Category Archives: The Garden

Family Garden Journal Introductory Price Ends January 2017

The Family Garden JournalThe new compact edition of The Family Garden Journal, published by Homestead on the Range, is currently available for $19.99 at Amazon.  This offer will end at the beginning of the new year!

This beautiful paperback journal can help you or a loved one develop a green thumb while creating a keepsake:

  • Start by planning for success with our Step-by-Step Gardening Guide.
  • Check items off of your shopping list as you collect seeds for the growing season.
  • Mark each plant’s place on your garden map.
  • Build a customized schedule to ensure that each seed makes it into the ground at the proper time.
  • Divide the work among several family members with one handy table.
  • Build your own gardening manual with attractive reference pages and a 366-day journal—now in a handy, compact size.
  • Find out with the turn of a page which plant varieties were your favorites, which pest control methods worked best, and how much produce you harvested.

The Family Garden Journal makes a great gift, so take advantage of the introductory pricing and order a copy or two before Christmas.  Don’t forget to buy one for your own family!

Sample pages are available for preview here.

Verticillium Wilt

Verticillium WiltVerticillium wilt is caused by six different species of fungus, all of the genus Verticillium.  These six fungi can attack most of the plants and trees that gardeners like to grow, including vegetables, fruits, and ornamental plants.

Verticillium fungi spend the winter in plant debris lying on the ground.  Cool, wet weather triggers it to spread rapidly, creeping into wounded tissue or entering the soil where it can be taken up in plant roots.  Once verticillium has established a presence inside a plant, it colonizes the xylem, or vascular tissue, of its host.  When hot weather hits, the fungus interferes with the plant’s ability to transport water to its branches and leaves, causing the demise of the host.



  • Generalized wilting over time.
  • Stunted growth.
  • Yellow leaves with scorched edges.
  • Gradual leaf drop.
  • Brown to black streaks on runners.
  • Wilting and death of branches.
  • Stem discoloration, starting at the base and gradually moving upward.
  • Pinkish potato tubers.
  • Small fruits.
  • Excessive seed production.
  • Premature death.



Unfortunately, there is no fungicide, natural or otherwise, that is entirely effective for treating verticillium wilt.  Annual plants should be carefully bagged up and burned as soon as symptoms appear.  Because verticillium fungi can survive in the soil for over 10 years without a host, a new garden site should be chosen.  If this is not possible, cover the ground with clear plastic and allow the sun to thoroughly cook the soil before further use.

If you want to make an effort to save a valuable perennial plant, note that your options are limited and that you will have to be careful to avoid spreading the fungus to other plants.  Prune out all obviously affected tissue, sterilizing pruning tools in bleach solution between every cut.  Rake up and destroy all fallen leaves and fruits.  Pay close attention to maintaining plant health with adequate water.  If verticillium wilt symptoms worsen or continue into the next growing season, you are probably better off to destroy the plant.



Choosing verticillium-resistant plant varieties is a great starting point.  Otherwise, avoiding this fungal disease is a matter of garden sanitation:

  • Buy seeds from reputable sources.
  • Practice crop rotation in the garden.
  • Keep weeds in check.
  • Don’t overdo the fertilizer, which causes rapid growth of soft, disease-prone tissue.
  • Clean up dead plant matter on a regular basis.


Complete Series

Garden & Orchard DiseasesGarden & Orchard Diseases


Tobacco Mosaic Virus

Tobacco Mosaic VirusTobacco mosaic virus (TMV) has a long history of infecting garden plants. Although its most common victims are members of the nightshade family, it can infect a surprisingly diverse array of garden plants, including:

  • Tomato.
  • Pepper.
  • Potato.
  • Petunia.
  • Impatiens.
  • Chrysanthemum.
  • Geranium.
  • Begonia.
  • Verbena.

TMV is typically spread in sap.  Surprisingly, insects that suck sap from plants do not carry the disease.  Insects that chew leaves, however, spread TMV.  Anything else that has come into contact with sap of infected plants is a potential source of trouble.  Gardeners typically introduce the virus into their garden on seeds, tools, hands, clothing, or tobacco products.

