Upcoming Events

Canning Class- Food Safety Is Important

Regional Extension Agent, Janice Hall, who specializeds in the area of Food Quality and Safety with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System recently held a canning class in Autaugaville.


During the June 9th workshop at the Autuaga County Extension Office in Autaugaville, Dozens of participants received information on ways to safely can fruit and vegetables. Hall stressed to participants that being careful when canning is paramount.

“Food safety practices should be followed when canning fruits and vegetables. If the proper methods are NOT followed, someone could possibly become ill or worse. The Autauga County canning workshop was designed to teach people the safe way of preserving a bountiful harvest they may have grown or purchased. A delicious triple berry jam (raspberry, blackberry, and strawberry) was prepared and properly canned during a hands on demonstration. The leftovers were spread over some hot biscuits and sampled by the participants”, Hall said.







Plant Nutrition

Contributed by: Chip East

I talk with many people each year who are having problems with their plants. Usually insects, disease, weeds, and nutrition top the list. I recommend understanding the crops you grow as well as the problems associated with those crops as this would aid in scouting.

The Extension office will be happy to talk with anyone about potential pest problems with particular crops. Insects, disease, and even weed pressure can vary from year to year depending on the environmental conditions. Keep in mind that a pest that was a major problem last year, may or may not be a problem this season. However, providing plants with proper nutrition is something the grower is also responsible for every year and should be thought about in advance of planting. Once a nutrition problem is visible, it takes time to correct the problem, and production could be greatly reduced.

What can a grower do to reduce the chance of having nutrition problems? Organic matter increases the soil nutrient holding capacity of the soil, so the more organic matter, the better. Planting cover crops is a good way to increase the soil’s organic matter, but it does take time and should be something you work at each year. When you have decided what crop or crops you are planning to grow, you will need to soil test. We know what plants need. What we do not know is what elements are in your soil. A soil test simply analyzes the soil. A soil test analysis from our lab at Auburn costs $7 and provides valuable information for the grower. Once we know what is in the soil, we will know how much of what element or elements to add. I recommend the growers who market produce have their soil tested for each field on a yearly basis. A soil test can be done at any time of year, but I had rather test before planting.

At planting time, we would add half the recommended nitrogen, all the phosphorus, and half the potassium. Then two to three weeks after planting, we would apply another fourth of the recommended nitrogen and potassium. Two to three weeks after the second application, I would add the other fourth of the recommended nitrogen and potassium.  Of course this is just one example, and different growers apply fertilizer in different ways. Some will apply the fertilizer in only two applications, others will use drip irrigation, and it is easy to inject fertilizer through the drip on a weekly basis. I will be glad to help anyone calculate the needed fertilizer to inject in the drip.

In addition to soil testing, an analysis can be preformed on leaf samples at our lab. A deficiency would show up in an analysis long before it is visible in the field. Many growers do this regularly on crops such as strawberries, pecan, field tomatoes, greenhouse tomatoes, and others. This test costs $16 and gives the farmer valuable information.

Some plants that appear to be nutrient deficient may not always have a problem related to nutrients. Insects, disease, and other stresses can cause plants to look off color. Strawberries can develop a bronzing color due to a spider mite infestation and adding additional nitrogen will not solve the problem.

It is common for calcium deficient tomatoes to develop blossom end rot. It is caused from a lack of calcium in the plant, but adding additional calcium may not solve the problem. I have seen many times where the grower has sufficient calcium in the soil, but the plant is showing signs of a calcium deficiency. Plant stresses from things such as improper irrigation can cause the plant not to take up the needed calcium. In this case, mulching and irrigating the plants can help with nutrient uptake. It is hard to write an article about plant nutrition without mentioning pH. More elements are available for plant uptake at a pH of around 6.0 to 6.5, and we do not know the pH without a soil test. Calcium happens to be one to the elements that is not available for the plant at a low pH.

