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Tomato Problems


Fresh tomatoes on wood background

We get a lot of calls every year from people with gardening questions, and if you have questions I encourage you to continue to contact your local Extension office. Tomatoes are one crop that we get many calls about each year. This article will discuss a few of the more common tomato problems, but keep in mind that many tomato problems are hard to identify in the field and need to be sent to our pathology lab at Auburn or Birmingham. Information on collecting and mailing plant samples can be found on our website or by contacting your local Extension office.

Keep in mind that many tomato problems can be identified from sending pictures to your local Extension office or describing the problem over the phone.  We have many publications with pictures and descriptions of tomato diseases that are available on our web site or at the Extension office.

Blossom-end rot is a very common tomato disorder, but can affect many other crops including pepper, watermelon, squash, etc. It is decay usually on the blossom end of fruit caused by a lack of calcium in the plant. The lack of calcium in the plant could be a result of deficient calcium in the soil, but it could also be the result of the roots being too wet or too dry (stress). The best thing to do for blossom-end rot would be to soil test and add the proper nutrients including calcium and maintain the soil pH at 6.0 to 6.5. Mulch the plants and irrigate when needed. I usually do not like the idea of spraying calcium products on the leaves because it is easy to burn the leaves and the plant can not take in the recommended amount of calcium through the leaves. Calcium fertilizers are available and will increase the calcium in the plant by providing it to the roots.

Blossom drop is not a disease but another very common tomato disorder.  It is the result on some tomato varieties when daytime temperatures exceed 85oF and nighttime temperatures stay above 72oF. Often times it is the high nighttime temperatures that reduce flowering the most. Plants should start producing again as temperatures become more favorable. Many heat set tomato varieties are available that continue to set fruit in higher temperatures.

Tomato plants can get several viruses, but tomato spotted wilt is usually the most common virus that I see. The plants’ growth rate will become stunted, they will turn a lighter green color, and the leaf veins may have a purplish tint. If fruit develop they will have ringspots and quality will suffer. The disease is commonly spread by a tiny insect called a thrips. Thrips feed on many plants including weeds around the garden/field. Managing thrips by destroying weeds adjacent to the field may help but may not stop the problem. Planting tomato spotted wilt resistant varieties is the best method for managing the disease and many tomato spotted wilt resistant varieties are available.

Fusarium wilt, southern blight, and bacterial wilt are three common wilt diseases of tomatoes. Fusarium wilt enters the plant through the roots and can cause the plant to wilt. It may start with one stem before spreading to the rest of the plant. Cutting into the stem at the base will show a brown discoloration in the vascular system. This fungus may persist in the soil for many years so crop rotations may not help with this disease, but many fusarium wilt resistant tomato varieties are available. Southern blight symptoms include wilting and yellowing of the plant along with a white fungal growth at the plant base. Best management practice includes destroying infected plants and crop rotation. It is advisable not to plant tomatoes or susceptible crops in the tomato family more than once every four years. Bacterial wilt causes plants to wilt and die rapidly without any other symptoms. To check for bacterial wilt a grower can place a cut section of stem in water.  If bacterial wilt disease is present, a white milky substance will seep from the stem. A management option is the same four year rotation as for southern blight.

Early blight, late blight, septoria leaf spot, bacterial spot, and bacterial speck are common foliar tomato diseases. Management options include planting disease free seeds or transplants, crop rotation, mulching, and no overhead irrigation. A regular fungicide spray program will help as well. We have information for spraying vegetables at our office if you are interested.

Tomato plants can get many diseases other than the ones mentioned in this article. We have publications at our office and on our website that describe these diseases or disorders in more detail if you are interested. It is sometimes hard to identify diseases from pictures or descriptions and for a positive diagnosis a sample may need to be sent to our lab at Auburn or Birmingham. Information for sending samples can be found on our web site or by visiting your local Extension office. There is a small fee of $10 to $15 for sending samples, but losing a crop is much more expensive.

What can be done to reduce the number of gardening problems? Choose a location with well-drained soil or at least try to avoid low areas that stand in water for extended periods. An area that receives full sun and is close to a water source would also be beneficial. Having more than one garden spot will allow you to grow summer cover crops and aid in crop rotation as well.  Growers should soil test to determine the amount of elements that are in the soil in order to determine what elements need to be added. Plant nutrition is a very common problem and one that many overlook. Plant disease resistant seed/plants as much as possible, many problems can be avoided at planting. Amending the soil with organic matter, weed control, mulch, and drip irrigation helps reduce stress on the plants which in turn makes plants healthier. If you have any questions, just give us a call here at the Extension office at 334-361-7273.