Once TMV has arrived, it can lay dormant in soil and plant debris for as long as 50 years, practically ensuring its permanent residence.  It enters plants through small scrapes and cuts.



  • Stunted growth.
  • Mottled leaves.
  • Yellow leaf veins.
  • Distorted leaf shape.
  • Brown streaks on flowers.
  • Streaked or mottled fruits.
  • Fruit death.


Tobacco Mosaic VirusTreatment

There is no cure for TMV.  All infected plants must be destroyed, as well as any weeds growing nearby.  Treat all gardening tools with disinfectant before further use.



Choosing resistant plant varieties is an excellent first step when trying to prevent a TMV outbreak in your garden.  However, paying attention to garden sanitation is also essential:

  • Buy seeds from reliable sources.
  • Raise your own seedlings.
  • Do not allow anyone to smoke, chew, or carry tobacco products in pockets while in the garden.
  • Wash your hands before touching your plants.
  • Clean garden tools periodically.


Helpful Resource

Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV)
Factsheet from PennState Extension to provide you with more information and preventative measures.


Complete Series

Garden & Orchard DiseasesGarden & Orchard Diseases


Powdery Mildew

Powdery MildewPowdery mildew is caused by one of the most common and widely distributed fungi that plague gardens.  The disease can attack a wide range of plants, as it is caused by several species of the order Erysiphales.  A sampling of commonly affected plants includes:

The fungus arrives on the scene in the form of spores carried by the wind.  It takes up residence in cool, shady areas and places where air does not circulate, and thrives on the soft plant tissues promoted by nitrogen fertilizer.  It overwinters in dormant grass.



Powdery Mildew

  • Poor plant vigor.
  • Stunted plants.
  • White or grayish powdery substance on leaves.
  • Deformed, shriveled, or dead leaves, shoots, vines, and flower buds.
  • Sunburn on fruits.
  • Small, discolored fruits.
  • Prematurely ripened fruit with poor flavor and texture.



Annual vegetables, fruits, and ornamental plants suffering from powdery mildew should ideally be destroyed to prevent the further spread of the disease.  However, if you want to make an attempt to save them, you may have success with a bit of pruning and one of these fungicides:

  • Sulfur.
  • Raw milk.
  • Baking soda.
  • Hydrogen peroxide.

Organic mildew treatments are also available.  Note that any fungicides must be applied as soon as symptoms first appear to be effective.

The treatments listed above will work for perennials, as well.  They can be used on lawns, but this is rarely worth the cost.  Most lawns will eventually recover on their own as long as they are not stressed.


Powdery MildewPrevention

Site your garden in a place where the plants will receive sunlight and air circulation most of the day.  If you do plant grass, flowers, or shrubs in a shady location, choose only varieties that prefer those types of conditions.

To ensure that light and air can penetrate the plants:

  • Make sure greenhouses and tunnels are well ventilated.
  • Prune plants appropriately for the species.
  • Remove all dead plant matter on a regular basis.
  • Control weeds.

Keep your plants healthy and stress-free to further reduce the risk of disease.  Make sure their nutrient needs are met, but be conservative with fast-release nitrogen.  In the case of lawns, do not weaken plants by mowing too low.

Finally, avoid wetting foliage when watering the garden.  Water on the leaves tends to promote fungal growth.


Complete Series

Garden & Orchard DiseasesGarden & Orchard Diseases


Pierce’s Disease

Pierce's Disease
Sharpshooter leafhopper

Pierce’s disease (PD) is a bacterial disease of grapes named for Newton Pierce, who described the disease in 1892.  The bacterium species is Xylella fastidiosa.

A grape plant is infected when insects, particularly sharpshooter leafhoppers, carrying bacteria bite the plant.  Bacteria then take up residence in the vascular tissue of the grape and reproduce, forming large colonies that block the transport of water and nutrients.  Symptoms typically first appear in hot, dry weather.



  • Scorched leaf margins.
  • Leaf drop, leaving stalk behind for a characteristic “matchstick” appearance.
  • Patches of immature bark on stems.
  • Dieback of cordons, the “arms” of the vine.
  • Shriveled grapes.
  • Death.



