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Monday, July 4, 2011

Twisted and Distorted Tomato Roots May Be Nematodes

Nematode damage to roots
Q. I recently pulled up the remains of my tomato plants and found the roots disfigured but I could not see any of these worms on the roots.  I planted tomatoes that had a VFN designation on the label and thought they were resistant to nematodes.  Are these the remains of nematodes? 

A. Nematodes are microscopic worms so you would not be able to see them with your naked eye. Just because they have the label nematode resistant (N of VFN) doesn’t mean you can’t get them. It just means that the plants can resist infestations but are not immune to them.
            From your picture it does look like a nematode attack. You should remember that it is extremely important that you not grow the vegetables of the same family in the same spot year after year. You rotate the locations of where you plant vegetables each year. This will help in keeping diseases and nematode populations from building in certain locations. However, nematodes are a different problem. Some guidelines for control are available in this publication from Clemson University.
             Regarding reducing nematode problems there are a few things you can do and one is solarizing your soil. I have sent to you a document on soil solarization which can be seen on my blog. This technique will help reduce the population of nematodes but not eliminate them. Continue to use vegetables with an N designation on their label or seed packet.
            You can plant cover crops such as cover crops that have been shown to suppress nematodes include annual ryegrass, wheat, barley, oats, sorghum and sudangrass.
            Another technique is to keep your crops outgrowing the nematode attack by keeping them well fertilized and healthy. So far there is not much else you can do to eliminate them once the soil is infested except fumigating the soil, another topic.

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