If you can visibly see that you have a nutrition problem, it will take time to correct, so it is important to scout fields regularly for any plant problems. If you have problems, just contact your local Extension office, and we will be glad to help.

Fire Blight


Contributed by :Mallory Kelley

Fire blight affects many plant species each year, and once you know the symptoms you will start noticing it everywhere.  This spring it seems to be more prevalent and a warmer winter along with the drought stress we had in the fall is what I attribute it to. Fire Blight, caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora, is a common and destructive disease of pear, apple, quince, hawthorn, many other members of the rose plant family as well as several stone fruit trees. The host range of the fire blight pathogen includes nearly 130 plant species in 40 genera. Badly diseased trees and shrubs are usually disfigured and may even be killed by fire blight.

Peach tree with a shriveled rotten peach

The term fire blight describes the blackened, burned appearance of damaged flowers, twigs, and foliage. Symptoms appear in early spring. Blossoms first become water-soaked, then wilt, and finally turn brown. Fruit may be infected by the bacterium directly through the skin or through the stem. Immature fruit are initially water-soaked, turning brownish black and becoming mummified as the disease progresses. These mummies often cling to the trees for several months.

Shortly after the blossoms die, leaves on the same spur or shoot turn brown and black. As the twig and leaf blight phase progresses, leaves die and curl downward, but do not drop from the tree which produces a “shepherd’s crook” appearance. This is usually the time when this disease is noticed on a tree or shrub. Spraying at this time is pointless, sanitization is the only cure.  This means cutting back at least 12 inches behind the scorched area and sanitizing pruners between every cut.  Choosing tolerant plant varieties is an easy way to reduce the likelihood of getting fire blight. Another option is to apply antibiotics (bactericides) very early in the spring, but timing can be very tricky for complete control.  Remember, Antibiotics are protectants and not cures so they must be present to prevent the infection. The best way for a homeowner to avoid fireblight is to choose resistant varieties.

If you have gardening related questions, call the Master Gardener Helpline!

March through August,the Alabama Cooperative Extension System offers a Gardening Helpline for the general public each Monday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.  This helpline is operated by Master Gardener Volunteers who use research based information to best answer all of your gardening questions.

If you’ve got home garden questions, we’ve got answers!

Call 1-877-252-GROW (4769)



Vegetable Seed Selection

Contributed by:  Chip East, Regional Extension Agent

Have you ever given much thought to the vegetable seeds you plant? Why do you plant them? Taste? Production? Disease resistance? Recommended from a friend? Many people plant the same cultivars each year and never think of planting anything else.

Portrait of mid-adult woman proudly showing her plants

The Extension System has taught many tomato workshops over the years and have a tomato taste test as part of the program. Many gardeners bring in some of their favorite tomatoes. We assign the tomato a number, then slice it up for tasting. Participants eat the tomatoes, not even knowing which one they brought. It is very interesting to see the participants who have grown a particular tomato for years because they thought it was the best, only to actually like several others that they have never grown. There are actually thousands of different tomato cultivars to choose from, and I do not know if someone would ever eat fruit from all of them but they can certainly have fun trying.

One question is where would someone find different tomato cultivars? Nurseries and farm supply stores have many cultivars ready for transplanting, and growing your own transplants is an option as well. Seed starting can be fun, and this opens the door to thousands of cultivars. The Extension System can help you if you have questions about growing transplants.

Tomato plants get several diseases that lower production, and cultivar selection could help decrease some of those diseases. Some of the common problems you can find resistance to include fusarium wilt and nematodes. However, resistance to verticillium wilt, alternaria stem canker, bacterial speck, gray leaf spot, tobacco mosaic wilt virus, and others are available. Tomato spotted wilt virus is common, and cultivars such as Bella Rosa, Amelia, BHN 640, Christa, Primo Red, and others are resistant. Growers can even find heat set tomatoes. Many tomatoes do not set fruit well with temperatures in the 90’s. While tomatoes do not perform well with high temperatures, the heat set tomatoes do better than others. Some of the heat set tomato cultivars include Phoenix, Red Bounty, Redline, Solar Fire, and others. Some tomatoes are more suitable for greenhouse production or high tunnel production than others, and choosing the right cultivar for those locations is very important.

