Agencies urge gardeners to check for blight

Posted June 29, 2009, at 9:50 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Agriculture experts across the state are asking home gardeners to check their tomato and potato plants for symptoms of late blight, a highly destructive disease.

The Maine Department of Agriculture, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and the Maine Organic Gardeners and Farmers Association are all watching the spread of late blight, which was the cause of the Ireland potato famine in the 19th century.

“We are urging home gardeners, especially those who may have recently planted tomato seedlings from a big-box store, to check for this disease,” Jim Dwyer, University of Maine potato specialist, said in a press release.

The signs include irregularly shaped, water-soaked, greasy gray spots surrounded by white mold, which eventually turn into blackened areas on the stems and leaves. These blackened areas dry up, wilt and die.

“Because the tomato fruits will be ruined by this fungus and the threat of late blight spreading to potatoes, home gardeners that find late blight on their plants should pull, bag and throw out these plants. They should not put them on the compost pile,” Dwyer advised.

Late blight was detected in potatoes in a commercial field and on tomatoes in a home garden in New York last week. Experts said this is the fourth year late blight has been discovered on Long Island but the earliest it has ever previously been found was Aug. 24.

The long stretch of cool, cloudy and rainy weather this June has provided classic conditions for the spores of this fungus to disperse, the press release said. The disease was also discovered in tomato seedlings stocked in the garden centers of large retailers in Maine.

The company that produced the seedlings, Bonnie Plants, a large supplier of vegetable, herb and flower transplants based in Alabama, has cooperated fully and pulled its stock from sale and arranged for its destruction.

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