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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Phyto... what?

Does this look familiar?

If any plants in your garden have this appearance and you're wondering what it is, then your plants probably have a bad case of phytophthora - a slow-moving but hard-to-combat fungus-like rot that can wipe out entire beds. Originally classified as a fungus, it is actually now considered an oomycetes, which grows in warm, moist soil and basically causes the plant to rot from the inside out.

According to the UC Integrated Pest Management website, the pathogen initially makes plants look like they are suffering from drought, and plants will wilt and die quickly with the first warm weather of the season. Leaves can also turn dull green or yellow.

So what are you supposed to do to combat this annoying disease, which took out some of our purple sage? The best thing to do is to make sure the area has good drainage and don't over-water. Once it has infected an area, try not to spread the soil or plants to other areas, and you can also try rotating in more resistant plants that require less water or are acid-loving. Be sure not to plant things like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers or pole beans in areas previously affected because those plants are particularly susceptible. Other alternatives are solarization (covering the area to warm it up enough to sterilize the soil) or fungicides.

In this particular instance we removed the sage and planted basil. The basil is a short-lived crop and will be removed in the fall anyway, so we are hoping that the phtyophthera will not move fast enough to affect the new plants.

For more information about phytophthora, visit the UC IPM website.

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