I have been told all of my life, “Well, this year is unusual” when it comes to weather. In Kansas, I think that adage holds true every year. For 2014, we had one of the driest starts in history followed by one of the wettest Junes in history. The temperatures have been cooler than normal for the most part, but then we have sudden changes where the daily high will be 20 degrees higher or lower than the previous day. When the weather is so up and down, there might be a few problems in your garden. One of the issues that have been showing up is blossom end rot. Though we normally see this condition most commonly on tomatoes as evidenced by a sunken, brown, leathery patch on the bottom of the fruit, this year we are also seeing it on summer squash. Not a disease, this condition is caused by a lack of calcium in the developing fruit. It is often assumed that this means there is a corresponding lack of calcium in the soil. This is not necessarily the case, especially in Kansas. Most Kansas soils have sufficient levels of calcium. So what causes blossom-end rot? Actually, there are a number of possible causes. Let’s look at some of them.
- This year, inconsistent amounts of water may be a factor for our squash. This can be due to watering practices or may be due to heavy rains followed by dry periods. Try to keep soil moist but not waterlogged. Mulching can help by moderating moisture levels over time.
- Vegetable tops will sometimes outgrow the root system during cooler spring weather. This is especially true of tomatoes. As long as it is cool, the root system can keep up. When it turns hot and dry, the plant has a problem, and water — with the calcium it carries — goes to the leaves and the fruit is bypassed. The plant responds with new root growth and the condition corrects itself after a couple of weeks.
- Heavy fertilization, especially with ammonium forms of nitrogen, can encourage this condition. Heavy fertilization encourages more top than root growth and the ammonium form of nitrogen competes with calcium for uptake.
- Anything that disturbs roots such as hoeing too deeply can encourage blossom-end rot. Mulching helps because it keeps the soil surface cooler and therefore a better environment forroot growth.
There are some years you do everything right and the condition still shows up due to the weather. In such cases, remember that blossom-end rot is a temporary condition, and plants should come out of it in a couple of weeks. You may want to pick off affected fruit to encourage new fruit formation.
Alicia Boor is the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent for Barton County K-State Research and Extension. You can contact her by e-mail at email@example.com or calling 620-793-1910