Types of plant pathogens

This post is meant to simplify plant diseases and their control. I hope I don’t offend any plant pathologist out there. My father was a plant pathologist, and he might have cringed at some of my generalizations, but I’m not writing this for plant pathologists, so here goes.

The three major classifications of plant diseases are those caused by fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Yes, there are other classifications of pathogens, but I’ll not discuss them here. Fungi are usually multicellular, bacteria are single celled, and viruses are not a true living organism at all, as they cannot reproduce without a living host.

We’ll begin with fungus diseases. Some fungus diseases are systemic, which means that the fungal mycelium goes inside the plant. An example of this is silverleaf disease in apples. There is no effective way to treat this disease outbreak other than removing and burning the affected trees.

Most fungus diseases aren’t as difficult to control. Part of the reason involves knowing a little about the disease triangle. Three things are necessary for a disease to occur. The environment must be suitable, there must be a pathogen and the plants must be susceptible to that pathogen. If the environment is not suitable for growth of the fungus, disease will be avoided. Otherwise, treatment will be necessary.

However, if you know that, you can treat early and avoid much of the problem. Should you fail to do this, you often can treat infected plants and solve the problem. Removing infected tissue or treating with a fungicide are treatment options. Apple scab is a fungus disease that can be controlled with regular spraying.

Fungi don’t reproduce as fast as bacteria, which leads us to bacteria. They are single celled primitive microorganisms called prokaryotes. This means that their cells have no nuclei. Under favorable circumstances, they can reproduce at an alarming rate. That’s why plants can look healthy one day and nearly dead the next.

We all have experienced bacterial infections and have taken antibiotics (bactericides). We usually take them two or three times a day for ten days or so. This kind of treatment regimen is impractical for plants. The only effective ways to control bacterial diseases in plants are to remove the infected plant to save the rest or plant cultivars resistant to the disease.

A common bacterial disease you might see in a garden is bacterial wilt, which infects cucurbits and tomatoes. Removing insect vectors like cucumber beetles can lessen the problem. So can improving air circulation and not overwatering.

Fire blight in pears has made it virtually impossible to grow bartlett pears in our climate. Citrus greening disease and citrus canker have crippled the Florida citrus industry in recent years.

Viruses are perhaps the most difficult pathogen type to control. Viruses attach themselves to the cell of a host and reprogram that cell to produce more viruses. These tiny pathogens are nothing more than a piece of DNA or RNA covered with a protein coat. There is basically no chemical control for them. Removing infected plants is about the only thing you can do once plants become infected.

Probably the most effective way for plants to avoid being damaged is to reduce the stress on them. Proper nutrition and water management are important but investing in resistant varieties is the most effective way to avoid losses.

I’m only scratching the surface here. Plant pathology is a complicated science, and I have made some sweeping generalizations. Not only did I not even mention all the pathogen types, but I also didn’t even discuss abiotic factors like mineral deficiencies, which are very common.

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Pruning tips

This is a subject folks frequently ask me. The following is rather simplistic, but important none the less. Pruning is a chore all gardeners must perform. Many folks avoid it, and results are seldom pretty. There are several reasons we prune, and many are seasonally dependent.   

Flowering is a major consideration. Most spring blooming shrubs and trees bloom on the previous season’s wood. Examples are dogwood, azalea, rhododendron, cherry, lilac, forsythia, and most fruit trees. Some trees like apples and pears flower on two-year-old wood, so pruning can be a little more complicated. Except for fruit trees and grapes, most spring blooming trees and shrubs bloom on the previous season’s growth, and therefore should not be pruned until they bloom.

Trees and shrubs that bloom on the current season’s growth usually can be pruned any time. Fall and winter are fine. Vitex, butterfly bush, abelia, Loropetalum, spiraea, and crape myrtle are examples of these. Most needled evergreens can be pruned during the dormant season, and I prefer to prune oak trees then as well to reduce the spread of oak wilt.

Sometimes plants need to be pruned to change or improve their form. Sometimes they have simply outgrown their space. Here it gets tricky. Most deciduous trees and shrubs and many broadleaved ones may be cut back to a point where there is no foliage left and still recover. Most needled evergreens cannot be without killing the plant. Sometimes it is necessary to perform a renewal pruning, which means cutting the plant down to the ground or nearly so. If that specimen is a yew, pine, fir, spruce or similar needled plant, the only option is usually a truck and a chain or maybe a chainsaw and a stump grinder.

