Whitesburg KY

Tomato blight threatens local crops

Home gardeners are being warned of a late blight that could quickly destroy tomato crops.

Shad Baker, an agent with the Letcher County Extension Offi ce, said cases of late blight have recently been found in Fayette County and could soon be affecting tomato plants in Letcher County.

Baker said late blight, which can destroy a tomato plant in as little as a few days, was found in plants transported from Michigan.

“It wipes out the plant before they are able to pick tomatoes,” he said. “With late blight it happens very fast and works high in the plant and works its way down.

Kenneth W. Seebold Jr. , Ph.D., Extension plant pathologist with the University of Kentucky, said late blight is caused by Phytophthora infestans, a fungus-like organism.

“(Late blight) is a fast-moving and highly destructive disease of tomatoes and potatoes under cool and wet conditions,” said Seebold. “All plant parts are affected, including fruit and tubers. Total losses are common in gardens and fields if control measures are not put in place. “

Seebold said early symptoms of late blight are large water-soaked blotches on foliage that enlarge and form green-to-brown lesions.

“The plant dies at once,” said Baker. “The fruit begins to rot. It’s like a fast moving cancer. It just wipes it out.”

Seebold said once the late blight hits a tomato crop there is nothing a gardener can do to save his/her tomato plants.

Baker said people should buy a garden spray containing chlorothalonil fungicide and follow directions on the container of the garden spray.

“They are going to need to follow that spray schedule until they harvest,” said Baker.

Seebold said prevention is important to saving tomato plants.

“If you are not spraying, you are going to lose some tomatoes,” he said.

Seebold said diseases often affect tomato plants, but the late blight is the only one that kills the plant so fast and quickly spreads to other tomato plants.

“Once it gets out into a landscape it just explodes,” said Seebold.

Seebold said late blight usually occurs once every five years, but late blight destroyed tomatoes crops last July. He said the blight showed up on plants in larger retail centers which people bought and planted their gardens. He isn’t sure if this late blight is a continuance from last year or if it is diff erent.

Baker lost all 15 of his tomato plants last summer.

“If we continue to have a hot, wet summer this could continue to be a problem,” said Baker.

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