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Ask for Help Identifying Summer Tomato Problems

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.

by Dr. Chip East, Regional Extension Agent – Commercial Horticulture

The Worms Go Marching: Combatting Fall Army Worm Infestations

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Many producers vividly remember their encounters with fall army worms. The discovery of large, later stage army worms in one’s pasture quickly leads to tremendous destruction of valuable forage. Producers generally see the damage of these pests in late July/August through early fall.

Mature fall army worm moths lay eggs that hatch after just 2-4 days. Upon hatching, young army worms begin to feed and grow. Army worm growth occurs in stages, with the worms’ capacity for destruction increasing with each growth stage. Army worms reach full size 2-3 weeks after hatching, and will then burrow into the soil for 10-14 days. Afterward, they emerge as mature army worm moths and continue the life cycle.

A key to managing fall army worms is the understanding of their life cycle and growth phases. Shortly after hatching, small worms are far less destructive than their more mature counterparts. Figure 1 demonstrates the amount of damage observed from worms at each growth stage. Notice that the vast majority of damage occurs during the last growth phase (which occurs 2 weeks after their hatching). Scouting for worms before you notice their destruction allows for one to spray and kill the worms while they are small and in earlier, less destructive growth phases. This reduces their negative impacts on one’s pastures and allows for better control of future infestations since the lifecycle is interrupted.

Fall armyworm

Use a sweep net to scan your pastures for worms. Follow the links to view a video or article on proper sweep net usage. Treatment for fall army worms is effective if worms are found early on. If infestation is discovered too late, major destruction may be unavoidable. This is why it is essential to scout for worms BEFORE you notice their impact on your forages. Once discovered, worms can be killed by spraying. Click here for an article that contains suggestions for fall army worm control.

Also, remember to help your fellow producers know if army worms are in your area by reporting occurrences of fall army worms. Click here to view the updated map of army worm infestation in Alabama, and let us know if you have fall army worms.

More information about fall army worms is available at the Alabama Forages Pest Management website in the Fall Armyworm section.

If you have questions regarding managing fall armyworms, contact myself or other members of the ACES Animal Science and Forages Team.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Regional Extension Agent I

Animal Science & Forages

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 2560-825-1050


Serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa Counties


Not All Black Cattle Are Angus

Looks can be deceiving. Contrary to popular belief, all cattle with black hair are not pure Angus beef, and it has become increasingly difficult to tell the difference.

The popularity of Angus beef has risen greatly in recent years due to a marketing push by the Certified Angus Beef brand. Buyers choose Angus beef because of its marbled appearance which makes it more tender meat. The high demand for Angus has led to more cattle being bred with black hair and consequently more Angus beef.

“Because of their consistent and persistent marketing campaigns, (and their beef is consistent in quality), the Certified Angus Beef product was labeled superior by chefs and consumers,”said Dr. Lisa Kriese-Anderson, Extension animal scientist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and an Auburn University associate professor.

READ MORE: Not All Black Cattle are Angus – Extension Daily

Sarah Dickinson Joins ACES Animal Science and Forages Team

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The Alabama Cooperative Extension System welcomes Sarah Dickinson to the statewide Animal Science and Forages team as a Regional Extension Agent serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa counties.  An Alabama native, Dickinson was raised on her family’s beef cattle operation in Citronelle and became involved in 4-H Livestock project. She exhibited swine and beef market projects in Alabama and beef heifers in state and across the county. Sarah’s heifer projects and utilization of artificial insemination led to the development of her small herd of Simmental influenced females, Sarah Dickinson Simmental Farm.

Sarah earned her Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from Auburn University in 2014. She was actively involved in the Auburn Block and Bridle club, Ag Ambassadors, Auburn Collegiate Cattlemen, and American Junior Simmental Association during her college years, and nourished a strong passion for the agriculture community during this time. She then traveled to Columbia, Missouri and was mentored by Dr. Michael Smith of the University of Missouri. There, she recently completed her Master’s degree in Animal Science concentrating on beef cattle reproduction. Dickinson’s Thesis research was centered on increasing AI pregnancy rates in beef cows following a single, fixed-time insemination. More specifically, she examined the effect of ovulatory follicle size on oocyte (egg) competence in beef females following estrous synchronization.

