Category Archives: Plant Problems & Diseases

Wilting Squash Vines…Well, That’s a Bad Sign!

I took a bunch of pictures of all the of vine plants this morning to take an early season tour through the Vertical Garden, and everything was looking pretty good, for the most part. Then I stepped out of the office for a couple minutes this afternoon to take a break from the new carpet & glue fumes, and noticed this…

**Sigh**. Seriously?!?! Looking at this wilty squash plant (It’s the ‘Sunshine’ Kabocha, in case you’re interested), there were 3 possible problems. 1 – the plant needs water. Nope, the soil was moist. Darn…that’s the easy fix! 2 – That pesky overwatered & damaged the roots problem. Well, theoretically possible, but we’ve been pretty careful recently, and it has been plenty hot to keep things from staying too wet very long. 3 – Squash Vine Borers have attacked. We have been scouting, but that’s not perfect.

So, I checked out the base of the plant for signs of invaders.

I realize it is kind of hard to see in this picture, but there are the few spots where you can see the orange goo oozing out. That is textbook squash vine borer damage. GRR! I was so hoping we wouldn’t have any this year due to the fresh soil… Oh well, I guess I can be overly optimistic at times if I want to be. Not that it’s a good way to keep plants healthy, but it’s fun while it lasts.

So, what do we do from here? Well, the catch with squash vine borer is that once it is at this point – inside the plants – there isn’t really much to do about it. Some people have good luck with surgery – going in with a knife and extracting the caterpillar, then mounding soil over the wound and hope it puts down some roots and keeps growing. Since our plantings were relatively thick to start with (more plants than we needed), I’m tempted to cut this plant out and spray any other plants, in hopes that we aren’t too late to prevent further loss.

For anyone that has never had the pleasure of dealing with squash vine borer, the only way to kill the caterpillars is to spray the base of the plants regularly with an insecticide in hopes of killing the caterpillars before they bore into the stems. Sevin or Permethrin would be conventional options. Spinosad would be an organic option.

I hope we’re not too late to catch most of the critters, because we have a LOT of squash planted in the garden this year!

Hail Damage & Recovery

The hailstorm last Wednesday evening didn’t appear to cause much, if any, damage in the Demo Garden. (Thank goodness! We didn’t need more challenges this year!) My community garden plot, on the other hand, took quite a bit of damage. I thought I would share some of the pictures with you all, as well as how we chose to clean up afterwards.

(I promise that eventually, someday, we will be back to posting pictures of beautiful plants and succulent harvests. For the time being, it would seem that we are stuck with more death and destruction.)

About half of our tomato plants came through pretty well. the other half are in pretty bad shape. Of course, the one that looks the worst is our Chocolate Cherry plant. You can see the battered appearance in the picture, but let’s take a closer look.

You can see here that the stems have some severe injury and are almost shredded. The wounds were severe enough that I chose to cut these branches off, even though I could see some new growth coming out. The stems were slightly squishy where wounded, and this type of damage is just asking for strange diseases to take over.

By the time I was done pruning out the damage on our poor Chocolate Cherry tomato, I think all the possible new growth sites were gone. No leaf axils for potential buds even. (I had pruned out the lower suckers before leaving town 2 weeks ago, so even those were gone!) We found a plant at the Farmers Market on Saturday and stuck it in next to the remaining stub to start growing.

The other thing I had to do was go through and pick off all the tomatoes that were damaged. The open wounds, like the one above are another great place for diseases to enter and rot the fruit. No thank you! We lost a lot of tomatoes (either knocked off by hail or badly damaged), but not as many as I was afraid we might. That said, on a plant that is severely damaged, you should probably pick off all the fruit to give the plant a chance to recover some growth. Our roma tomato plants were relatively unscathed, luckily.

Our kale & Swiss Chard were both pretty well flattened. My husband cut everything back to about 1-2″ off the ground and picked up all the leaves. Again, we’re just trying to avoid collecting any diseases or insects that would take advantage of a weakened plant.

