Garden Invaders: A Guide to Identify and Rid your Garden of Plant Viruses
No matter how well we take care of our gardens, plant viruses do inevitably strike. When left uncontrolled, they can wreck havoc on plants of all kinds. Even worse than simply destroying backyards, these viruses can spread to neighboring areas and greatly impact crops and agricultural land. Read on to learn more on how to effectively identify, prevent and cure plant viruses for a much healthier garden!
Common Plant Viruses
Although viruses in plants are not really microorganisms, they are still widely regarded as a form of parasite. They can prey on different parts of the plant and bring about the onset of various diseases, some of which are fatal. While viruses in mammals are often spread through bodily fluids, plant viruses are introduced in very different ways. To enter the plant’s thickly enclosed cells, the virus travels through certain insects known as vector organisms. Some examples are mites and white flies. These insects unknowingly transmit the virus, often through their saliva, into parts of the plant that are cut open or damaged. These cuts may be made through natural forces or by human intervention, as in pruning or grafting. Another way that viruses spread is through infected seeds that are planted into the ground. In this case, gardeners will notice that the new plants that sprout up will already show signs of infection. Infected soil is one more way in which viruses spread to plants. This way might be even worse since some viruses can survive in the soil for an extended period of time. Plants that are not sown directly into the infected soil can still be affected if wet soil is splashed onto the plant or if dry particles from the soil are blown over by the wind. Even plants grown in greenhouses or indoors are not entirely immune to plant viruses. Using the same equipment, such as shears or knives, to care for diseased and healthy plants alike is a sure way of spreading plant viruses.
Since viruses target specific parts of the plant, such as leaves, roots or fruit, symptoms can vary before the entire plant shows signs of illness. Making it even more confusing is the fact that some plants may be virus carriers without actually being noticeably affected. The most common symptom of infected plants is that their leaves appear to be spotted, fading or changing color due to a decrease in chlorophyll, or appearing curled or rolled. Additionally, the entire plant might be smaller than usual and bear a lower crop. Infected vegetables and fruit may appear smaller, shriveled or displaying unusual markings and colors, while flowers may be similarly affected, growing smaller and displaying streaks or spots on their petals. If there seems to be an abundance of insects, such as aphids, inhabiting the plant, it could be another indicator that they are transmitting a virus. Based on the plant species and type of virus, the symptoms could vary, so it is important to regularly check plants and compare them to known healthy specimens.
The first step to ensuring a virus-free garden is to be careful when planting and pruning. Wash your hands or gloves after dealing with each plant, as well as any equipment that was used to cut or dig. When cutting or removing diseased plants, it is best to entirely disinfect the equipment and containers properly before using them elsewhere. Try to remove weeds as much as possible, since they often act as carriers for plant viruses and tend to choke gardens. Since viruses thrive on plants that are already growing poorly, keep plants healthy by giving them enough water and nutrients. When planning a garden, don’t try to crowd too many plants into a single space since this method will almost certainly backfire. Viruses spread even faster through plants that are grown close together. In this type of scenario, the soil will also tend to have much less air, thus increasing the spread of viruses. Give each plant enough space to grow and a turn up the soil once in a while to increase aeration. Adding mulch such as wood chips or even small pebbles into the soil will also help to add air pockets. At the garden center, look for plants that are guaranteed to be free of viruses. An even better option is to seek out virus-resistant breeds of plants or seeds. Prevention of viruses is the best way to help your garden stay healthy.
If you do detect signs of a virus, there are a number of ways to start treatment. First remove the plant from the area immediately. Viruses are rarely eliminated with the use of chemical sprays. As an extra precaution, it also helps to remove the soil in the immediate area before setting down a new plant. Check the plant for insects. If you do notice that there seems to be an abundance of bugs on the plant, use a good pesticide to get rid of them. It is vital to act soon because when plant viruses become established, they spread quickly and are incredibly difficult to stop. Diseased plants should be destroyed when removed; this can be done by burning them or disposing of them in a sealed trash bag. Never use diseased plants in a compost heap, since the virus could easily be transmitted to the resulting batch of soil.