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How to Treat & Prevent 5 Common Vegetable Diseases

Vegetable diseases can ruin an entire crop before you can say "dagnabit." Find out how to prevent these diseases and how to treat them if they do arrive.

As gardeners, there’s no shortage of disappointments out there waiting to swoop in and ruin the enjoyment of your garden. Rabbits may eat your strawberries, seeds may never germinate, and your nosy neighbor might tell you all the ways he thinks you’re planting your cucumbers wrong. But vegetable diseases are on another level. 

Unlike pests, like the tomato hornworm, for example, vegetable diseases are invisible. You can’t just pick them off or blast them with the garden hose. You won’t even know your favorite heirloom kale is infected until you see the brown spots on the leaves. What is a gardener to do? Cry out to the gods and pledge your soul for a healthy crop of Lacinto Kale? That might be a bit dramatic, but there is a lot you can do to prevent and treat some of the most common vegetable diseases.

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Conquering vegetable diseases before they conquer your garden

Vegetable diseases are a fact of gardening. I’ll touch on a few ways to treat diseases below, but first, let’s talk about ways to prevent disease. 

There are a few steps you can take to prevent vegetable diseases before they infect your plants. 

  • Grow disease-resistant varieties.
  • Take advantage of companion planting.
  • Rotate crops (It’s an oldie, but a goodie).
  • Water properly so your plants aren’t sitting in constantly damp soil.
  • Use mulch to prevent contaminated soil from splashing onto your plant leaves.
  • Use trellises for vining plants, so there is plenty of air circulation among leaves.

Prevention is, naturally, your best option, but even so, it’s important to know how to treat diseases. Even the most diligent gardeners will, at some point, end up with an infected plant or two. 

1. Root rot: Root rot can be challenging to diagnose since, in some cases, it looks like your plant isn’t getting enough water. Leaves become droopy and yellowed, and the plant looks “sad.” In fact, the culprit is often too much water due to poor drainage. Your best option here is to dig up the plant, clean off the roots, and remove any dead or mushy roots with garden shears. You can replant the vegetable at that point, but you may or may not have success in a revival.

2. Powdery mildew: The name of this fungal disease describes its appearance quite well. The leaves of your favorite vegetables will look like they’ve been dusted in powder. To treat powdery mildew, spray Neem oil on your plants.

3. Fusarium wilt: As you can guess, Fusarium wilt, as well as Verticillium wilt, are two vegetable diseases that cause wilting and drooping. Unfortunately, your only option for treatment is to remove and destroy infected plants. 

4. Rusts: Rust diseases won’t kill your vegetables, but they may prevent them from bearing fruit. True to its name, rust diseases look like spots of rust on your plants. You can try to remove the infected parts of a plant, but it’s best to remove and destroy the entire plant in more severe cases.

5. Anthracnose: If you notice small yellow or dark spots on the leaves of your plants, they may be infected with this fungal disease. Anthracnose can spread quickly, especially through watering, and it can reduce your favorite veggies to a pile of rot quickly. If you catch it early enough, you can attempt to treat infected plants (and nearby plants that might also be infected) with Neem oil. Your other option is to remove and destroy any infected plants. 

As disappointing as these vegetable diseases can be, if you can prevent them or catch them early on, your garden will be just fine. You’ll have a rich harvest of all your favorites in no time.

What kind of vegetable diseases have you had to deal with, and how did you treat them? I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments!

Discover 7 top tips for growing, harvesting, and enjoying tomatoes from your home garden—when you access the FREE guide The Best Way to Grow Tomatoes, right now!

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