The cattle through which Sarah’s research data was obtained were located at Fort Keogh, a USDA research station in Miles City, Montana. Therefore, she spent two summers in southeastern Montana gathering data and learning about beef cattle production on the high plains. Sarah’s beef production knowledge was also broadened in Missouri by her extensive training in extension work related to beef cattle reproductive management. Here, she became proficient in beef heifer reproductive tract scoring and pelvic measurements, beef cattle estrous synchronization procedures, artificial insemination, palpation, and ultrasonography. Sarah was further mentored by Dr. David Patterson, and gained a strong understanding of principles surrounding beef heifer development through involvement with the Missouri Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer Program©.

Sarah is housed in the Tallapoosa County extension office, and is excited to make an impact on Alabama’s agricultural community. She states: “I feel blessed to have the opportunity to provide relevant information to help my fellow producers advance their given endeavors. I cannot relay how grateful I am to the talented individuals who mentored me in our state and across the country, and am now excited to put my scientific training, production background, and networking skills to use by helping others!”

Please contact Sarah with animal science or forage related questions, programming ideas for your area, or to discuss agriculture and your operation.


Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Regional Extension Agent I

Animal Science & Forages

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 256-825-1050


Serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa Counties

Beef Cow Evaluation Tips for Selective Culling of the Herd

In hot, dry years beef cow evaluation and selective culling of the herd can allow for better management of limited resources and enhance the average production per animal to boost herd productivity in future years.

When resources are abundant and calf prices are high, it is tempting to retain cows that are not pulling their weight in adding to your bottom line. While such animals reduce one’s profitability regardless of scenario, utilizing selective culling to eliminate these individuals is of utmost importance for management of the herd in times when climate fluctuations lead to lowered nutrient availability. By culling low producing individuals, the overall herd size is reduced allowing hay and pasture to be better stretched among remaining animals. Furthermore, income from the marketing of culled animals can be used to purchase hay or feedstuffs for the upcoming winter. The following checklist outlines criteria that should be considered when evaluating the cowherd, and may be of special relevance in low resource availability years when stringent culling is necessary.

  1. Pregnancy Status: Regardless of climate and market reports, cows that do not produce a calf annually reduce profitability and consume resources needed by their productive herdmates. Open cows should be identified and culled following the conclusion of the breeding season. If you do not have a defined breeding season, keep in mind that a cow must conceive within roughly 80 days of calving to maintain a 365-day calving interval. If she’s open for months longer, she’s not earning her keep. Work with a veterinarian to establish dates for pregnancy examination by palpation or ultrasound, or consider utilizing blood samples sent to a diagnostic lab to determine pregnancy status.
  2. Teeth/Eyes/Feet/Udder: Animals with physical limitations may slip through the culling process in high resource availability years. However, animals unable to easily travel and consume available forage are more likely to lose condition and experience reduced productivity than their physically capable herd mates, and animals with poor udder/teat quality may experience calf loss following birth if suckling is prevented. Culling such animals before a fall calving season and the start of winter feeding eliminates candidates for lowered productivity up front, and marketing these animals before rapid weight loss or health decline results in a more desirable final product and higher compensation.
  3. Body Condition Score (BCS): A BCS allows one to determine the condition of the cowherd. Animals are scored through visual appraisal and external palpation, and a score of 1(emaciated) to 9(obese) is assigned.  At calving, beef cows should have a minimal BCS of 5 to allow for maximum productivity. Thin cows approaching the calving season can lead to lowered pregnancy rates in the upcoming breeding season. BCS appraisal at calf weaning, followed by management to improve condition in thin, dry cows allows such animals to gain condition by calving time. On average, a mature beef cow requires 80 pounds of gain to move up one BCS. However, without adequate feedstuffs to allow for proper gain before calving, culling thin cows at weaning minimizes reduced future production of the herd.
  4. Low production record: Cows that wean late and/or light weight calves pull down the overall productivity of the herd. If conditions require additional culling, look to these animals to lessen your total numbers and increase average productivity per animal.
  5. Disposition: Culling animals with flighty or aggressive behaviors may reduce frustration, producer injury, and fence/equipment damage.
  6. Cows calving out of season or that lack uniformity with the herd: Animals that calve in a season differing from the main herd or that differ in frame size, breed composition, or color may be good candidates for marketing in years when low resources lead to necessary reduction of the herd. Producing uniform calves of the same weight, age, and type can pay dividends when it comes time to wean and market calves. Eliminating animals from the herd that prevent such uniformity may improve overall future profitability. Importantly, such animals can be marketed through different avenues than animals culled for the criteria 1-5 listed above to. Quality individuals that don’t calve in your calving season or are not of the same type as the remainder of your herd may fit others’ calving seasons or herd profiles perfectly. Take advantage of value added marketing schemes to reap the full benefit these animals offer.

