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Tomato blight is affecting area plants

FINGER LAKES—Check your tomato and potato plants very carefully, they could be in trouble. The wet, chilly weather this spring and early summer has been very conductive for disease development and one of the most significant problems this year is late blight, a destructive disease.
This has become a much more serious issue this year due to widespread retail distribution of tomato plants infected with late blight that were sold through stores from Maine to Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The plants were on sale for weeks before the infection was discovered. Many of those plants are being removed from stores in the Northeast, but people who may have purchased plants from large retailers should inspect their plants for late blight.
Alan Fuller, live nursery specialist at Lowe’s in Big Flats, said the Alabama grower Bonnie’s pulled all their tomato plants from the store two weeks ago. Fuller said people have been calling in about the problem. He said, “People calling in are being told to bring back the plants. If they have the receipt a refund will be issued. If not, they will receive store credit.” Fuller said he has worked for Lowe’s for 12 years and they never had a problem with Bonnie’s before.
Thomas Zitter, Department of Plant Pathology at Cornell University, outlined the method of identification of late blight, which he characterized as quite dramatic and very obvious to the naked eye. He recommends examining tomato and potato plants on a daily basis.
Zitter said the occurrence of late blight this year is different compared to most seasons in that this is the earliest the disease has been reported over such a broad region of the country. The second and more tragic for the Northeast, according to Zitter, was that infected plants were distributed to large retail stores throughout the region, noting there has never been such an extensive distribution of infected plants before.
There is no remedy for the disease for the home gardener other than removal of infected plants from the garden. Infected plants should not be composted because the spores that cause late blight could remain in compost and infect plants another year or spread to other areas on the wind. Diseased plants should be pulled up, bagged and placed in the garbage.
There are some other diseases that while serious, are not as devastating as late blight. Early blight and Septoria leaf spot are other diseases that develop during chilly, wet seasons. Septoria has an appearance somewhat similar to late blight. Yates Master Gardeners at Cornell Cooperative Extension at the Yates County office building on Liberty Street in Penn Yan can assist in identification of the disease or answer other gardening questions and concerns. They can be reached at 315-536-5123.  For Schuyler County Cornell Cooperative Extension, call 607-535-7161.

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