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Tips for managing diseases of tobacco transplants

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By Rick Greenwell

The float-bed system is a convenient and efficient way to produce tobacco transplants.  One drawback to this method is the potential for significant disease development. Large numbers of plants packed into a small, water-filled area create conditions in which many diseases thrive. 

Once established, problems in float-bed systems can be difficult to eradicate or bring under control.  So, it is best to keep them from gaining a foothold in your transplant bed.  Prevention is the best solution for keeping float-bed diseases in check.  Here are some tips to help you stay ahead of tobacco-transplant diseases:

Produce your own plants or buy from a Kentucky source if possible.  Growers who use the plug-and-transfer system should consider buying plugs grown in or north of Kentucky to avoid infections of blue mold, which is more prevalent in the South.

Take care not to introduce pathogens into the float system.  Keep out field soil, which can harbor pathogens that cause root and stem rots.  For the same reason, you shouldn’t use water from ponds or creeks to fill float beds.  Always use city or well water. 

Use clean, sanitized trays for seed.  Reused trays pose a risk of contamination.  Dip or spray them with a solution of one part bleach to 9 parts water.  Cover and allow them to stand overnight.  Follow up with a good rinse to remove the bleach residue. You should replace or heat treat with steam trays older than three or four years . 

Once your plants are up and growing, keep them as stress-free as possible. Avoid temperature extremes and keep fertilizer levels within recommended ranges.  Too much fertilizer is equally as harmful as too little and can increase susceptibility to diseases in general. 

 Use side vents and fans to maintain good air movement and keep the area surrounding the float bed weed-free.  Good air flow promotes rapid drying of foliage which helps to eliminate favorable conditions for disease. 

Consider a regular fungicide program to control root and leaf diseases.  Fungicides are inexpensive insurance considering the value of your transplants. 

Disease free transplants pay dividends down the road because they are vigorous and less prone to attack by pathogens in the field.  Proper management of diseases in the float system insures that your tobacco crop gets off to a good start. 

For more information contact the Washington County Cooperative Extension Service. 

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