Just check the tags where you purchase plants or seeds, and it will list the plant resistance. Tomatoes are not the only crop in which you can find disease resistant cultivars. If you have questions about disease resistance, seed starting, or most anything else, just call your local Extension office for additional information.

Dr. Chip East

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Commercial Horticulture

Avoiding the Garden Itch

Contributed by: Mallory Kelley, Regional Extension Agent

Beware of those poisonous vines while working in the yard this summer.  Each year many Alabamians come into contact with poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac while in the outdoors, but it is not only summer when you have to be careful so always be on the lookout.  Even in the winter when the vines look brown and dead they still contain oils that will cause allergic reactions.  These plants can cause a great deal of discomfort, itching and pain from contact on the skin and even greater if the oils get in your lungs or eyes so never burn these vines as the oils can get in the air and be inhaled.

All three of these poisonous plants are easily found throughout the Southeast, but they look very similar in appearance and are often confused with each other and other plants such as virginia creeper, box elder or fragrant sumac, all of which are nonpoisonous.

Poison ivy is often found climbing high on trees, walls or fences or trailing on the ground. This woody vine has hairy looking aerial roots and can grow to more than 10 feet tall, says John Everest, Extension Weed Scientist of Auburn University.  All parts of the plant are poisonous and poison ivy always has three leaflets. Flowers and fruit form in clusters on slender stems attached to the leaf limbs.  Poison ivy has toxic oil in the stems and leaves that many people are highly allergic to and develop a rash. The rash usually starts with itchiness and swelling, followed by a reddish inflammation of tiny pimples. The rash can vary in severity from person to person and can begin as early as an hour after contact or up to five days after contact. The oil can even be transmitted from a pet’s fur or from smoke of burning poison ivy.

Poison oak is very similar to poison ivy, but it does not climb. Its leaves are thicker, are a dull green and are hairy on both sides of the leaves. Poison oak is found in dry, sunny sites in woodlands, thickets and old fields.

Poison sumac is a shrub and can grow to 25 feet tall. Leaves are 7 to 15 inches long and have 7 to 15 leaflets to a central stem, with one leaflet at the end of the stem. It is found mostly in swamps or moist bottom lands. Poison sumac also has ivory or white berries that form in clusters.  Same as the poison ivy, never burn these plants and poison oak and poison sumac also have toxic oils that can cause an allergic rash on the skin.

All of these irritating plants range in appearance as leaf shapes will vary even on the same plant and they will also vary in form from rough, woody vines to erect woody shrubs or trailing shrubs that run on the ground.  Never base your identification on one or two leaves, but look at the overall plant and many leaves and compare size and shapes to determine the plants identify and if ever in doubt, leave it alone.

May and June are the best times to apply control measures to these poison plants, but it can be done any time of the year.  Spraying the foliage with products that are listed with the active ingredient: glyphosate is recommended. To kill poison ivy on trees, cut the vine right above the ground, then treat any leaves coming from the vine on the ground with glyphosate. More than one application may be necessary, but eventually this herbicide will kill the roots and prevent sprouting. Always follow directions on the label when using this herbicide. Glyphosate will kill almost any plant when it comes in contact with the green plant tissue and does not remain active in the soil.

To prevent these plants from poisoning your summer, become familiar with how the plants look and avoid them. If you come in contact with one of the plants, wash your skin with strong soap and hot water immediately, and remove and wash all clothes, including shoes and socks in a strong detergent and warm or hot water. Also, keep your hands away from your eyes, mouth and face.

If you develop a rash, don’t scratch it. You can apply calamine lotion, zinc oxide ointment or a paste made with baking soda and water to the rash. If these measures don’t work, call your doctor.

