To prevent blight, plant your potatoes in a breezy spot with plenty of space between plants, and treat with fungicide before blight appears. It’s also important to rotate crops regularly to prevent build up of the disease in the soil, and to remove and destroy infected plants and tubers as soon as blight develops.
The plant disease that led to the Irish potato famine, late blight, is a widespread disease of the Solanaceae family. Often called potato blight or tomato blight because it particularly affects these crops, it can destroy your entire haul of potatoes in as little as ten days.
Blight is a fungal disease caused by spores of Phytophthora infestans which are spread on the wind and which can also contaminate potato tubers in the soil. Here’s what you need to know about blight and what you can do to stop it.
Warm, humid weather, especially during the late summer is a perfect breeding ground for blight. In southern counties of the UK, potato blight can strike as early as June, and though it’s most damaging to outdoor crops, it can affect greenhouse produce too.
Dark brown blotches appear around leaf tips and edges, spreading towards the middle, shrivelling and rotting the leaf. At the same time, white fungal spores develop on the undersides of the leaves, around the lesions, and further brown lesions develop on the stems. The leaves and stems rapidly blacken and rot, and the plant collapses.
Spores are released on the wind and quickly spread to infect neighbouring plants. They're also washed into the soil where they can infect potato tubers causing a red-brown rot directly beneath the skin which slowly spreads towards the centre of the tuber.
Heavy rain washes the fungal spores of late blight into the soil, where it overwinters. The disease also persists in infected potato tubers left in the ground or on the compost heap. Sometimes these tubers grow the following year to produce infected shoots which release fungal spores onto the wind to infect new crops.
The best way to reduce the possibility of blight ruining your potato crop is to choose blight resistant potato varieties like the Hungarian Sarpo range, and others renowned for their superb resistance to late blight and viruses:
There’s little you can do to save an infected crop, so stopping blight is all about taking precautions to reduce the chances of the disease attacking your crop:
Should your potatoes show signs of blight, remove and destroy all affected plants. If your potatoes have already developed tubers, you might be able to save them by cutting away the foliage and stems. Leave the soil undisturbed for 2–3 weeks to kill off any lingering spores so that they don’t infect the crop when it is lifted.
Given that old potato tubers can harbour blight spores over winter, it’s important to destroy any unwanted or diseased tubers. Don’t put them on the compost heap. Also remove any plants that spring up the following season from old tubers that were left in the ground over winter.
For more information on growing this popular veg, visit our potato hub page for a wealth of sowing, growing and care tips.