Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thousands of Flower Cultivars on Display at Penn State's Trials near Lancaster

Sometimes you just need a break from the gloom and doom of mid-summer plant disease epidemics (late blight) and want to look at pretty flowers. So that’s what I did this week and visited Penn State’s Southeast Pennsylvania Research and Extension Center, near Lancaster.

Each year, more than 1000 different cultivars of flowering annual plants are established and evaluated by Sr. Extension Educator, Alan Michael. Quite an undertaking. The results are of great interest to plant breeders, salesfolks, garden center managers, greenhouse operators, and plant lovers in general. As I write this, hundreds of folks are attending the open house which is held each July. I snuck out a day early to avoid the crowds. My pal Al gave me a personal tour of the trial highlights. One of the great things about the research center is that you, too, can drop in for a visit any weekday between 8 a.m and 3 p.m. The plants are well labeled and you are welcome to do a self-guided tour. I highly recommend it. Or do a virtual tour by visiting this website.

I am more of a fruit and vegetable guy than a posy lover but man does not live by bread alone so I also try to learn something about the ornamental plants. The Coleus and Petunia cultivars are knockouts. It is worth the trip just to see ‘Pretty Much Picasso’ Petunia. Begonias for full sunlight are stunning. Do you know Angelonia? Torenia? How about Calitunia (a Petunia x Calibrachoa cross). A handy cultivar list provided at the trials makes note taking easy.

So before the summer is over, take a day trip to the Flower Trials at Penn State’s research farm. Stop in Lancaster for a whoopee pie. If you’re free this Saturday, July 25, check out the “Summer Garden Experience”. It includes free lectures, Master Gardener demonstrations, a native plant sale and, of course, the flower trials.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Late Blight of Tomato Continues to Spread

You’ve been warned. Late blight is here and continues to affect commercial and home plantings of tomato and potato. A farmer friend called me minutes ago to report a farm right across the river where tomato was confirmed with late blight.

Now it seems a matter of time before we see wholesale injury to this popular crop. Although relatively dry weather has prevailed recently, morning dew in enough to support late blight infection.

I could say more but my co-horts in Lehigh Co have done a great job. See this link.

The best pictures I've seen are from Cornell.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Late blight of tomato and potato arrives early this year

I had hoped that I would not write about late blight this year. Usually it is August or September before late blight rears its head in our area. So writing about it in early July is a bad sign for gardeners and farmers. But it is here. A perverse combination of the widespread sale of infected tomato plants and abnormally cool, wet, weather in June was the perfect storm. The disease has been confirmed in almost all Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, including in Lancaster and Lehigh counties in southeastern Pennsylvania.

This devastating fungal disease is a threat to all tomato and potato growers. It is the same fungus that was involved in the Irish potato famine of the 1840’s. While no one will starve in 2009 due to late blight, it appears that we are in for an unusually early and wide spread epidemic. Plant pathologists are reporting that this is the earliest the organism has been found in such a wide spread area of the Northeast U.S. The problem is, this fungus can travel many miles in the air, settling out on host plants and spreading infections. Apparently, widespread sale of infected transplants has inoculated the northeast. Many of these locations will be home gardens where it will go unnoticed until it is too late. Nearby commercial plantings are at risk.

The fungal pathogen involved in late blight disease is Phytophthora infestans. It thrives under cool (60-70 degree) moist (dew rain, humidity) conditions. Host plants include tomato, potato, other tomato family plants and, believe it or not, petunia. Foliage, stems and fruit blackens. Unlike the slow progression of early blight described in the previous blog, late blight moves like lightning. That’s why plant pathologists watch like hawks for its emergence and alert commercial growers to its presence.

Fungicides can protect plants and limit the spread of the disease. Famers have good options but must be vigilant and proactive. Gardeners have the fungicides chlorothalonil and copper. Copper is a poor second choice but some forms are organically approved. More details, instructions and pictures from Cornell University can be found here. And at this Penn State site. Plant pathologists recommend treating now, rather than waiting for signs of infection. This fungus is amongus.