There is no effective treatment for Pierce’s disease.  The outcome depends on the variety.  Grape varieties fall into three categories:

  1. Susceptible: Varieties that will eventually die if infected with Pierce’s disease.
  2. Tolerant: Varieties that may recover if the winter is cold enough to kill the bacteria.
  3. Resistant: Varieties that will recover, but may still spread the bacteria to other vines.

Susceptible varieties showing symptoms of Pierce’s disease should be destroyed.  Tolerant varieties should also be destroyed if the symptoms appear two years in a row.



Purchasing varieties that resist or tolerate Pierce’s disease is a critical first step.  Muscadine grapes naturally resist Pierce’s disease.  Other PD-resistant varieties have been developed within the last few years, but they are still in the experimental stages and not yet readily available.  Home growers, therefore, still have to rely on tolerant varieties.

Further control of Pierce’s disease consists of eliminating sharpshooter leafhoppers.  Besides using pest control methods as necessary, keep the vineyard mowed.  Also, locate your vineyard away from woods where the bacteria might be lurking.


Complete Series

Garden & Orchard DiseasesGarden & Orchard Diseases


Phytophthora Blight

Phytophthora BlightPhytophthora blight, also known as late blight, is a fungal disease caused by several species of the genus Phytophthora.  Affected plants include:

The fungi involved flourish in wet, moderately warm weather.  They spend the winter in infected tubers and plant matter.  The disease is spread by soil and moisture.



  • Seedling death.
  • Large dark brown spots on leaves of cucurbits.
  • Wet spots on lower leaves in nightshades.
  • White, downy spots on undersides of lower leaves of nightshades.
  • Leaf drop.
  • Brown spots on stems of tomatoes.
  • Brown, collapsing vines in cucurbits.
  • Dark, sometimes sunken blotches in flesh of tubers.
  • Soft, sunken or water-soaked spots on fruit.
  • Fruit rot.
  • White yeastlike growth on fruit after harvest.
  • Generalized rotting and collapse.
  • Plant death.



Destroy all plants affected with phytophthora blight.  Do not use infected potatoes for seed.



The first step in preventing phytophthora blight is to avoid introducing it from outside.  Start by choosing blight-resistant fruit and vegetable varieties.  Buy disease-free seeds and seed potatoes from reputable sources.

Next, practice good garden sanitation:

  • Rotate garden crops, preferably with plants that do not get phytophthora blight.
  • Avoid using sprinklers to water the garden; keep the foliage dry.
  • Wait for rain or dew to dry before working in the garden.
  • Keep the weeds in check.
  • Use nitrogen in moderation to avoid rapid growth of soft, disease-prone tissue.
  • Keep plants trained off the ground with cages or trellises.
  • Prune climbing plants regularly to remove damaged tissue and keep growth under control.
  • Hill potatoes well to reduce their exposure to pathogens.


Complete Series

Garden & Orchard DiseasesGarden & Orchard Diseases


Peach Leaf Curl

Peach Leaf CurlPeach leaf curl is a common disease caused by the fungus Taphrina deformans.  Besides peaches, susceptible plants include nectarines and almonds.

The peach leaf curl fungus spends the winter in the bark and buds of its hosts.  It enters new buds as they begin to swell and open in the spring, spread by rain and dew.  Not surprisingly, wet weather creates a situation ripe for trouble with this disease.



  • Pale or pinkish new leaves, depending on tree variety.
  • Thick, puckered, curled leaves or portions of leaves.
  • Leaf drop.
  • Stunted twigs.
  • Poor fruit yield.
  • Raised, discolored spots with no fuzz on fruit.
  • Gradual tree death.


Peach Leaf CurlTreatment

Trees that are showing symptoms of peach leaf curl cannot be treated until the following spring.  In the meantime, thin the fruit and keep the tree healthy with adequate water and fertilizer.

