Backyard Gardener: Blame dry soil for blossom end rot
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When Dennis James examined his 8-foot-tall tomato plants, he discovered a large black spot on the bottom of an unripe Roma tomato. His Monroeville garden has been thriving and his heart sank, thinking he was looking at late blight.
After scouring the Internet and not finding any evidence of the disease in the area, he thought, "I'm the one who's starting the plague," he said. The 62-year-old Australian native had battled the dreaded tomato disease in 2009.
After sending me a picture, he was relieved to find out the problem is blossom end rot, something that is prevalent for tomatoes during dry spells. It's still a problem, but he did the right thing by identifying the problem before taking action.
The condition manifests itself when the plant can't get enough calcium, usually due to uneven watering. The calcium is most probably in the soil. The tomato just can't uptake it when the soil dries out.
Certain tomatoes are prone to the problem -- paste tomatoes and plants grown in containers are the most likely to be affected.
Often it's only the first fruit that have the problem, and sometimes they heal up. The sunken black area becomes hard and can be cut out at harvest.
To combat blossom end rot, make sure the soil for tomatoes stays evenly moist. A thick layer of mulch is helpful, keeping the dirt wet and cool. Water plants deeply in the morning, which allows the foliage to dry out, preventing fungal diseases.
Mr. James never gardened in Australia, taking up the hobby upon moving here. He grows lots of peppers in containers, overwintering the plants inside and returning them to the garden after the chance of frost has passed.
His wife Leslie enjoys the produce he picks out of the garden. Even though they might lose a few tomatoes to blossom end rot, the couple is relieved late blight hasn't reached their tomatoes. "I feel much better," Mr. James said. "We like tomatoes a lot."
Speaking of late blight, it has been sighted in Allegheny County. If a plant contracts late blight it will die. The disease is airborne, so infected plants need to be bagged, burned or buried. To prevent late blight on tomatoes, use a fungicide as directed. My favorite is an organic product called Serenade. It's a biological control that attacks the fungal spores.
Most important get a proper diagnosis of the disease, so you're sure you're actually dealing with late blight.
First Published July 14, 2012 12:00 am