Contributed by: Dr. Chip East, Regional Extension Agent


Managing Fire Ants with Baits

Close up of red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) or simply RIFA

Article Contributed by: Regional Extension Agent, Chip East

Fire ants can be a major problem for anyone in the southeast and even in other parts of the country as well. Any outside area where someone may be walking, standing, sitting, or playing for any amount of time such as city parks where children play, athletic turf, camp sites, outdoor concerts, lawns, etc. are areas that probably need to be treated for fire ants. Even areas around vegetable gardens/fields and fruit orchards/plantings may need to be managed for fire ant control. Many growers who have “pick your own” farms, such as strawberry, blueberry, muscadine, blackberry, and some vegetables, may treat to keep their customers or employees picking.

Many products for broadcast and mound treatment can be used on some sites such as lawn areas, but only a few products are labeled for fruit and vegetable production areas. I like using broadcast baits because we can treat a large site without searching for individual mounds, and it is cheaper as well. Read the label of bait products to find out the different sites the products can be applied.

Extinguish Professional Fire Ant Bait (S-methoprene) is labeled for fruits and vegetables; Ferti-lome Come and Get It, Payback Fire Ant Bait, and various other trade names (Spinosad) is labeled for fruits and vegetables; Esteem Ant Bait (Pyriproxyfen) is labeled for select vegetables, and tree or vine fruits, refer to the label for specifics; Altrevin Fire Ant Bait Insecticide (metaflumizone) can be used on grape vineyards, citrus and nut trees, and non-bearing stone and pome fruit trees. Clinch (abamectin) is labeled for vegetables, citrus, nuts, apples, grapes, stone fruit, strawberry, and pear. Some of these products are only sold in 25 pound containers and would not be needed unless treating large acreage.

Contact your local Extension office, and we can help you decide on the treatment that is best for your site. Fire ants travel as far as they need to travel for food. It is possible to treat the lawn that is around but not in the garden or orchard site with a product labeled for lawns and still kill manage the ants in the adjacent site.

Alabama Cooperative Extension System Entomologist Dr. Kathy Flanders visited many retail stores, farm supply stores, and nurseries across the state and noted the fire ant management products available on shelves. The list of the products available can be found in our Extension publication ANR0175A and is titled “2016 Fire Ant Control Materials for Alabama Homeowners”.  It can be found by typing “fire ant control materials” into the search box on our web site at www.aces.edu or by clicking this link http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-0175-A/ANR-0175-A.pdf This publication also lists the approximate cost per acre of the different baits, cost per acre of residual insecticides designed to be spread, and the cost per ten mounds for individual mound treatments.

When using a fire ant bait or any other pesticide, follow the directions on the label. These baits need to be kept in a cool dry place, and when they are opened, they need to be used quickly. Only purchase the amount needed, and do not try to keep the bait for use months later. The baits use an oil to attract the ants, and the oil goes bad if kept too long or not stored properly. The baits need to be applied when the ants are actively foraging. This means the baits need to be applied when temperatures are between 60 and 80oF. Do not apply the bait just before or after a rain or before or after disturbing the mound such as mowing grass. The baits are only good for a short period of time after the application, so conditions need to be right. All of this is explained on the label.

A trick to help you know when to apply the bait would be to put out some greasy potato chips around the site. Wait a few minutes and check the chips, if ants have covered them up then that would be a good time to apply the bait. If not, the application may need to be postponed to a later time. My favorite time to apply fire ant bait is spring and fall, but it depends on the site. Many of the baits should be applied at one pound to one and a half pounds per acre. On a small scale such as two acres or less, you can use a hand held spreader to apply the bait. On a larger scale, we have fire ant bait spreaders in many Extension offices around the state that hook up to ATV’s, tractors, and trucks that the client can borrow to spread bait.

As always, if you have any questions, give us a call at the Autauga County Extension Office at 334.361.7273.

