I am tempted to call this post “Dancing With Imperfection.” That’s what gardeners do, after all.

One of the most frequent questions I get, on the Garden Compass App and in other venues, goes something like this: “What’s wrong with my summer squash?” or “Why is my zucchini dying?” New gardeners are especially flummoxed because they expect that once a veggie plant grows large and starts to produce that everything should be fine from then on. Unfortunately, to be a gardener means that we dance with imperfection and problems.

There are many plants, shrubs, annuals, vegetables and perennials, that are prone to powdery mildew. This is a fungal disease that shows up as a pale gray powder on the leaves in mid-summer. Some plants, such as lilacs, get this regularly without weakening the plant very much. Others, such as summer Phlox and Monarda, struggle along for most of the summer but eventually become defoliated or wilted as the mildew kills the leaves.

But other plants like summer and winter squash succumb to mildew pretty quickly. Unfortunately.

As gardeners we learn to accept the non-destructive mildew on lilacs. We see that we can cut the bee balm down to the ground once the mildew takes hold, and with some phlox (Bravo, Volcano Phlox!) we can simply strip off the mildew infected leaves and the plant will create new foliage and flowers.

With squash it’s a matter of knowing that we need to battle this fungus all summer, and nevertheless we can still harvest lots of food. 1. Start spraying your squash plants with the organic fungicide of your choice from day one. 2. Spray the top and bottom of leaves along with the stems. 3. Make a note to yourself to plant Zephyr squash next year as this variety produces lots of fruit even when it has mildew. 4. Keep up the vigor of the plants with an organic fertilizer through the season.

Sung to the tune of The Hokie Pokie:
You plant the summer squash in, you plan the fungicide throughout, you mix it in the sprayer and you shake it all about. The fungus is amongus so you move yourself around, that’s what it’s all about.

This is how powdery mildew looks. If you ignore it, the plant will quickly die. May I have this dance?

This is how powdery mildew looks. If you ignore it, the plant will quickly die. May I have this dance?

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