Another reason plants require severe pruning is when they encounter damage from storms or machinery. Under these circumstances, it may be necessary to prune at typically the wrong time of year. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

If a larger tree falls on your favorite dogwood during a fall hurricane or winter ice storm you might need to remove some branches and shape other ones to try to restore proper shape. This would mean sacrificing bloom for a year. Sometimes that is a small price to pay.

Pruning has some basic rules, like using disinfected tools to avoid cross-contamination and performing each cut as close to the top of a bud as possible. Using the appropriate tool can avoid ragged wounds, which invite disease organisms. In general, dead wood may be removed any time. It’s already dead.

Proper mowing is the most important management decision to your lawn. Likewise, proper pruning is arguably the most important decision to established landscape plants. Proper watering is the most important task for newly planted trees and shrubs.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us via email, phone, or at the nursery and we will do what we can.

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Ranger – I Loved him like my children

Today was one of the toughest days I can remember. My dog, Ranger, was hit by a car a little over a month from his second birthday. He was a beautiful big red golden retriever who was mature beyond his years.

Ranger loved everyone and everything. He loved other dogs, cats and all people. He never left the yard, so for the last year or so we never tied him except when we had people around who were nervous around dogs. Ranger was our greeter at our nursery, and everyone knew him. Sometimes, when he was in the house folks asked if I would bring him outside so they could see him.

It’s funny. When we got him, we weren’t even in the market for a dog. In fact, I said repeatedly that this place wasn’t safe for dogs to run free, and I didn’t want to have a dog on a chain. My daughter came to us and asked us if we would take a golden retriever puppy. One of her bridesmaids, Morgan Murray, had his father and she couldn’t keep any more dogs. We agreed to go look at the litter.

I was smitten immediately. This one puppy, the biggest of the litter, climbed out of the kiddie pool and stumbled right over to me. That was my dog! I counted down the days until we picked him up. We were inseparable. I took him to work every day, and he laid by my desk.

He loved the water. Whenever we were near any body of water he had to go for a swim. He loved to play ball, and for a big dog with huge feet he was very quick and athletic. Unlike most dogs, he wouldn’t overeat, and he always left food in his dish for later, even if it was something he really liked, so he was lean. We hadn’t yet neutered him, since several people expressed interest in breeding him.

Early this afternoon while I was fixing lunch, a young lady came to my door and told me she just witnessed two dogs get hit and one ran to my lawn. Ranger was in the house with me or at least I thought he was, but I followed her outside and saw him lying there. I lost it. He was the best dog I ever had. This is going to be one tough grieve. I loved him like a son. Please pray for Roberta and me. We are devastated.

Ranger being tall

Ranger and Charles on the couch.

Ranger relaxed

Ranger gazing over the water

Ranger out fishing

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New book titles available on Amazon in paperback

I’ve decided to format and put some books up on Amazon. I’ve re-released Never Alone and posted the other books in that Series (Strange Courage [#2], Second Chances [#3], and Grandfather’s Way [#5]). I’m still working on Promises Kept, which is book #4. This set began as a stand-alone adventure story and evolved into a family saga, the Forgotten Virtues series. If you like family oriented outdoorsy stuff with a positive spiritual message, you might want to check these out.

                I wrote Virginia to fulfill two objectives. First, I never wrote anything in first person except non-fiction stuff. Second, I wanted to see if I could write a mainstream book like a romance novel but from a different perspective than most. Virginia is a romance written from a man’s perspective for women who often bemoan that they don’t know how men think. Gray Jarvis is a former football star and successful young engineer, but he is not overly experienced with women. He often says the wrong thing without meaning any malice, but he wants nothing more than to win the heart of an impoverished country girl from West Virginia, who has become the surrogate mother of her younger siblings. Because of this, she is accustomed to making decisions, and she is in complete control of the situation. Her reluctance to build a relationship with this man who seemingly has it all frustrates Gray to no end. Virginia feels that helping those in need supersedes any personal wants she might have, and Gray cannot understand that. Still, his passion for her won’t allow him to walk away.

                All these titles are available on Amazon as paperbacks for $7.95 each.

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Spurweed is out there now – don’t delay

I thought I’d post a quick note on a nasty weed.This recent warm weather has made many lawn weeds pop. Among them is spurweed (Soliva sessilis)) otherwise known as lawn burweed, stickerweed and sandbur. It is a low growing fine textured plant that eventually develops sharp spines that stick in anything that contacts them.