While each operation differs in goals and objectives, balance usage of the above cow evaluation criteria can help producers make educated culling or selling decisions in times when resources are both bountiful or limited.

See more articles with further information of this type:

If you have questions regarding cow evaluation and culling/marketing strategies to enhance your program’s profitability, contact myself or other members of the ACES Animal Science and Forages Team.

Sarah Dickinson, M.S.

Regional Extension Agent I

Animal Science & Forages

Alabama Cooperative Extension System

Cell: 256-537-0024

Office: 2560-825-1050


Serving Chambers, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Randolph, Shelby, Talladega, and Tallapoosa Counties


Protecting Backyard Chickens from Disease

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The popularity of raising your own backyard chickens continues to grow. A poultry scientist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System says it is vital that people with backyard flocks do their part to reduce disease spread.

Dr. Joe Hess, an Alabama Extension specialist who works with both large commercial poultry producers as well as with backyard poultry hobbyists, says small flock owners can follow some easy guidelines that will help ensure their birds’ health.

“First, people with backyard poultry should buy chicks from outlets like feed and seed stores or directly from a mail-order company,” said Hess. “These outlets are selling chicks from suppliers that are certified free of disease, helping ensure people begin their flocks with healthy chicks. Always buy birds from a reputable source.”

Practicing backyard biosecurity is an important way to safeguard your flock of backyard chickens, said Hess, who is also a professor of poultry science at Auburn University.

“We use personal hygiene to avoid catching or spreading germs. Good hygiene and other common-sense practices are essential in preventing disease in birds. If you follow some basic tips and make them part of your routine, you can reduce the risk of exposing your flock to diseases.”

Keep Your Distance

Other people and birds—including new birds you’ve just bought and wild birds—can carry diseases to your flock. Keep out unnecessary visitors. Limit contact that visitors have with your birds.

If visitors have birds of their own, do not let them enter your bird area or have access to your birds at all. Also, avoid visiting farms or other households with poultry.

Make sure that feeders are placed in a covered location where wild birds cannot gain access. This will help reduce the potential for disease carried in the droppings of wild birds.

Keep It Clean

“People can pick up germs on shoes and clothing which can put their chickens at risk, “said Hess. To reduce the potential of exposing birds to disease, backyard flock owners should have a pair of shoes and a set of clothes to wear only around their birds.

Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before entering the coop or handling birds. Then wash hands thoroughly after handling birds. Keep cages clean and change food and water daily. Also, clean and disinfect equipment that comes in contact with birds or droppings.

Don’t Bring Disease Home

Tires, poultry cages and equipment can all harbor germs. If you travel to a place where other birds are present, or even to the feed store, be sure to clean and disinfect these items before returning to your property.

Hess cautions small flock keepers about taking their birds away from home.

“If you take birds to a fair or exhibition, keep those birds separated from the rest of your flock for at least 2 weeks after the event. New birds should be kept separate from your flock for at least 30 days.”

Know Warning Signs of Poultry Diseases

Many poultry diseases are swift moving and deadly. Hess emphasizes that early detection is important to prevent the spread of disease.

“By doing a quick daily check of how your birds are eating, their energy levels and how they look, you will be more able to recognize if something is wrong.”

  • Sudden drop in egg production or misshapen eggs
  • Swelling of head, eyelids, combs and hocks
  • Diarrhea
  • Purplish discoloration of combs and wattles
  • Difficulty breathing and nasal discharge
  • Tremors, drooping wings or other movement problems

Report Sick Birds

Finally, he reminds owners of backyard chickens that it is critical to report sick poultry to state officials.

“Alabama has a huge commercial poultry industry. It is vital that state officials know if small flocks are having disease outbreaks to prevent the disease from spreading to other small flocks in the area or to commercial poultry operations.”

In Alabama, report sick poultry or suspicious death losses to the State Department of Agriculture and Industries at (334)240-6584.

Source: Protecting Backyard Chickens from Disease – Extension Daily

How to Manage Fire Ants with Baits

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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.

Extension 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 the shelf. The list of the products available can be found in our Extension publication ANR 0175A – 2016 Fire Ant Control Materials for Alabama Homeowners”.  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 Extension Office.

by Dr. Chip East, Regional Extension Agent – Commercial Horticulture

Japanese Beetles are a Menace Insect Pest

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Japanese beetles are a menace insect pest in the home landscape, vegetable garden, and fruit orchard. With the potential to have large population numbers, they can be found eating almost any plant in sight. They have the potential to literally destroy some plants in a manner of hours.