As bad as the tomatoes, kale, and chard looked, the cucumbers by far took the brunt of the damage. We were pretty much left with cucumber sticks.

The squash…well, it was pretty well squashed. I picked off all the baby squash and then cut back all the damaged stalks and leaves. Oh yeah, and while I was doing that I found Squash Vine Borer eggs on the base of the plant. ARGH! I picked them off, but we’ll probably go out and spray with spinosad if we remember.

Here’s my Chocolate Cherry after pruning. I think you can see why I chose to get another plant to put in. Not much hope for regrowth there. Still, I’m going to leave it for a couple weeks just to see if the plant will generate any buds. Sometimes they will.

You can see signs of growth on the cucumber vine sticks. I think most of the cucumbers will make it, but just to be safe, we put a few more seeds in. If necessary, we’ll prune out some of the extra plants later.

The Swiss Chard & kale are both putting on some nice new growth. I expect that in a couple of weeks, we won’t be able to tell the difference! (Well, the planting might be thinner, but we were going to have to thin the plants out soon anyway.)

The squash plant put on new growth pretty quickly. Now if we can only beat out those vine borers…

We don’t have any root crops in our garden, so if you have beets, carrots, or onions that were severely damaged you should assess the size of the roots. The thing with root crops is that they’ve been storing energy in the roots, which we eat. If they were already sizing up and get hailed on, the plant will steal energy from the roots to put on new leaves. You could end up with a situation where you end up with small, poor quality root crops if you let them go. If you have decent size on the roots already, you may be better off harvesting them now.

Friday PhotoEssay

I think we’ll call this week’s Friday PhotoEssay the “Death & Destruction” Edition. I was out of state since last week, and then was welcomed back home on Wednesday with a lovely hailstorm. Luckily, the garden doesn’t look much the worse for wear due to hail. Unluckily, there are a few things going on that are probably due to the learning curve with our new garden and not much we can do about it.

This pepper plant (and some of the others) are showing this stunted, distorted new growth. I think there are two possibilities – either herbicide injury (we’ll discuss that in a bit), or thrips. We had thrips like crazy last year, but it doesn’t look quite the same to my eye.

Here is a bean in the “Beautiful Vegetable” Garden that is showing similar stunted, distorted new growth. Hmm…I’m sensing a pattern here…

The Black Sesame seedlings are still pretty tiny, but actually looking quite good, comparatively.

I think this is the second planting of this ‘White Egg’ Eggplant, and this plant is already getting heavily chewed. I saw another pesky cucumber beetle on it. For some reason they are leaving the cucumbers alone so far and attacking the eggplant. (Not that I particularly mind that!)

The French Marigolds are looking nice in the Edible Flower garden, even if not particularly tasty.

This one isn’t nearly as difficult to diagnose with certainty as the pepper and bean above. This tomato is showing very clear signs of phenoxy herbicide damage. The most common herbicide that causes this injury is 2,4-D. UGH! If the damage isn’t very severe, the plants usually recover from it. If the damage is quite severe, the plant will remain stunted and have much reduced yields. Most of our tomato plants are showing this damage, which isn’t surprising as they are some of the most susceptible plants. (Grapes and redbuds are also highly susceptible.) I can’t tell yet how bad the damage is. The question is…where did it come from?

To be clear, I also suspect that the peppers and beans showing symptoms also have the phenoxy injury.

This squash plant is also showing some slight distortion to the leaves and veins. I would say the squash, melons, and cucumbers are the least affected, with more variation between varieties.

So, where did the herbicide damage come from? 2,4-D herbicide injury is very common on garden plants in the spring in Kansas because it is widely used to treat dandelions and other broadleaf weeds in lawns as well as broadleaf weeds in corn fields or other crops. It is very easily volatilized, which means it can get on the wind and blow for long distances, especially if someone sprays the herbicide on a day with wind. (Just as an aside, if you really want to control dandelions, you are better off spraying in the late fall rather than in the spring when you see them bloom.)