Integrated Pest Management

Japanese beetle

Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is the practice of using a variety of methods to manage pests. When used correctly, pesticides can be a great tool for managing pests, but they should not be the first action to manage pest problems. My last article discussed several topics of Integrated Pest Management including healthy soils, organic matter, soil testing, variety selection, and crop rotation. This article will discuss a few other topics including irrigation, mulching and weed control.

What does irrigation have to do with IPM? Remember that poor growing plants are more susceptible to insects and disease. Our vegetable crops will need about an inch to an inch and a half of rain per week during the growing season. We may average that each year, but in reality we may not get rain every week. You will need a rain gauge to determine how much rain you are getting as well as the ability to irrigate when we do not get the inch or more of rain per week. I had rather use drip irrigation than overhead as drip puts the water where it is needed and does not wet the leaves. The longer the foliage stays wet, the faster diseases will develop. In addition, drip irrigation is economical, easy to install, work can be done in the field while irrigating, and fertilizer can even be applied through the drip line. I like the use of drip irrigation on bare ground production systems, but it is a must when using plastic mulch. We have a very good vegetable crop irrigation publication on our web site.

pest Mulching conserves moisture which helps the crops that cannot be irrigated and conserves water on the irrigated crops. Organic mulches break down and add to the organic matter in the soil. Organic mulches such as pine straw or pine bark are common, but other mulches can be used. Organic mulches help keep the soil cool which helps in the summer, but might not be beneficial in early season.  If possible, it may be best to wait until the soil warms up before adding mulch. In contrast, black plastic is used by many farms to aid in early planting and growth. The soil warms up faster and should produce a crop earlier than bare ground production systems. In contrast, white plastic mulch can be laid during warmer temperatures when heat can be an issue. Silver or reflective mulches can be used to help manage insects.

Weed management is also very important. Weeds in the field will take up the water and fertilizer provided for other crops, shade crops, and make harvest difficult. Make sure you manage the weeds in the field, but also around the field. Weeds surrounding the field may harbor insects and disease. Those areas around the field may be a good place to try trap crops.

Trap cropping has great potential and is done on commercial farms and home gardens in Alabama. This is a practice of planting a crop more desirable to certain insects than the cash crop. The insect is attracted to the trap crop and leaves the tomatoes (cash crop) alone. I have witnessed a trap crop with more leaf footed plant bugs in it than can be counted, and the tomato crop right beside it with very few, if any, leaf footed plant bugs found. The trap crop is planted a couple of weeks before the main crop and does take up space in the field or garden, but can be very beneficial. More information on trap crops can be found on our web site by typing “trap crops” in the search box.

My co-workers and I hang many insect traps around the state. We trap in order to know how the insects are spreading and let farmers know when to be scouting for them. The insects I commonly monitor with traps include squash vine borers, fall army worms, beet army worms, corn ear worms, and others. These traps are checked and the insect counts can be found online. To receive these updates from our publication called the Alabama IPM Communicator, send an e-mail to bugdoctor@auburn.edu.

Other IPM practices can include hand removal of insects such as caterpillars from tomatoes, or using barriers to keep cutworm from plants. Netting and row covers have been used to help manage pests in many locations.

Your eyes are an important management tool. Do not forget to scout the field often and identify the pest correctly. We have a lot of insect and vegetable disease pictures on our web site at www.aces.edu or simply take a few pictures and send to your local Extension office. You can also send diseased plant and insect samples to our pathology lab at Auburn or Birmingham for an analysis. There is a small fee for sending samples, but it may save the crop. If a crop is too far gone to save, I would still want to know the cause of the problem. There may be something that could be done in future plantings to avoid having the problem again. If you need information on the IPM practices mentioned in this article simply contact the Autauga County Extension Office or call 334.361.7273.


Contributed by Chip East, Regional Extension Agent, Commercial Horticulture

Printable PDF of this article: PDF Integrated Pest Management

Integrated Pest Management


Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is the practice of using a variety of methods to manage pests. When used correctly, pesticides can be a great tool for managing pests, but they should not be the first action to manage pest problems.

The questions I answer during the growing season are usually related to insects, disease, weeds, and nutrition. Many of these problems can be managed without the use of pesticides. What does nutrition have to do with pesticides? Poor growing plants are more susceptible to insects and disease. In contrast, plants growing in healthy soils are more resistant to insects and disease.
How do we make our soil healthy? Improving the soil by adding organic matter helps greatly. You can buy organic matter or compost your own. Growing cover crops when the vegetable crop is finished is also a good idea. Growing crops such as cereal rye or crimson clover during the fall and winter season will keep the organic matter from washing away from the field or garden and adds additional organic matter as well. If you have room, summer cover crops such as sorghum-sudangrass or iron clay cowpea can be planted in the spring in areas of the field or garden that is not in production. Lots of information can be found on our web site in a publication called “Cover Crops for Alabama”.