Adult Japanese beetles usually begin to emerge from the soil by late May or early June. They are most often a little less than a half-inch long and are a metallic green with copper-brown wing covers.  Five tufts of white hairs project from under the wing covers on each side. A sixth pair at the tip of the abdomen distinguish Japanese beetles from similar beetles. These tufts of white hairs appear as white spots when viewed from the top.

Adult beetles feed on at least 300 species of plants, including roses, other flowers and ornamentals, fruit trees, grapes and even poison ivy. They usually feed in groups and prefer plants that are in the sun. Beetles feed on the upper surface of leaves, which results in a skeletonized appearance of damaged leaves.

As outlined in our Japanese Beetle in Alabama publication, there are a two main ways to control Japanese Beetles, non-chemically and chemically:


  • Hand collecting beetles may not be the most effective methods of control, but it can be used when beetles are less numerous. Simply drop the beetles into a solution of soapy water where they will drown. A hand-held vacuum cleaner can also be used to remove beetles. Beetle presence on plants tends to attract more beetles making their removal more critical.
  • Avoid traps to catch beetles. In most home landscapes, using one or more traps may do more harm than good. Traps attract more beetles into the area, many of which do not make it to the traps.


There are many insecticides labeled for use against adult Japanese beetles. Examples are: cyfluthrin, bifenthrin, deltamethrin, lambda cyhalothrin, esfenvalerate, permethrin and carbaryl.  For botanical alternatives: try Neem, Pyola, insecticidal soap, extracts of garlic, hot pepper, or orange peels, and companion plantings.

Do not hesitate to begin controlling Japanese Beetles.  You might not have much of a plant left if you do.

by Shane Harris

Tips on Irrigating Thirsty Lawns and Gardens  

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With so much rainfall this year, it is hard to imagine that our summer weather is now beginning to get back to normal – hot and dry.  And this change is staring to have a direct effect on many lawns and gardens.  This year most plants were spoiled with the abundance of water and had not had to deal with the dry weather and heat stress until now.  In a typically year, most plants develop deep roots in preparation to obtain and search for water.  However, this year, the roots of many plants are positioned more shallow having benefited from all the spring rainfall. That could be a problem, especially if they get thirsty. Their only chance for survival may be through irrigation.


Turfgrasses, like all plants, require water for growth and survival. The most efficient way to irrigate or water a lawn is to apply water only when the lawn starts to show signs of drought stress from the lack of moisture. There are several ways to help determine when this time has come. One of the first signs of drought stress is that the color of the turfgrass turns from green to a bluish-gray to even a white cast.

Another indication is the “footprints” on the turfgrass. If you walk across your lawn late in the afternoon and look where you have just walked and see that your steps have left any footprints, the lawn may need watering. When your feet compress the leaf blades of the turfgrass, the low water levels in the plant tissues prevent the leaf blades from recovering, or “springing” back up, after being pushed down.

If the footprints remain for an extended period of time, water the lawn to prevent the turfgrass from turning brown and becoming dormant. The visual condition of the turfgrass blades can also be used to evaluate drought stress. Turfgrass blades respond to drought stress by folding, rolling, and/or wilting.

Another means of evaluating drought stress on a lawn is the “screwdriver” test. To do this test, push a screwdriver down through the lawn and into the soil. If the soil is very dry, it will be difficult to push the screwdriver down into the ground. Use this screwdriver test to confirm the results of the other visual indicators above to help determine when a lawn should be watered.

If your lawn exhibits the visual symptoms of drought stress, apply about ½ to 1 inch of water, which will moisten the soil to a depth of 4 to 6 inches, depending on the soil type and degree of soil compaction. Then, after watering, use the screwdriver test to determine the depth of water penetration. This will prove valuable in the future in determining how much water should be applied.

Unless the lawn has received a significant amount of rain lately, as a general rule, apply about 1 inch of water per week. Increase the amount to 1½ during severe dry periods. And it is also best to divide the irrigation time into two ½ inch applications per week. When watering, avoid applying water to the point of runoff. Allow the water to soak into the lawn and soil. If needed, apply less water and allow it to soak in before continuing with the watering process.