Some people have severe allergic reactions to these plants and can have swelling in the throat, breathing problems, weakness, dizziness and bluish lips. Some people even fall into unconsciousness. If any of these reactions occur, seek emergency medical care.

SOURCE: Dr. John Everest, Extension Weed Scientist, Alabama Cooperative Extension System,

If you have gardening related questions, call the Master Gardener Helpline!

March through August the Alabama Cooperative Extension System offers a Gardening Helpline for the general public each Monday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.  This helpline is operated by Master Gardener Volunteers who use research based information to best answer all of your gardening questions.

If you’ve got home garden questions, we’ve got answers!

Call 1-877-252-GROW (4769)

Please join us for the FREE Master Gardener Lunch and Learn Program in your area EVERY MONTH from 12:00-1:00, Bring a Sack Lunch, Drinks Provided.

Montgomery (April 5th), Autauga (April 6th), and Elmore (April 11th) are all about Growing Tomatoes at their Lunch and Learn for April!  Please come learn how you can improve your tomato plant health and harvest this summer!


Controlling Weeds in Your Lawn

Contributed by: Mallory Kelley, Regional Extension Agent

A weed can have many definitions, but its true definition is “a plant out of place” and in the case of your lawn, those plants can be hard to control and definitely an eye sore.  Some even can be out right painful in the case of the lawn burweed. When looking for control, the product label is the best source of information as to which lawn grasses can be treated with a particular product. Read the label carefully before purchase and use the information to ensure safety to the applicator as well as the home lawn setting.

Quickly, let’s review a few terms that will help you when trying to control weeds in your turfgrass: Preemergence herbicide: A herbicide that is applied to the lawn grass surface before problem weed seeds germinate and emerge from the ground. These herbicides must be applied before a weed problem is even noticed. Postemergence herbicide: A herbicide that is applied after weeds have emerged, but while they are small and actively growing. This type of herbicide is applied to the leaf and stem tissue of the problem weeds. Generally, postemergence herbicides will not control weeds that germinate and emerge after the application.  Non-selective herbicide: A herbicide that kills all vegetation treated. Typically, these products are applied to the foliage of the weeds. This type herbicide will also severely injure or kill desirable plants. “Green-up” period (transition period): A short period of time in the spring when desirable lawn grass is emerging from its dormant state. It is dur

ing this time that grasses are most sensitive to herbicides and, in many cases, the herbicide labels prohibit their use.

This year is going to be tricky when it comes to weed control in the lawn due to the crazy fluctuations of temperatures and the fact that we have barely experienced winter.  Our turf grasses went dormant, but many of them have been trying to come out of dormancy or “green-up” for weeks now.  Generally, I would say February is the time to put out your pre-emergence products to control your spring weeds, but with the February we had, that would not have been a good idea and now March is upon us.

So this year I say skip your winter pre-emergence application, and if you currently have weeds popping up you could spot spray with a non-selective herbicide if your extremely careful or use a labeled post-emergence product so you do not damage your turf.  Then once your grass has fully emerged from dormancy apply a pre-emergence that will then help control your summer weed seeds that are sitting there waiting for the right temperatures to germinate.

Knowing what type of turfgrass you have is especially important when it comes to weed control.  If you are not sure, you can always contact your local county extension office.  Below is a link to the Homeowner Lawn Weed Control Manual that will be extremely helpful in choosing what product is right for you.


When using Herbicides-Always read and follow label directions.

If you have questions on a garden related topic, the Master Gardener Helpline is open!

Call 1-877-ALA(252)-GROW(4769)

March through August the Alabama Cooperative Extension System offers a Gardening Helpline for the general public each Monday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m.  This helpline is operated by Master Gardener Volunteers who use research based information to best answer all of your gardening questions.

Join us for a Gardening Lunch and Learn!