However, we’ve never really experienced herbicide damage in our garden and we don’t use 2,4-D on our grounds in the spring. It is possible it came from somewhere else nearby. I’m also wondering if there is some other herbicide residues in the compost we got… It is theoretically possible that there was some type of herbicide residue in the feed or bedding the horses used that was not completely broken down during the composting process. If that is the case, there really isn’t anything we can do about it. Most herbicides should be completely dissipated by 1 year later.

It looks like we’re in for a rough gardening year, even if the weather continues to cooperate!

A Couple of Garden Problems

Looking over the garden this morning after the weekend, I spotted a couple of things going on that will result in replacing a couple of plants around the garden.

This is the first problem I noticed. I saw it when the damage was fresh Saturday morning as well. While it is theoretically possible that there was a weak spot on the stem that the wind snapped, I think that the most likely culprit in this case is a cutworm. Cutworms like to wrap around the stems of young seedlings or transplants and chew them off. That is exactly what this looks like. This pepper plant is done for, at this point. We will be replanting this one tomorrow.

This tomato plant is the worst, although I can see 3 or 4 others with similar symptoms. At first glance, most people would say that the plant is wilting and needs a drink of water. Very tempting response! However, there were three things that made me question that immediate reaction. First, while the plant is wilted, there is no sign of leaf scorch or similar damage that there should have been after the warm weekend. Second, I felt the soil a couple of inches down and in felt moist. If the plant can’t get water out of that soil, then it has some type of root damage, but isn’t yet to the point of scorching. Also, the lower leaves were looking rather yellow, which to me says that the plant has either been getting too much water or it is suffering from too few or too many nutrients.

What I am wondering is if in our concern for keeping the soil moist enough for our germinating seeds, we actually OVER-watered the tomatoes last week. As tempting as it is to put more water on a wilty plant, I’m going to try to hold off the watering and see if they will perk up again. If not, we’ve got some plants in reserve to replace the couple sickly looking plants.

It is theoretically possible that these plants were planted in a localized hot spot due to the compost that we used. I haven’t gotten all the results back yet, but I expect some high numbers. Or…maybe the nitrogen has all been leached out…that also causes yellowing. (But not wilting.) Hmm…

Vegetable Garden Fertilizers & Pesticides

With the gardening season well underway, thanks to the early, warm spring, I think lots of Kansas gardeners are trying their best to make sure that they have a great garden this year, after the dismal year we had last year. As you are getting your garden started, I would encourage you to take extra care in choosing what you apply to your garden. Many of the products that we routinely use for flowers and other ornamentals are not safe to use on your vegetable garden!

It is very tempting to grab that bag of fertilizer or bottle of pesticide that you bought for your lawn or trees or flowers and use it on your vegetable garden. Sometimes, that is okay. Other times, it can be a BIG problem. Before you apply any product – fertilizer, herbicide, insecticide, fungicide – read the label! It should clearly state that it is safe to use on vegetables. If you are in doubt at all, go buy a product that is specifically for vegetable gardens.

I can’t emphasize enough….READ THE LABEL BEFORE USING ANYTHING!!!

Fertilizers are usually not a problem, as long as they are not combined with another product. The biggest mistake people make is using a “Weed & Feed” product they bought for their lawn. Yes, you might want to prevent weeds in your vegetable garden, but the particular herbicides in those  Weed & Feed products are designed to kill plants like your vegetables. Some of those herbicides will persist in the soil and cause problems for your vegetables for 6-12 months!

Insecticides and fungicides are another issue. Herbicides prevent plants from growing, so you are unlikely to even get a crop. With insecticides and fungicides, a product that is not specifically labeled for use on vegetables may not be safe to use. Those residues may be in or on the plant, causing unknown harm. While unlikely that you would immediately get sick from eating a tomato with a chemical residue not intended for consumption, it is not a good idea to take a risk on pesticides that have not been labeled for use on a food crop or that are at a higher concentration than is labeled for safe use on food crops. You want to consider both short-term and long-term health in those cases, especially if you have young children or elderly in your family.

I personally would avoid consuming produce from a garden that has been treated with a product that is not labeled for edibles. I don’t think it is worth the risk.