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Make sure tomatoes have plenty of air around leaves

Q: My tomatoes seem to have some kind of fungus or something of the sort thinning out the leaves. If you would please look at the attached photos. Please advise.

A: This is most likely early blight of tomato, a fungus disease. In the future, make sure that you purchase tomato transplants from a “clean” source and the plants appear healthy. Young plants should have no brown leaves but be perfectly healthy. Many plants are purchased that are already infected.

Secondly, grow the tomatoes so that the leaves have lots of air circulation. When the leaves are surrounded by other leaves, raising the humidity and lack of air movement around the plants, they are very susceptible to disease problems. A growing method that helps educe this is staking them upright rather than letting them sprawl on the ground.

For now, remove all leaves that are not healthy and apply a fungicide that has early blight listed on the label and follow the directions precisely. Fungicides seldom cure a problem so infected leaves must be removed. Fungicides help to prevent the disease from spreading or getting worse.

Q: My son’s girlfriend moved into a house with two peach trees. One looks quite healthy and bloomed. The other looks like it has been sick for a while judging by the weird pruning cuts on it. There were several dead or dying branches with what looked like borer or some other damage. I have attached two photos. I don’t know anything about fruit trees so was hoping that you could help us identify the problem and suggest a solution.

A: Both trees have borer damage. There really isn’t anything you can do at this time of year. If you were to prune it out, you may open up the canopy so much that the limbs and trunk sunburn and damage the trees more.

I usually concentrate on borer removal in the winter but you can do this now. Start removing all the dead bark and wood from the limbs using a sharp knife. Cut dead wood from the limbs with the knife until you see fresh wood. You are trying to remove as much dead or damaged wood from the limbs to see how extensive the damage is, remove hiding places for insects and give the tree a chance to heal. So removal of all this damaged wood is essential.

If the damage does not go more than 50 percent around the limb, then clean it up and let it heal. If the damage is more than 50 percent around the limb, then remove the limb this winter. If the limbs are not too big, then you should get regrowth from just below the pruning cuts next spring and you may be able to re-establish new limbs. If the damage is extensive on all limbs and trunk you will probably have to remove the tree.

Q: Attached find a picture of an orange critter that I found in my vegetable garden. It seems to live in the top 1 inch of soil and is opportunistic in the sense that should a ripe or unripe tomato touch the soil, these critters (and I’ve found five at one time attached) hang on for dear life. Please advise.

A: That is for sure a wireworm. These are immature click beetles. It’s not a very common problem here and chemical control is very sketchy on these critters. Newsletter subscribers will see what they look like.

I would approach it from a soil solarization control point of view. I would probably focus on the adult click beetles and getting them under control for the next growing season. Before planting, try preparing the soil and then covering the soil in clear plastic for three to four days and see if you can “cook” it up to about 160 F for at least 30 minutes. The soil must be totally covered and no air can leak out.

You might be able to put some trap crops out there for them such as potatoes so they can feed on the tubers and possibly leave your tomatoes alone. They also like beets so that might serve as a trap crop.

The beetles should be attracted to boards lying on the surface of the soil or flat rocks where there is moisture and they escape from the heat of the day.

You can pick up the boards or rocks and deliver a death blow on the spot.

Also, avoid planting the same crops in the same place year after year and rotate crops to a new location if they are in the same family (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant are in the same family).

Q: We have a grassy weed in our yard, spreading like wildfire to our neighbors. The homeowners association is not amused, nor are we. No one can seem to identify it. We have sprayed with a couple of off-the-shelf products. The leaves turn brown, but it doesn’t seem to affect the whole plant. The attached photo is not the greatest, but I suspect that you’ll recognize the culprit.

A: This is cheatgrass or downey brome, a winter annual. When we get winter rains at the right time, this grass germinates in the fall, overwinters as a small grass plant and then flowers and seeds in the late spring. It burns readily and is responsible for Western brush fires. It is very invasive in open areas where there is moisture.

The seeds stick to socks, clothing and animal fur and is spread from place to place in this manner (landscapers and their equipment too). This weedy grass turns red and dies in May depositing the seed for the next rain or irrigation cycle beginning in the fall.

It is best to control it in landscapes when you see it after germination in the fall. Use Roundup at that time or any contact herbicide will kill it at that stage and before it has a chance to go to seed in the spring.

Q: My figs are starting to come in now. I felt them and they were firm. I cut a few open and they were not fully ripe. My question is, would it be best to leave them on the tree and if so would they ripen? Or, should they be picked and would they ripen further in the house where it’s warmer.

A: Figs do not ripen off of the tree. Figs can get a three crops in our climate if they are protected from cold winds and located in a warm part of the yard. If it gets too cold, the fruit will stop developing and not finish filling out before freezing.

Make sure they are getting adequate water when they are fruiting or the fruit will drop. Mulching them helps to retain the fruit.

Bob Morris is an associate professor with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Direct gardening questions to the master gardener hot line at 257-5555 or contact Morris by e-mail at morrisr@unce.unr.edu.

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