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A Gardening Life – January 14

“There are spots on my leaves,” my clients say. “I don’t want it to spread…is there something I can spray?” This is a common conversation I have with many consultation customers, email enquirers and radio listeners. They might be calling about spots on their vegetables, perennials, annuals or shrubs. There’s a fungus among-gus, as the old saying goes, and it makes home gardeners nervous.

Here’s the good news: leaf spot seldom kills plants. Almost never, as a matter of fact. It makes your chard, annual flowers, hosta, or hydrangeas look sick but leaf-spot is a cosmetic problem not a fatal one.

In most cases frequent splashing with water is a contributing cause for spots on leaves. If it’s a wet season with frequent rainfall, or if your irrigation is coming on every other day, you’re likely to see spots on your foliage. Should the temperatures be cool it’s almost a prescription for leaf-spot.

We can’t change the weather but we can alter our watering. Programming the automatic irrigation to come on every four to seven days instead of more frequently, and setting our sprinklers for a longer period once a week will help. In damp weather we can also use a fungicide such as Serenade or Actinovate – these are made from beneficial bacteria that can out-compete the fungi and suppress them enough to prevent some of the damage.

Leaf spot fungi remind me that in life we frequently seek perfection inappropriately. We want clothing without wrinkles, even white teeth and gardens without leaf spot. All are unrealistic and, frankly, unnecessary. A dress that’s creased merely says the wearer has been sitting in a car or office chair. Our teeth age along with the rest of our bodies, despite dental interventions. Foliage is one place where fungi live and it’s all part of the natural world.

If we had Photoshop Glasses that would smooth or perfect everything we see…well, we’d still not be satisfied or content. There are spots on the leaves. No problem.


Hosta are prone to leaf spot when frequently splashed with water. Irrigate deeply less often, watering in the morning so that the foliage can dry out during the day. Hosta are very drought tolerant so don't water more frequently than once every 7 to 10 days.

These chard plants got spotted in a damp, cool summer. We ate the leaves anyway...once they are cooked the leaf spot disappears.


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