Interested in learning more about seasonal gardening topics?  Please join us for the FREE Master Gardener Lunch and Learn Program in your area EVERY MONTH from 12:00-1:00, Bring a Sack Lunch, Drinks Provided.  Call your local county office for topics, dates and locations for Elmore, Autauga and Montgomery Counties.

Arbor Day Celebration Was A Success!

Over 3 thousand  saplings enjoying new homes this month.  In February, the Autauga Forestry & Wildlife Stewardship Council, Autauga County Master Gardeners and the City of Prattville handed out hundreds of free trees to residents as part of Arbor Day celebrations.


The sapling giveaways were held in Prattville  at the Doster Center on February 18, 2017 and in Autaugaville at the Autaugaville Volunteer Fire Department on February 23, 2017. Varieties including fruit trees, crepe myrtles, oak, river birch, and hickory trees are now being cared for by thousands of Autauga County residents.

Also, the Autauga County Master Gardeners and the Prattville Parks and Recreation Department held a free class on pruning trees, shrubs, and roses at the Prattville Parks and Recreation Office.  The February 19th class focused focus on the proper pruning of the Crape Myrtle tree. The Autauga County Extension office is a member of the Autauga Forestry & Wildlife Stewardship Council and supports the Autauga County Master Gardeners program.


2017 Lunch and Learn Schedule

Join the Autauga County Master Gardeners on the first Thursday of every month in 2017 for their free Lunch & Learn sessions.  Bring a sack lunch, and enjoy an hour of learning about a wide variety of gardening topics impacting River Region gardening.

side view of gardening activity, unrecognizable woman hands wearing gloves, with her work tool planting seeds.

The Autauga County Master Gardener Lunch & Learn meetings are held at:

Christ Lutheran Church
2175 Cobbs Ford Road
Prattville Alabama 36066
12 Noon – 1:00 p.m.

See the schedule below for this free event that is open to all who are interested!

2 March Fire Ants & Other Home Invaders Dr. Fudd Graham, Entomologist, AU
6 April There’s a Fungus On Our Tomatoes Dani Carroll, Horticulturist, ACES
4 May Fire Ants and Other Home Invaders Dr. Fudd Graham, Entomologist, AU
1 June Blueberries in the Home Garden Dr. Chip East, Horticulturist, ACES
6 July Color in All Seasons-Shrub and Perennial Beds Jason Powell, Petals From the Past
3 August Tough Native Wildflowers Dr. Sue Webb, Petals From the Past
7 September Container Gardening Sondra Henley, Master Gardener
5 October Keep Hummingbirds ALL Year Round Fred Bassett
2 November Recycling Yard and Kitchen Waste Karin Carmichael, Master Gardener
7 December Christmas Arrangements from Yard Plants Sharon Williams

For more information, please contact the Autauga County Extension Office (334) 361-7273

Herb Workshop Is Well Attended

Herb Workshop Presenters
Presenters (left to right): Janice Hall, Jane Mobley, Mallory Kelley

Tri-county residents had a great learning experience at the August 17th workshop titled “Herbs: Growing, Cooking & Preserving”.

Herb Workshop at Autauga County Extension
Herb Workshop at Autauga County Extension

Master Gardener Jane Mobely started the workshop with an in depth presentation on growing and using herbs. She offered cautions  about making sure that an expert has identified any herbs growers intend to eat or use for medical purposes.  Regional Extension Agent Mallory Kelley, who specializes in Home Grounds, Gardens, and Home Pests, recognized Autauga County Master Gardeners and their volunteer efforts.  Regional Extension Agent Janice Hall, Food Safety & Quality, provided information on ways to preserve and cook with herbs,safely prepare herbal oils and pesto.

Participants received Extension publications on growing and drying herbs and recipes for cooking with herbs. Workshop participants also sampled lemonade and food that were all prepared with fresh,locally grown herbs.

For more information about this exciting topic, please call the Autauga County Extension office at 334.361.7273.

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