Pender Gardener

The roots of this tomato plant are bumpy and swollen, a sure sign of root knot nematodes.

The roots of this tomato plant are bumpy and swollen, a sure sign of root knot nematodes.

Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 10:34 AM.

Gardening with Nematodes

If you garden in sandy soil, there is a good chance nematodes are plaguing your plants, draining them of the energy they need to grow and thrive. Nematodes are tiny, microscopic worms that feed within plant roots. You can think of them as the leeches of the plant world. Several types of nematodes are common in the south, and frequently cause problems in vegetable gardens and lawns.


Root Knot Nematodes

The most common plant parasitic nematode found in our area is the root knot nematode. This pest can be a serious problem for most vegetables, causing infected plants to appear stunted and pale, drop flowers and fruits, wilt often, and decline even when plants are generously watered and fertilized. Gardeners most often realize they have root knot nematode at the end of the season, when they are pulling up spent crops and notice multiple bumpy, knot-like swellings on the roots of vegetable plants. There is nothing available that will eradicate root knot nematodes, but they can be managed to keep levels low enough to successfully grow most vegetables.

One of the easiest ways to reduce nematode levels is to grow crops that are not susceptible to attack. These include sweet corn, asparagus, and cool season crops in the cabbage family, such as broccoli, kale, collards, and mustard. For some crops that are susceptible to nematode attack, resistant varieties are available. For example, many hybrid varieties of tomatoes have been developed with nematode resistance, including Amelia, Celebrity and Better Boy.

For many other crops resistant varieties are not available. To grow these crops in nematode infested soils gardeners have to rely on other practices to manage nematode levels. A practice gaining in popularity is the use of certain cover crops to reduce nematode levels. One of the most promising is rapeseed, a relative of mustard and canola. When tilled into the soil, decaying leaves from this crop suppress root knot nematodes.

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