Sanitation is a key to growing healthy, disease-free plants. If you are growing plants in pots, baskets, or raised containers, start with sterile potting media. Old potting media can be full of pathogens ready to attack new plants. Pathogens like Pythium or Phytophthora can survive in soil for years. Using sterile pots goes hand in hand with using sterile soil. Scrub used pots with a stiff brush to remove all soil and organic debris. After a thorough cleaning, sterilize pots by soaking for at least 30 minutes in a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water (about 12 ounces of bleach per gallon).
Dirty equipment is a common means of spreading pathogens to healthy plants. Remember to scrub garden tools and soak them in a bleach solution at the start of the season and after using them to cut or dig around diseased plants. Rinse metal tools after the bleach treatment to avoid corrosion. Alcohol can be used to disinfect cutting tools and is less corrosive than bleach.
Now that you have clean pots, tools, and media, it’s time to pick your plants. Always buy healthy plants from a reliable source: pathogens can enter the garden on diseased plants. A well-run nursery should be very clean, with few weeds, algae, or loose soil on the ground or benches. Nurseries with neat, well-organized displays, minimal crowding, and plants that are neither to wet nor too dry probably use good practices overall and are likely to sell only the healthiest plants. Cull piles and dumpsters should be far away from the sales and production areas. Mimic these practices if you are propagating your own plants.
|Good Practices: Notice the clean benches (Photo: B. Shew)|
|Poor Practice: Algae, Standing Water, Organic Debris (Photo: E. Lookabaugh)|
|Poor Practice: Cull pile next to healthy plants (Photo: E. Lookabaugh)|
|Nice White Roots (Photo: E. Lookabaugh)|
In the landscape, rake up old mulch, fallen leaves and other debris before planting and LIGHTLY cover the area with a new layer of mulch after planting. Once you are done planting, be sure to monitor plants closely. Promptly remove all fallen leaves, spent flowers, unwanted produce, and dead or cankered stems. In many cases, composting cannot be counted on to kill pathogens, so promptly destroy any materials you removed from diseased plants or their surroundings.
|Remove fallen, diseased flowers to prevent inoculum splashing up (Photo: B. Shew)|
|Sometimes gardening is best done with a buddy!|