There’s a fungus among us

Knowledge is key to saving your garden from fungi, pests and pathogenic problems

By: Brian Louwers | C&G Newspapers | Published July 22, 2015

 Downy mildew, a disease incited by a micro-organism, hit Michigan cucumber plants early this year. It thrives in overcast, wet conditions.

Downy mildew, a disease incited by a micro-organism, hit Michigan cucumber plants early this year. It thrives in overcast, wet conditions.

Photo by Brian Louwers


METRO DETROIT — Things were going so well.

You started your seeds on time indoors or had luck finding gorgeous heirloom plants at the local greenhouse. Everything went into the ground on schedule, and the plants really took off when the weather turned from late spring to early summer.

But now the leaves of your once-lush cucumbers are yellow and brown. Your zucchini is turning to dust. Your cabbage and broccoli plants look like Swiss cheese.

Something is terribly wrong, and you’re wondering if you’ll have anything left to slice, pickle or slap on a burger.

Welcome to the pesky world of garden pests, pathogens and fungi that can wipe out the fruits of your labor if you’re not prepared to combat the scourges.

Cindy Roback, whose family owns and operates Young’s Garden Mart & Christmas Fantasy on Ryan, north of 11 Mile Road, in Warren, said there are a variety of products that can be used to prevent massive plant damage if problems are caught early.

She said insecticides and fungicides should be used as directed “as soon as you start to see a problem.”

Solutions like Bonide’s liquid copper fungicide can be used to control powdery mildew, black spot and rust on vegetables and perennial plants alike. Roback said some other products with plant-specific labeling are actually effective for controlling fungi, insects and mites on both vegetables and flowers, and many of them are safe for organic gardeners to use.

“It’s the exact same thing with different labels,” Roback said. “Bonide products, if it has the beige part of the labels, it’s all organic.”

An all-purpose garden dust with pyrethrin, copper and sulfur is a natural way to combat a variety of problems, including powdery mildew, cabbage worms and rust.

But before you go shopping, it obviously helps to know exactly what the problem is.

Mary Gerstenberger, a horticulture educator with Michigan State University’s MSU Extension in Macomb County, said early identification is the best defense against mayhem in the vegetable garden.

“The best thing home gardeners can do is keep a watchful eye on their gardens and monitor them for the first signs of any problem. If they find something is wrong, they need to correctly identify the problem and use the appropriate solution,” Gerstenberger said. “Not all problems require chemical sprays.”

Proper diagnosis is the key to finding effective and responsible solutions, and master gardeners are instructed to optimize plant health through proper integrated plant management.

IPM is designed to provide  precise and effective management strategies that reduce excessive or unnecessary pesticide use and any associated risks to people or the environment. It involves a variety of integrated controls: cultural (plant selection, management and rotation), biological (the use of natural enemies to control pests) and chemical.

Keeping the garden tidy with sufficient airflow and prompt removal of diseased plant material is also an important part of the puzzle.

Gerstenberger said insects and diseased plants can be brought to the local MSU Extension office for diagnostics. There is a $5 charge for the service. Homeowners with questions or concerns can also call the MSU statewide gardening hotline at (888) 678-3464 from 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Mondays-Fridays.

MSU’s Enviro-weather website,, is also a useful tool for growers that provides information about disease and insect forecasts.

For much more information online, including a list of experts for dealing with specific problems, visit