Early in the spring, after the tree has been pruned but before the buds begin to swell, spray the tree thoroughly with the appropriate fungicide (organic growers can use copper).  Make sure you cover the entire tree on all sides, from the trunk to every small twig.  Be prepared to repeat the treatment if it rains.  This process will probably need to be repeated in future years.


Peach Leaf CurlPrevention

The best prevention is to purchase fruit tree varieties resistant to peach leaf curl.  Still, susceptibility can be reduced with attention to water and fertilizer.  A good rule of thumb is to measure a shoot to see how much the tree grew the previous year.  If the shoot is a foot long or shorter, fertilize the tree.  Do not overdo, however, as excess growth tends to be soft and disease-prone.


Helpful Resource

Leaf Curl of Peaches and Nectarines
Brief factsheet useful for identifying the disease and understanding its life cycle.


Complete Series

Garden & Orchard DiseasesGarden & Orchard Diseases


Growth Cracks

Growth CracksGrowth cracks are a problem most gardeners will have to contend with sooner or later.  Fortunately, the problem is structural in nature, and therefore will not cause an epidemic.

Commonly affected plants include:

Jalapeño peppers frequently crack, as well, but this is normal and not likely to cause a storage problem.

Growth cracks appear when the skin of the fruit in question cannot expand fast enough to keep pace with a rapid increase in pressure inside the fruit.  This can be caused by a number of conditions:

  • Irregular or excessive rainfall.
  • Irregular temperatures.
  • Excess nitrogen.



  • Concentric circles around stem end of fruit.
  • Starlike cracks spreading from stem end of fruit.


Growth CracksTreatment

Growth cracks will usually correct themselves given time and the proper growing conditions.



A good starting point is to look for fruit and vegetable varieties that are resistant to cracking.

Your next best bet is to promote even growth:

  • Choose a garden site with good soil drainage.
  • Water deeply but regularly.
  • Mulch to keep the soil moisture steady.
  • Use compost, not chemical fertilizer, to keep nitrogen levels even.

Of course, we can’t control the weather.  If a heavy rain is in the forecast, take a walk through the garden and harvest any vegetables that might suffer from the effects.  If the fruits are almost ready, you can pick them a little early and ripen them on a sunny windowsill.


Complete Series

Garden & Orchard DiseasesGarden & Orchard Diseases


Fusarium Wilt

Fusarium WiltFusarium wilt is a disease common to the southeastern United States.  It is caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum and affects numerous garden plants, including vegetables, small fruits, and flowers.  The most susceptible host species include:

The disease is spread through infected soil.  Once it is introduced, it is nearly impossible to get rid of, as it can survive for years without a host.

Fusarium wilt usually makes its appearance during a spell of hot, dry weather, meaning midsummer in most of Kansas.  The fungi enter plants through roots, and then block up the vascular tissue of their hosts.


Fusarium WiltSymptoms

  • Wilting.
  • Stunting.
  • Brown asparagus spears.
  • Spotted runners and leaf stems.
  • Yellow leaves with black spots.
  • Crown rot.
  • Discoloration of vascular tissue in root crops.
  • Fruit drop and decay.
  • Rapid death in hot weather.



Fusarium wilt in annual plants, such as vegetables, is not treatable.  The affected plants should be removed and destroyed immediately.  Next, solarize the soil by covering it with clear plastic.

You may want to make an attempt to save perennial plants such as asparagus.  In this case, prune out all diseased plant tissue, sterilizing your pruning shears in bleach solution between each cut.  If fusarium wilt appears again in following years, your best bet is probably to destroy the plants and start over.


Fusarium WiltPrevention

A little caution about soil sanitation goes a long way:

  • Introduce only healthy plants of fusarium-resistant varieties; better yet, raise your own plants from seed.
  • Do not garden in soil with a past history of fusarium wilt.
  • Use crop rotations in your garden.
  • Regularly clean garden tools, plant stakes, and other materials that come into contact with soil.

Also, keeping your plants healthy will increase their resistance to diseases of all types.  Pay attention to water and nutrition needs, and be sure to control weeds and insect pests.


Complete Series

Garden & Orchard DiseasesGarden & Orchard Diseases