25 March 2011

Plant Health

Many diseases of plants can be kept at bay with good cultural practices.  Keeping plants healthy actually begins with choosing the right plants for your location.  It also includes proper watering and nutrition and cleaning of plant material and the surrounding areas.

When choosing plants for your garden, what type of lighting conditions prevail where you are planting?  Is it shady all day or is it sunny?  Perhaps the area only gets sun in the morning or afternoon for part of the day.  This affects not only the types of plants that will perform well in those conditions, but also how much watering you’ll need to do during the season.  If the area remains wet all the time, it will predispose the plants and soil to disease.  So for a shady garden, you will not need to water as frequently as you would for a sunny location.  It is also important to water in the morning, or at least well enough in advance so that the plants are not wet at nightfall.
Fertilizing your plants during the growing season on a regular basis is important to plant health and the plants’ resistance to disease.  Just like people, plants need nutrition to stay healthy and perform well.  Flowers will probably need a fertilizer with different concentrations of elements than will vegetables or fruit plants, so it is important to choose the right type of fertilizer for your needs.

Disease can also spread quickly if plants are not kept clean and free of weeds and leaf droppings, especially in poor weather conditions, where high levels of humidity and excessive wetness for prolonged periods of time further promote disease.
It is essential to clean up dead leaves and other plant material that may be lying in the pot or on the ground around the plants.  This is important not only during the growing season, but also at the end of the season.  Some diseases, like certain types of fungus, can overwinter on infected leaves and once the weather begins to warm up, the spores they produce become active again and you may end up starting the season with unwanted disease problems.

Weed control is also important.  Weeds can carry disease and also harbor pests of the insect variety which can spread to your plants.  A great example of this is the insect known as the “whitefly.”  There are over 1500 species of whiteflies throughout the world.  Whiteflies are normally found on the underside of plant leaves and will feed on the leaves, causing the plants to wilt if the infestation is not controlled.  Whiteflies can also spread disease among plants.  Keeping your garden free of weeds will help to discourage this problem.
You can check with your local garden center or Cooperative Extension office for help in identifying diseases and insects and finding the best treatment.  Keeping your plants healthy helps your plants to stay more naturally resistant to disease, and that means less work and more enjoyment for you.

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