acidic soil and will infect tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, pigweed, mallow, and crabgrass. Knowing this, you can take steps to mitigate the issue. Keep that bed free of these plants for a couple of years, amend your soil with lime, and sanitize all equipment. 

Clear Away Diseased Plant Material

Many of us strive to have natural systems in our gardens, and what seems more natural than just letting plant material decompose right in the bed? While this is sometimes fine, if the material is diseased or your garden is prone to diseases of that crop, you should remove the plants. 

Diseased plant material can be burned, buried away from the garden, or composted in a well-managed compost pile. Compost piles must reach a temperature of at least 140 degrees F to kill fungal diseases!

Sow Cover Crops

Tillage radishes are an excellent choice for fall and winter kill in areas where temperatures reach below 20°F. They also have biofumigant properties, ideal for suppressing diseases and pests. They also improve soil structure, creating spaces that allow air and water to enter and a great for breaking up hard pans.  

Other fall cover crops like Austrian winter peas and winter rye are also great for building healthy soil by adding nitrogen, nutrients, and organic matter. 

Write Down Where You Planted Crops

Fall tomatoes (mitigate plant diseases)Crop rotation is key to disease prevention in every garden. No matter what size your garden is, come next spring, it can be tough to remember exactly where you planted what the previous season. While many don’t have the time or desire to create a comprehensive garden journal, you should at least sketch out your 2022 crop layout before you forget it this fall. That way, there’ll be no doubt in your mind next spring that you’re planting your tomatoes in a bed that didn’t previously have nightshades. 

Alternatively, there are many gardening planners and apps available. Check out the Southern Exposure Garden Planner to quickly create layouts for your records and plan for next season. 

Start Building Healthy Soil

It’s a good idea to have your soil tested in the fall and work to improve it over the fall and winter. Begin a compost pile and add compost to your garden. Compost adds nutrients and helps improve the soil structure leading to healthy root systems. Plants are far less susceptible to disease when grown in healthy, well-balanced soil. 

Research Disease Resistant Varieties

Even among open-pollinated varieties, there are many disease-resistant cultivars available. They’re worth looking into if you struggle with a specific disease each year. 

On the Southern Exposure website and catalogs, you’ll find some crops like tomatoes and cucumbers are marked with acronyms in brackets after their name. These acronyms stand for known disease or pest tolerance and are listed in our keys to disease and pest tolerance. For example, a variety marked with “an” has resistance to Anthracnose.  

Many other seed companies use the same system, though the acronyms may vary slightly. You can also find lists of disease-resistant varieties through your local extension agency or a quick internet search.

Sanitize Your Equipment

Especially when dealing with a highly infectious disease or pruning and handling diseased plants, be sure to sanitize equipment. Sanitize small tools like pruning shears, garden knives, and trowels with alcohol. You can also use a bleach solution to wash larger tools and work surfaces. 

While having a perfect garden is impossible, we can strive to minimize and even mitigate plant diseases. Taking these steps this fall will help you create a healthy garden and have a more productive 2023!

7 Benefits of Companion Planting

By Jordan Charbonneau, photos by Ira Wallace

At first companion planting may seem like an odd idea. However if you consider how plants grow in nature, there’s never sections of just one species. There’s always a mix of species with different niches and ecological functions. While scientists have really just skimmed the surface studying the interactions between plants we do know that many plants have beneficial relationships and that applies to garden plants too! That’s why when we plant monoculture sections of crops we’re setting ourselves up for less healthy and productive gardens.

Companion planting is one of the easiest ways to mimic a natural ecosystem more closely. There are many benefits you’ll see in your garden if you use companion planting this year.

The list below contains some of those benefits and easy ways to achieve them in your home garden.

Companion planting saves space.

It’s perfect for people trying to make the most of their small gardens. A common way to use companion planting to save space is by planting a vining plant under a taller one. It uses space that would otherwise stay empty or fill up with weeds. Another method is to plant quick growing crops in between rows of slower growing crops. My favorite two plants to tuck in around our garden are radishes and green onions. They can be stuck in just about anywhere and harvested before the other crops start to fill up that space.

It keeps soil moist and helps prevent erosion.

Not having large spaces of open soil not only allows you to grow more plants but helps hold the soil and keep it moist. Vining plants like squash and cucumbers are especially useful for shading the soil. In a time where droughts have become a real problem in much of the United States this is perhaps one of the most important aspects of companion planting.

It keeps weeds out.

The same way that having soil covered in plants hold water it also blocks weed growth. In the well known Native American method, the three sisters garden, vining squash is grown beneath corn and beans to shade the soil and prevent weeds from growing.

Companion planting can decrease pest issues.

When you ditch the conventional monoculture garden layout it will be harder for pests to destroy your crops. They won’t find a solid patch of their favorite food. Some plants even deter certain pests. For example, wormwood can be planted among cabbage and other brassicas to help deter cabbage moths and marigold can be planted with beans to deter Mexican bean beetles.

Companion planting can help with disease issues.

Just like with dense gatherings of people disease is spread more quickly through your garden when plants of the same type are all in one big group. Adding different species to a planting can help break up your garden and slow the spread of disease. As previously mentioned plant interactions aren’t fully understood but certain plants have been shown to make other plants healthier therefore lowering their susceptibility to disease. Good examples of this are beans in the three sisters garden method providing nitrogen for the corn and squash and growing basil with tomatoes which many people believe makes for healthier tomatoes plants.

Companion planting can be used to attract pollinators and beneficial insects.

Beneficial insects of all sort will be more likely to spend time in and travel throughout your garden if there’s plenty of habitat and food available. Throughout our garden we include patches of of flowers and flowering cover crops like clover, vetch, and buckwheat. It’s good to choose varieties that have extended bloom periods.

Companion planting can eliminate the need for trellises.

The most common living trellis is probably the corn which pole beans grow up in a three sisters garden. However there’s many other tall plants that are suitable for lightweight climbing plants including sunflowers, sorghum, Jerusalem artichokes, amaranth, and fruit and nut trees.

Companion Planting Examples

Asparagus, Parsley, & Tomatoes: plant together for better harvests.

Beans & Marigold: the marigold deters Mexican bean beetles.

Cabbage & Buckwheat: the buckwheat attracts parasitic wasps that will kill cabbage worms.

Carrots & Rosemary: the rosemary deter carrot flies.

Lettuce & Chives: the chives can help deter aphids.

Melon & Radishes: You’ll get two crops out of one bed as the radishes can be harvested before the melon plant spreads.

Tomatoes & Basil: intercropping basil makes for healthier tomato plants.

Radishes & Spinach: radishes attract leaf miners which don’t harm the radish bulbs but will destroy a spinach crop.

Beets & Garlic: intercropping garlic improves the health of the beets.

Peas & Fruit Trees: Peas can use the tree as a trellis and are so early they’ll be done before the tree shades them fully.

Squash & Borage: the borage deters harmful worms and improves the squash plant’s health.

Nasturtiums and Cucumbers: nasturtiums add another edible to the same space and attracts beneficial insects.

Corn, Pole Beans, & Squash: the corn provides a trellis for the beans which provide nitrogen for the corn and squash. The squash shades the ground beneath the beans and corn keeping soil moist, blocking weeds, and utilizing space. Check out the Three Sisters Garden Package!

Using these examples and other plant relationships to your advantage can help you to achieve a productive and beautiful garden without resorting to conventional agricultural methods. Companion planting is one of the easiest ways to deter pests and present plant diseases organically. It’s abundance of benefits make it great choice for anyone looking to make the most of a small and/or sustainably focused garden.

Have you tried companion planting? Comment and let us know!