As of a week ago I had no spurweed in my lawn, but it has now reared its ugly head. This is a tough one to control.  I have often said that once a person sees spurweed it is too late to stop it. That’s a little harsh, because if plants are treated before they go to seed, they can be hit with a post-emergent herbicide followed by a pre-emergent one in the fall. That can help immensely. Repeat treatments will still be necessary, but the earlier this weed is attacked the better long-term success will be.

Primary treatment with a mixture of 2,4-D, dicamba and MCPP is a good first step. Follow that up with another dose in a few weeks if new plants appear. In the fall, you will probably want to apply a pre-emergent herbicide like isoxaben in October. This will prevent new plants from germinating over the winter.

The biggest problem with spurweed is that seeds can remain dormant in the soil for a long time. That means control is a multi-year process. I’m sorry to be the skunk at the picnic, but this little plant can be a long-term adversary. Stay vigilant!

Newly emerging spurweed

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Spring weeds are now appearing

Spring weeds are now appearing

It has been quite a while since I’ve posted any articles, but this is a time that we need to get outside and check out what is coming up in our lawns and garden beds. We might have weeds we need to address, either from a removal standpoint or possibly a usage consideration.

Driving down the highway and gazing the harvested fields we can’t ignore the beautiful pink to purple carpet of henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) and dead nettle (Lamium purpurea). Likely some of those two mints have probably found their way into our lawn and beds, too. If so, they should be addressed before they go to seed.

From a foraging standpoint, both are edible but not among my favorites, especially if they have begun to bloom. If you are interested in removing them, they are easy to control with most broadleaf herbicides. If they don’t really bother you to that extent or you prefer not to use chemicals, these two square stemmed devils will disappear as soon as summer approaches.

Common chickweed (Stellaria media) and hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) are winter annuals that have been showing themselves more lately. Both are excellent foraging greens for both fresh and cooked use if harvested before they begin to flower. They are among my favorites. Once they bloom, they are easier to spot but their flavor suffers. As with most winter annual and early spring weeds, warm weather will hasten their departure from your landscape.

Another spring weed just beginning to emerge is sow thistle (Sonchus sp.). It makes a great salad green when consumed young. It is crunchy and mild tasting. For you potential foragers out there, pay close attention as aphids like it too. Eating aphids certainly won’t hurt you, but the tough is not especially appetizing. This is another weed that is easily vanquished by most broadleaf herbicides. Mowing works well also.

Field garlic (Allium vineale) has probably adorned most lawns for much of the winter. Many folks don’t realize it is edible, but it is. Both the bulbs and the tops can be eaten. I usually don’t mess with the bulbs, as they are tedious to clean. Processing the foliage requires less work. It is easy to dry them for storage too. Once dried they can be cut up and placed in airtight containers in a cool dark place.

If elimination from the landscape is your goal, this one is a little more difficult to control. I’ve found that repeat treatments of a mixture of 2,4-D, dicamba, and MCPP will control most Alliums in your lawn. For landscape beds it is safer to dig them out.

Another weed showing its head right now is buttercup (Ranunculus sp.). This one has no foraging value. It contains antimicrobial compounds; hence some herbalists use it medicinally, but this is one weed that is pretty but should be eliminated if possible. Buttercups are toxic to livestock, pets, and children.

These are just a few I noticed in my yard this morning. I’ll discuss a few more later.

purple deadnettle
purple dead nettle
Florida Betony above and common chickweed below
bittercress - just the right size
Bittercress – just the right size
young sow thistle plants
Field garlic in dormant turf
Buttercups starting to bloom
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Books now available on Kindle

Strange Courage

By Ted Manzer

Most of the Forgotten Virtues series is now available on Kindle. Never Alone was released in 2017 and is in the process of being re-released. Three more books in the series are now out there. Strange Courage (second book of the series takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife’s death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. In the fifth book, Grandfather’s Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. The fourth book, Promises Kept is still undergoing editing. It depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to Carl’s death.

Ultimately, all these will be available on the paperback version also.

Also, a stand-alone romance entitled Virginia is now out on Kindle. Virginia is a romance written from a man’s perspective for women who often bemoan that they don’t know how men think. Gray Jarvis is a former football star and successful young engineer, but he is not overly experienced with women. He often says the wrong thing without meaning any malice, but he wants nothing more than to win the heart of an impoverished country girl from West Virginia, who has become the surrogate mother of her younger siblings. Because she has been burdened with so much responsibility, she is accustomed to making decisions, and she is in complete control of the relationship. Her reluctance to build a serious friendship with this man who seemingly has it all frustrates Gray to no end. Virginia feels that helping those in need supersedes any personal wants she might have, and Gray cannot understand that. Still, his passion for her won’t allow him to walk away. This is definitely not your typical romance.

