Gardeners' World: Monty Don on dealing with tomato blight
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Every year gardeners will desperately seek out a tomato blight treatment to help salvage their homegrown crop of tomatoes. Even those who pride themselves as an expert at growing tomatoes, chances are they’ll have encountered this devastating disease at some point. Tomato blight is among the worst problems affecting tomatoes. It is the same fungus that can turn potatoes to mush and similarly affects tomatoes, which are cousins of the tubers.
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With tomato blight one moment the plant can be looking lush and healthy, the sweet smell of the ripening fruits filling the air – but then within only a few days it can be ravaged by blight which can sweep through them like wildfire.
Because tomato blight is spread by airborne spores carried on the wind, and it likes warm, wet conditions, outdoor grown tomatoes are more susceptible to it than those grown in the greenhouse.
Tammy Sons of Tennessee Wholesale Nursery explained what tomato blight looks like.
She said: “In the early stages of late tomato blight, the bottom leaves get affected first with black rings of powdery blight.
“This makes the leaves turn pale green to a musty yellow in colour and appearance.The leaves eventually get so infected they drop.
“As the blight progresses up the stalk of the tomato vine, the tomatoes get brown spots on them as the entire plant becomes infested.
“End-stage blight makes the entire tomatoes rot from the blight infection.”
So how can gardeners stop tomato blight? The simple answer is that they can’t stop tomato blight altogether – but they can take steps to prevent the chances of infection occurring.
Simon Crawford at Burpee Europe explained: “There are no chemical controls for tomato blight available to the home gardener.
“But rather than turning to tomato blight treatment once your crop has been affected, two other key methods should be used to control the disease: environmental management and the use of resistant varieties.”
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Keeping tomato plants dry is a great way to prevent this disease from forming.
Simon said: “Environmental control must focus on reducing the likelihood of leaves remaining wet for an extended period, so trimming foliage and side-shoots to maximise air movement and ensure the evaporation of surface moisture is essential.”
Those growing tomato plants in a greenhouse, avoid these becoming too humid by keeping them well ventilated.
Likewise, pick a well ventilated spot for growing the tomatoes outside.
Support bush tomato plants with a stake to keep their leaves off the soil, or tie up cordon tomatoes regularly with soft twine to improve air circulation.
Simon suggested: “Bush varieties grown in pots can be trimmed and partially supported with a bamboo cane to avoid a dense mass of foliage.”
The expert also highlighted the importance of good plant hygiene to prevent blight forming and spreading.
He said: “Proper composting of plant waste is of paramount importance and ‘plant dumps’ must be eliminated in garden and allotment situations to reduce infection.
“Clear as many old potatoes as possible from a plot.”
Tammy advised gardeners against planting tomatoes in soil or compost that has previously contained diseased plants.
She said: “Tomato blight spores can stay in the ground for three to four years. We’ve found that history will repeat itself.”
As mentioned earlier, gardeners can grow blight-resistant tomatoes to avoid this issue too.
Simon said: “Many modern tomato varieties have made growing outdoor tomatoes easier because of earlier ripening and improved disease resistance.
“‘Merrygold’ tomatoes are the world’s first blight resistant orange fruit variety. This plant is high yielding, producing a mass of brightly, rich orange tomatoes.
“With super blight resistance, ‘Cocktail Crush’ tomatoes are ideal for growing outdoors.”
The expert also listed “Crimson Blush” tomatoes as a “blight resistant variety”.
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