Adding animal manures can be a good idea, but I do not like to use it within 120 days of harvest. The reason for the 120 day wait is the potential for pathogen contamination into the crop. Animal manure is a great source of nutrients and organic matter and is recommended in many cases. However, you should be aware that some herbicides that are used in forage/livestock production can remain active in the manure. If you do not know what herbicides have been used on the pastures or hay fields, you may want to reconsider the use of animal manures.

Remember to do a soil test of your field or garden. Lots of time and money goes into producing a crop, and many problems are related to nutritional deficiencies. I would suggest a commercial farmer soil test every year, and I would highly recommend a home gardener soil test every two or three years. All the information for soil testing can be found at your local Extension office. You should get your results back in a week, and the Extension office will be glad explain the soil test results if needed. The soil lab can also do a nutrient analysis on plant material (leaves) if needed. This costs a little more money than a soil test, but can be very valuable information for the grower.

When choosing which varieties or cultivars to grow, try to plant ones with disease resistance when possible. Many diseases can be avoided just by planting disease resistant seeds. These seeds may cost a little more and can sometimes be hard to find, but may be beneficial if diseases can be avoided. Watermelon seeds can be purchased that are resistant or tolerant to anthracnose, fusarium wilt, and powdery mildew. Tomato cultivars are available that are resistant to many diseases including fusarium wilt and tomato spotted wilt virus. You can even grow heat set tomatoes that produce better in the higher temperatures of summer. The Extension office will be glad to provide you with information on disease resistant seeds, but the first step may be identifying the disease, and we can help with that too.

Do not forget about crop rotation. This means you need to be rotating vegetable families. For example, tomato, pepper, and eggplant are in the same family and should be planted together. Next season plant another vegetable family in that place. Many farmers have several sites for crops and keep a record of where things were planted from year to year. The longer you go without planting a crop from the same vegetable family in the same location, the better. My first thought as I think of crop rotation is disease management, but crop rotation helps with insect and nutrient management as well. The crop rotation information can be found on our web site by typing “crop rotation” in the search box.

Other aspects of IPM will be discussed in my next article. If you have any questions on IPM, give us a call at your local Extension office.

Contributed by: Chip East, Regional Extension Agent

Upcoming Animal Science and Forages Programs


Mark your calendars for the 2016 Animal Science and Forages Webinar Series, held the second Wednesday of the month at 10:00 am CST.  Join us for timely updates on management topics from members of the Animal Science and Forage Extension Team!

Animal Science and Forages Programs

May 11- Dr. Kim Mullenix, Silage Management and Use for Beef Cattle
June 8- Dr. Kathy Flanders and Landon Marks, Bermudagrass Stem Maggot Update
July 13 -Dr. Steve Li Summer, Weed Control Options
August 10- Michelle Elmore, Beef Cattle Record Keeping Basics
September 14-Kent Stanford, Nutrient Management: Update from the Field
October 12 – Courteney Holland, Winter Feeding Programs for Horses
November 9 – Auburn University Beef-Forage Program Graduate Students Focus on Forage: Research Update From the Field

For more information and registration regarding any of these upcoming programs, contact Josh Elmore, Regional Extension Agent, Animal Science and Forages, 205-646-3610 or 334-850-7859.

Farm City Week 2015

children petting a rabbit

Hundreds of Prattville Intermediate School 6th graders learned about farming, farm animals, and preserving natural resources in a hands-on event, Farm City Week, held at the R.H. Kirkpatrick Pavilion  in Autaugaville.

Volunteers with the Alabama Power Company Service Organization led students and their teachers to each exhibit where students listened to presentations, asked and answered questions, and learned about the many aspects of forestry, farming, gardening, raising livestock and the intricacies of aquatic science.

Exhibitors included: Laurie Weldon, ACES; Andrew Baril, ACES; Cathy Coleman; the Autauga County Master Gardeners; Autauga Forestry & Wildlife Stewardship Council; Autauga County Forestry; David Cline, Auburn University Fisheries; Clint Smith; the Lowell Strock Family; the David Downey Family; Irene Langford & Linsdey Langford; the Sam Abney Family; Rudy Yates, ACES; and Patrick Cook, ACES.