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Waiting for the kids and thinking of my mother

Christmastime is a great time for reflection. I’m waiting for my kids to come, and I remember when each arrived for the first time. When Daniel was born, we were new to the whole thing. We got in a hurry. At the hospital, one of the nurses broke Roberta’s water, so they kept her. Otherwise, they likely would have sent us home. More than twenty-four hours later the doctor made the decision to take him by C-section. It was probably a good thing as he had the cord wrapped around his neck twice.

Oliver was a little simpler in a way. The hardest part was convincing the doctor to let Bert try to have the baby normally. Labor took much less time, but the delivery wasn’t without its uniqueness either. Shortly after midnight, it became obvious Oliver was coming into this world normally, but it was less clear that he was going to be born without hitting the floor. The doctor juggled him twice before finally catching him. My hands were right below his and just above floor level, in case Dr. Kerr juggled Oliver again.

By the time we were ready for Grace to come, we thought we had this whole baby thing figured out. However, every time we thought it was time, the labor would slow down. I bet we walked close to ten miles that early April day. Finally, at about five in the afternoon, we headed for the hospital. She was born before six.

Since then, we have realized that all our children are different. Daniel never shut up, Oliver never talked, and Grace was somewhere in between. They’re still a lot like that.

It makes me think back to my youth. My siblings and I are all unique. I’m sure you can also recount stories from the arrival of each of us like it just happened. I often struggle remembering things that just happened, but things about the coming of your children are memories that are retained forever with such vividness that makes one wonder why we can’t remember everything like that.

I remember back in 2015, when Roberta, Grace, and I took a surprise trip up to Maine for Christmas. There was no snow, and the lakes weren’t even frozen. After considerable scouring of the local woods, we cut a fir tree and set it in the front yard of the cabin. Shortly afterward, the three of us began decorating. We strung popcorn, and I collected lichens, cones, and other natural items for decoration until we had a beautiful Christmas tree.  

After that, we drove back to Old Town to surprise Mom and Dad on Christmas eve. Of all the gifts I have given in my life, I think that one was the biggest surprise. In an age of the internet, gift cards and the like, that was an experience I won’t soon forget. I hope you don’t either. Merry Christmas Mom. Maybe in the future, Roberta and I might be able to equal that one.

I’ll always remember scrounging the woods or out by the airport in search of the perfect Christmas tree. I also remember how they were always ‘the prettiest tree we ever had’. Dad would put the lights on, and I’ll never forget those big multicolored bulbs. Some of them blinked and others did not. Once the lights and tree topper were on, Dad would hang that deer ornament. After that, his duties were concluded and the rest of us finished up. In the afternoon, we would head to Gray to do Christmas again at the farm.

During Christmas break, if there was enough snow, Jim and I would take turns on our bobsled run behind the house. One year when there was plenty of ice but not much snow, we even built an iceboat with a cedar mast and a piece of thick plastic for a sail. That thing would fly.

Every family has unique memories of Christmas. I’m sure my children and grandchildren will cherish different things than I do be they foods or activities. That’s what makes it so special.

My only Christmas swimming experience in Maine (2015)

Grace’s polar plunge (Christmas 2015)

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Dill Pickles can be made from those big orange cucumbers too

Back in 2014 I posted a column about making sweet pickles from big overripe cucumbers. I included a recipe my mother used and still makes for her church. She’s now almost 88. 

The recipe was called Ruth’s pickles and I found out after I posted the column that it was named for the story in the Old Testament of Ruth and Boaz. Ruth gleaned the field after the harvest, salvaging what she could. In this case the big orange cucumbers were left after the marketable ones were picked.  

Therefore, the final product was called “Ruth’s pickles” after her. One of my readers, Deb Smith, supplied me with that information. That recipe has been a part of our family since I was a teenager. 

I’m a fan of them, but I also love dill pickles. My middle son is a type 1 diabetic and has been for 19 years. He doesn’t eat sweet pickles. He’s been on his own for some time now, but I thought it might be cool to experiment with overripe cucumbers to produce dills. 

My concern was maintaining the crunch without a flinty skin. Peeling them was an easy fix for part of that problem. I thought removing the gelatinous mature seeds might solve The other dilemma, so I played around with several recipes until I found a brine that gave me the flavor I wanted. 

