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Down with Disease

Don't let your plants become diseased - follow our tips for a healthy crop. Don't let your plants become diseased - follow our tips for a healthy crop.

 

A few years ago, I put my tomato plants out too soon and the plants were damaged from the cold. They seemed to recover, but a virus had secretly crept into the plants. Two months later I was dealing with wilted leaves and fruit that was rotting before it could ripen.


When your plants are damaged or weakened, they become easy targets for pests and pathogens. These enemies are floating in the air around us. Viruses, fungi, bacteria, parasites and the like are out in massive populations. Strong plants can usually fight the infiltration, but weak plants might catch a plant disease.

Rule Out Pests

The first rule of diagnosing plant disease is making sure it is a disease you’re dealing with and not another garden problem. It may be overfeeding or underfeeding, or you may have a micronutrient deficiency or a bug problem. Two insects that are currently fooling indoor gardeners are cyclamen mites and root aphids. These critters are often misdiagnosed as diseases because they are hidden.

When plants are in the flowering cycle, take steps to increase essential-oil production. There are some products that can bring out resins in your plants to protect flowers and leaves from unwanted microorganisms.

Check for cyclamen mites on leaves with a handheld microscope; they are a fraction of the size of spider mites. Cyclamen mites cause mottled leaf growth and top-down yellowing. Check the roots for root aphids when looking for clues to wilted, yellowing leaves. I’ll save insects for another time, but I had to mention these two stealthy enemies to the hydro community.

Identify the Disease

If you’ve ruled out all other factors in your garden and the plants still look sick, they might have a disease. Powdery mildew is probably the most common fungi to ruin an indoor grow op. If your plants have PM, you’ll see a powdery white coating on leaf surfaces.

The treatment for fighting PM is the same as other garden diseases: Wipe down equipment and surfaces with a 10% bleach solution (1 part bleach, 9 parts water), increase air circulation, keep relative humidity around 40% and spray plants with beneficial fungi and beneficial bacteria. Many growers report excellent results from sprays containing bacillus subtilis, trichoderma harzianum and actively aerated microbial teas.

Another enemy of advanced growers is the dreaded gray mold. This can result from a variety of fungal outbreaks, but bud mold is usually attributed to botrytis. This fungus persists on large flowers growing in high humidity. It will rot flowers on the inside, ruining your best-looking blooms. Botrytis loves to get started on dead material before taking out the live stuff. Prevent infiltration by removing any dead leaves or blooms immediately. Keep fans blowing day and night to move air around in the garden space.
In some cases you may lose a single branch to wilt, as it withers away and turns brown. These are the symptoms of fusarium wilt or a similar fungus. Prevent this myco meanie with compost teas or other beneficial biological sprays.

Healthy Plants Are Better Immuned

Plants grown with balanced base nutrients at appropriate feeding levels are less susceptible to these diseases. Silica supplements, in the form of potassium silicate, will harden plants’ cell walls to shield them from harm. Using the best beneficial fungal and bacterial products early in a plant’s life will create an environment that is unwelcoming to disease-causing villains.
Bends and breaks in stems can bring on the bad guys, so be careful not to damage stalks when using stakes or trellises. Water temperatures above 72°, as well as overwatering and inconsistent watering, can lead to root rot associated with anaerobic bacteria. Chill reservoirs and maintain appropriate watering schedules.

When plants are in the flowering cycle, take steps to increase essential-oil production. There are some products that can bring out resins in your plants to protect flowers and leaves from unwanted microorganisms. This is no surprise, as many antimicrobial cleaning products contain essential oils (orange, thyme, pine, clove, etc).

Keep your garden space clean and free of debris. Use quality inputs. Be diligent in controlling relative humidity, temperature levels and other environmental factors.  Healthy plants, like healthy people, don’t usually get sick.

Related Articles:

Tomatoes Tomatoes!:   http://www.advancednutrients.com/articles.php?articleID=50

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Check out these tips on identifying plant disease.
Last modified on Friday, 28 September 2012 18:48

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