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Natural Controls For That Fungus Among Us

Don Trotter

Hello fellow Earthlings, and welcome to disease control 101 for your garden. In this discussion we will be looking at those unseen disease organisms that are of constant concern for gardeners in any location and climate. So lets take a walk out to the garden and look at the places were these bacteria, fungi, and viruses live and how to put a monkey wrench in their plans to damage our plants.

Disease organisms that attack plant tissue are little understood critters that inter your plants in a number of ways. The most common entry into your plants is through wakened or stressed tissue. The entry may be through a wound in the plant, an unhealed scar, or within the saliva of certain plant juice-sucking insects that inject the toxins into the plant when feeding. These are just a few of ways that disease organisms can enter your plants.

The old "ounce of prevention" axiom definitely holds true when considering diseases of plants. By far the easiest way to prevent diseases from attacking your precious plants is to grow healthy plants! Using natural gardening techniques is a very good way to ensure you grow healthy plants. Natural/ organic gardening practices are very efficient ways to make sure that pathogenic disease organisms have competition for energy and that beneficial organisms that may actually prey on them are present and active. This battlefield of biology can take place on a single spec of soil or on the leaf of your favorite rose.

The war of good vs. bad organisms is as old as the Earth itself and is known as "competitive exclusion". By promoting the proliferation of beneficial organisms in your garden you automatically reduce the chances of pathogenic organisms taking hold. The best way do this is to garden naturally!

The most effective way to begin the process of competitive exclusion is to apply copious amounts of organic matter to your garden soil. This can be achieved by adding composts, organic mulches, and manures to your soil each season. The addition of any of these types of organic matter will encourage the growth of beneficial organisms while it improves the physical quality of your soil. These beneficial organisms will proliferate in your rich, organically tended soil and fight off those evil microbes that attack your plants. Adding a 3 to 4 inch layer of composted manure, backyard compost, or organic mulch will ensure that these good guys have plenty of energy to keep the bad guys at bay.

Many gardeners use a variety of chemical fungicides to compete with disease organisms in order to keep their gardens disease free. This is a very counter productive and environmentally insensitive method. If one is inclined to spray, it is the goal of this natural gardener to give you some alternatives to synthetic chemicals. Some very good fungicidal materials from natural sources are as follows:

Lime/Sulfur sprays: These materials are derived from naturally occurring minerals that are combined with water and sprayed onto plants affected by powdery mildew, rust, black spot, and a number of other disease organisms. It is widely distributed by retailers and can be found at most garden centers.

Copper: Copper sulfate is probably one of most widely used fungicides by farmers and gardeners alike. It is effective at controlling a wide variety of disease organisms. It is easily found at all nurseries and garden centers and is a very powerful material.

Neem: The oil extracted from the seed of the Neem tree of India is an effective control for many disease organisms, especially on roses. Neem is also used as an insecticide and is used in soaps and toothpastes to fight bacteria as well.

I have a home brewed fungicide that has worked for many years in controlling a number of fungi on veggies and roses. It consists of equal parts of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide (5 tablespoons) mixed into a gallon of water. I use this one when powdery mildew gets out of hand on my squash or peas. I also use this one on roses when that bloody rust shows up. I also use it on black spot and downy mildew on roses and grapes.

There are no shortages of disease pathogens that can take hold in the garden. The natural gardener is the most prepared to take the rascals on. Next time we will be discussing some natural care techniques for your houseplants. See you in the Garden!

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