I thought that the flavor of apple cider vinegar overpowered the garlic and dill, so I settled on white vinegar. In order to preserve crispness, I added some sugar and a touch of calcium chloride. My recipe is probably not totally accurate as I’m a taster. I keep adjusting until the taste feels right to me. 

Another thing I did was let the brine simmer for a while before adding it to the jars. That way the garlic and dill taste might be stronger sooner.  

I did not cook the dill sprigs or whole garlic cloves. They went straight to the jars. Only minced garlic and dill seed were cooked with the brine. I didn’t process them. Instead I stored them in a relatively cool spot though not in the refrigerator. After six weeks all the jars remain sealed. 

I tried a jar within three days, and I was encouraged. At six weeks the quality was even better. I’m not saying they are as good as they would be had I used young pickling cucumbers, but I’m satisfied with the results.  

I thought about pickling some of the orange cukes without peeling and removing the seeds, but I knew what the result would be, and it wasn’t worth wasting ingredients. 

Thus far, I think the experiment was a success. Time will tell. My desire was to find another edible use for those overripe cucumbers. I love the sweet pickles, but I also love dills. Most of all, I love to experiment. 

My recipe is as follows: 

Approximately 10 pounds of prepared cucumber pieces 

10 cups white vinegar and 10 cups water 

1 cup pickling salt 

½ cup sugar 

6 Tablespoons dill seed 

10 teaspoons fresh minced garlic 

20 fresh dill sprigs 

20 cloves of garlic 

All ingredients except the cucumbers, dill sprigs and garlic cloves are simmered in a brine for about ten minutes. I packed the cucumbers tightly in sterilized jars and added two sprigs of dill and two cloves of garlic. Then I added the boiling brine mixture over the cucumbers until all were covered. After placing lids and rings on the jars I let them cool for a few hours until the jars sealed. Had any not sealed I would have placed them in a water bath for a few minutes and given them another chance to seal. Fortunately, this wasn’t necessary.  

Next time I’m making dill relish. I might add a few red peppers for color. 


Jar of ripe dills

 Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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Coronavirus constraints make me appreciate self-sufficiency

I’ve always had an independent streak. The pioneer lifestyle has always fascinated me. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong century, except if I had then I never would have taken up writing.

Modern editing capability makes writing fun. I have so much respect for anyone who did this before the 80s. The typewriter was the standard tool then, and I’m a lousy typist. I’m even worse at asking someone else to do it for me.

I’m just into self-reliance. I like to fix things and get by with fewer resources. This virus and our response to it has shown me that as a country we have allowed ourselves to be less self-sufficient. Back in the 80s and 90s, CEOs were praised for outsourcing and making their companies and stockholders large sums of money. I thought it was short-sighted then and I feel vindicated now.

We need to be able to make certain essential products here in this country. It’s even better if we can produce many of these goods locally. We can’t afford to be hamstrung by other people who might hate us.

Like most folks, I’ve been to the grocery store recently. Many people are nervous. They must be because certain shelves are bare. For awhile milk, bread, meat and toilet paper were basically nonexistent. Toilet paper and paper towels still are.

I overheard people in the store complaining about the toilet paper shortage, and I wanted to tell them to go to a hardware store or online and order a bidet attachment for their toilet. It would likely cost them less than $50. I haven’t installed one, but I’ve done my research.

As far as food goes, my freezer is full of meat, but most of it didn’t come from the store. My pantry is loaded with home-canned stuff and it’s better than any similar items you can buy in the store. I love homemade bread too. That’s probably part of the reason I’m carrying more weight than I should, that and arthritis.

Social distancing is a buzzword now. Government mandates have forced us to curtail certain activities. Restaurants are now only for take-out orders. Schools are virtual and all assignments and correspondence are completed via computer. It’s certainly not my style but I’m adapting. We all are.

I have a cabin in northeastern Maine. As the crow flies, it’s less than ten miles from the Canadian border. We have no electricity and no running water. Only a hand-dug well and a spout pump keep us from the drudgery of carrying buckets of water.

I love that place. When I’m there I see more eagles than people. In the summer we live on fish chowder and blueberries. When it’s cold, the old wood stove keeps the place warm. I love it, but I think the biggest reason I do is because when I’m there, living without modern conveniences is my choice.

I’m not too keen on government mandates, but I realize we all must comply for the welfare of all during this crisis. I’ll be glad when it’s over, and I can be more in charge of my life.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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