The Q&A Archives: Nematodes on Vegetables

Question: I have had my garden for three years now. My first year's crop was fantastic. The last two years I have had a severe problem with nematodes in my whole garden. I have tried pest controls suggested for killing nemotodes and any other thing I could think of to get rid of them. I have had nursery shops give me suggestions, but nothing has seemed to work. Please help me so I don't have to give up on my garden. My six year old son loves to help me with it. I don't want to have to tell him we can not have a vegetable garden anymore. He loves to grow them and eat every vegetable he picks with me. Please help us.

Answer: Dear frantic in Florida,

As a southern gardener, I know the frustration of nematodes. You cannot erradicate them but there are things you can do to avoid them and/or reduce their damage.

Many garden veggies aren't affected by nematodes. Some varieties, such as tomatoes with a VFN after their name, are resistant. Whenever possible, choose these for areas with nematode infested soil and plant susceptible species, such as okra, in areas that may not have nematodes.

Grow nematode "trap crops" such as 'Elbon' cereal rye in winter and marigolds in summer to reduce their numbers. Make sure and plant these as a solid cover, not just a plant or two here or there. The idea is to fill the soil with the roots of the trap crop. At the end of the crop's season, mow it down and rototill it under, allowing the green matter to decay in the soil.

Summer plowing can help reduce nematode numbers. In the heat of summer, plow an area and let the surface dry for a week or so. Then plow again and let dry. Nematodes die when exposed to the sunlight and drying conditions.

Summer solarizing can also help. Rototill and water an area of the garden. Then cover the soil with clear (not black) plastic and let it "cook" for about 6 weeks of hot, sunny weather. This will pasteurize the upper few inches of soil, reducing the nematode population.

A final tip is to plant susceptible crops in containers filled with a good growing mix.

Hope these help. Don't give up on gardening yet!

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