Powdery mildew on your plants? Here’s how you can prevent or manage it organically

Composite image | Background photo courtesy of Melinda Myers, photo of woman by STUDIOGRANDOUEST / iStock / Getty Images Plus, St. George News

FEATURE – Have you noticed spots and patches of white or gray talcum powder-like substance on your plants? If so, it means powdery mildew has infected your plant. But don’t despair. You can reduce the risk of this disease with proper plant selection, maintenance and if needed organic intervention.

Powdery mildew is one of the most widespread fungal diseases, and it attacks a wide range of plants. You may see mildew on a variety of trees, shrubs, flowers, vegetables and lawn grasses. It is most common during hot dry weather.

Wet foliage does not increase the risk of this disease, but high humidity does. You’ll typically see more mildew problems in crowded plantings, damp and shady locations and areas with poor air circulation.

Powdery mildew, like other diseases, occurs when the fungal organism and susceptible plants are present together and the environmental conditions are right for the disease to occur. Remove one of these factors and you eliminate the disease. You can’t change the weather, but there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of powdery mildew.

Avoid purchasing mildew susceptible plants. Instead select disease resistant varieties whenever possible. Fortunately, many new varieties of phlox, bee balm, lilacs and other mildew-resistant plants are now available at your favorite garden center.

Further decrease the risk by growing plants at the recommended spacing in the preferred amount of sunlight. Giving plants room to reach full size ensures they will receive sufficient sunlight and air circulation, thus reducing the risk of this and other diseases. Your plants will be healthier and better looking when they have space to show off their beauty.

Thin susceptible varieties of perennial plantings like phlox and bee balm in spring as new growth emerges. Removing one fourth of the stems increases light penetration and airflow reducing the risk of powdery mildew. Grow vine crops like cucumbers and squash on trellises and fences to accomplish the same results. Support large fruits of squash and melons with cloth slings anchored to the trellis.

Avoid excessive nitrogen fertilization, which encourages lush succulent growth that is more susceptible to this and other diseases and many insect problems. Consider using low-nitrogen, slow-release fertilizers that promote slow steady growth above and below ground.

If mildew continues to be a problem and is impacting the health and beauty of your plants, you may decide to intervene. Lightweight horticultural oils trap the fungal spores on the plant preventing it from spreading. Select OMRI-certified products like Summit Year-Round Spray Oil that are approved for organic gardeners.

Always read and follow label directions of all chemicals – organic or synthetic – before applying to any plant. Thorough coverage of the upper and lower leaf surfaces and stems will improve your success rate.

Check plant tags, purchase wisely and adjust plant maintenance to reduce powdery mildew problems in your landscape. A bit of prevention and proper care go a long way to reducing the time spent maintaining healthy, productive and beautiful gardens and landscapes.

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