Once you have watered the lawn, do not water again until you observe similar drought stress symptoms. Never water a lawn every day except during the establishment phase or renovation. Frequent watering only encourages shallow rooting of the turfgrass plants, making the lawn less drought-tolerant.

The best time of the day to irrigate or water is early in the morning because it minimizes the potential for water loss through evaporation. In addition, watering in the morning will not create the environmental conditions that promote the occurrence of diseases.


Water is essential for a top-notch garden. Vegetables are 80 to 95 percent water and because they contain so much water, their yield and quality suffer rapidly when subjected to a drought. Thus, for good yields and high quality, water is essential to the production of most vegetables. If water shortages occur early in the crop’s development, maturity may be delayed and yields reduced. If a moisture shortage occurs late in the growing season, quality is often reduced even though total yields may not be affected.

Most vegetables are rather shallow-rooted. Even short periods of two to three days of moisture stress can damage yields. Irrigation is likely to increase the size and weight of individual fruit and to prevent defects, such as toughness, strong flavor, poor tip-fill and pod-fill, cracking, blossom-end rot, and misshapen fruit. On the other hand, too much moisture can have adverse affects on the plant like slow plant growth, yellowing of the leaves, fungal diseases, smaller fruit, and rotting of fruit.

Most homeowners don’t irrigate their vegetable garden or often wait too long to begin irrigation, thinking, “It will rain tomorrow.”  This often results in a severe stress. Drought and heat stress can begin in as little as three days after a 1-inch rain or irrigation, thus, frequent watering is necessary to maximize yields.

Up to 1½ inches of water is needed each week during hot periods to maintain vegetable plants. During long dry periods, soak the garden thoroughly once a week; don’t just sprinkle daily. Light, frequent irrigation helps only during seed germination. Overhead irrigation, especially late in the afternoon, is likely to spread certain diseases. If you use overhead irrigation, do so earlier in the day so plants can dry before night. Lastly, remember to always place mulch around vegetable plants since it will help hold the moisture in the soil and keep the plants cooler.

by Shane Harris, County Extension Coordinator

Try Different Tomato Seed Varieties

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My co-workers and I have taught many tomato workshops over the years. During these workshops we discuss nutrition, insects, disease, weeds, irrigation, mulching, etc. A big part of these meetings is a tomato taste test. We ask participants to bring 3 of their best tomatoes to the meeting. We record the name, assign them a number, and slice them. Usually the participant will not know the tomato they brought. Participants eat each tomato and rate them on a scale of one to five. Then we talk about each one, ask who rated it high and who rated it low, then we tell the name. Usually we will eat 25 or more different varieties of tomatoes, some heirloom and some hybrids.

Compared to the thousands of different tomato varieties to choose from, that is not a high number. However, it does let participants know there is more than one variety of tomato available, and the one they have been growing all these years may not be the one they like the best when given a choice. It is interesting to see participants say they do not like a tomato or it is only average taste only to find out that the tomato is one they grew.

If you had disease issues the previous year, you may want to start thinking about choosing varieties with resistance to certain diseases. Tomato problems such as tomato spotted wilt virus, fusarium wilt, tobacco mosaic virus, nematodes, and many others can be avoided with planting resistant seeds. You can even buy heat set tomatoes that do better in the heat of summer. Fusarium and powdery mildew tolerant/resistant watermelons are also available. Have you ever had bumps on your squash? Those are virus problems that can be avoided by planting virus resistant squash seeds.

I encourage you to try new seeds, but don’t change every plant in your garden just because someone told you it was better. People like different things, and one person’s favorite variety may not be yours. I suggest you plant the varieties you have always been growing, but plant a few others as well. I know of a few nurseries that grow fifty to seventy different tomato varieties, which is a lot, but not even close to the number of different tomato varieties available. There are a lot of seed sources gardeners have access to and growing your own from seed may be the best way to get certain varieties. Partner with your friends or family in growing many different varieties and swap plants or fruit.

Keep in mind that a friend from the north may have good luck with one variety, and it not grow or fruit well for you at all. If you do not know which seed varieties to plant, what should you do? You can get a lot of help by asking friends, farmers, and seed suppliers. Many seed variety trials are done at our Experiment Stations, and farmers as well as home growers can use this information when deciding on varieties to plant. A very good source for variety recommendations can be found online in the Southeastern Vegetable Crop Handbook.

For more information on seed varieties, just contact your local Extension Office.

by Chip East

Regional Extension Agent

Alabama Cooperative Extension System