Plant pathologist Marianne Elliot:

Cost-effective and sustainable ways to sterilize your soil

In her research at the WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Centre, Elliott deals with fungi, viruses, bacteria, nematodes and water moulds such as Phytophthera, which is one of the most destructive diseases of nursery, forest and food crops worldwide. Elliott, though, looks for practices that rely not on pesticides but on keeping soil and water clean, practices that protect the environment and reduce the chance of loss to invasives.

To minimize the risk of contaminating soil, she suggest removing plant debris from production and display areas and making sure pots are not in contact with the ground. Weeds, which can harbour pathogens, should be controlled, and cull piles should be kept separate and downhill from growing areas.

She recommended two ways of sterilizing soil. A combination of both is most effective:

 Solarization involves tilling, raking, watering and covering with clear plastics. This requires four to six weeks of clear skies and high temperatures. The practice can also be used to sterilize pots and potting mix.

• Steam can be used to raise soil temperature to 125 degrees for 50 minutes, varying with moisture content and bulk density.

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