The 33rd annual Farm City Week was made possible through the support of  the Autauga County Commission, Autauga Forestry and Wildlife Stewardship Council, Alabama Ag Credit ,the Alabama Power Company Service Organization, and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Autauga County office).

November 17,2015- Farm City Week Photographs






Commercial Horticulture


The Alabama Extension Commercial Horticulture program provides critical training and research-based crop production, gardening, turf and greenhouse recommendations that aim at benefiting the horticulture industry. This video provides a snap shot of what the horticulture program does and how it helps new and experienced producers statewide.  Click the link below.


Pecan Production on a Small Scale


Contributed by:  Dr. Chip East, Regional Extension Agent

We get many questions about pecan trees each year. It is a popular crop for many home producers and commercial farmers as well. There are several pests that pecan trees can get including pecan scab, downy spot disease, fungal leaf scorch, pecan phylloxera, and black pecan aphids. These pests can greatly decrease the productivity of the tree. Producers with small plantings can not spray big pecan trees like the commercial growers. However, proper management practices such as planting disease resistant trees, along with proper fertilization, will help your pecan production.
Some of the recommended pecan trees that are scab resistant are hard to find at nurseries and may need to be ordered a year in advance. Some pecan scab resistant cultivars recommended for the home planting include Amling, Adams 5, Miss L, Prilop, Kanza, Headquaters, and Gafford. These pecan cultivars do not produce the largest pecans. It is difficult for homeowners to properly manage pest problems so that large pecans can fill out properly. Pecan nurseries and much more information on pecan trees are listed on the Alabama Pecan Growers Web site at www.alabamapecangrowers.com.

Cross-pollination should be considered when planting pecan trees. A particular pecan cultivar does not receive pollen at the same time the tree sheds pollen. Generally, the more different cultivars (types) of trees in the planting, the greater the chance for cross-pollination.

If you already have an established pecan orchard, fertilization is a great way to increase production. Of course a soil test is the best way to know for sure how much to fertilize your pecan trees. It would be much easier to tell someone what nutrients the crop needs if we begin by knowing what nutrients are already present. But if you have not had a soil test done, there are some general guidelines to follow for fertilizing your pecan trees.

You should apply the following: 1 pound of 13-13-13 per tree per year of age up to 25 pounds per tree. Plus 1 pound of 34-0-0 per tree per year of age up to 20 pounds per tree. Plus 1/10 pound of zinc sulfate per tree per year of age up to 2 pounds per tree. Plus 5 pounds of dolomitic limestone per tree per year age up to 100 pounds per tree.

That may sound confusing. Basically, if your trees are more than 25 years old you need 25 pounds of 13-13-13, 20 pounds of 34-0-0, 2 pounds of zinc, and 100 pounds of lime per year per tree.
For large trees, apply all of the fertilizer in April. For younger trees, apply all of the 13-13-13 fertilizer, lime, and zinc in April. Apply half the 34-0-0 in April and the remainder in June.
The use of a mechanical spreader may help ensure an even application of the fertilizers. Do not disturb the soil before applying the fertilizer. Spread it under and around the tree in an area twice the branch spread of the tree. The dolomite lime is the cheapest, but pelletized lime is easier to spread.

Remember that many pecan trees tend to be alternate bearers. That means if they produce a heavy crop one year, they may produce a light crop the next year. A proper fertilization program is very important, but there are other things you can do to increase production.

Overcrowding can be a problem. When the trees are close together and the limbs begin to overlap you may want to remove a few limbs. This will increase air circulation and sunlight in the canopy of the tree. If you are planting new trees the spacing should be about 60 feet apart.

A large weed-free/grass-free zone of about a 10 foot radius or more around the trunk is desirable. Mulching the trees in that weed-free zone will also help. It may be hard for a small grower to irrigate, but irrigation during any dry periods and especially during the months of August and September would be beneficial.

We usually teach a hands-on grafting class each April. Some pecan cultivars or types are hard to find and grafting your own trees is the only way of getting the cultivar of pecan you desire. If you have questions about pecans or any other horticulture topic, just give us a call here at the Extension office, 334.361.7273.