Although the 2009 growing season was marked by severe blight that destroyed several crops, including tomatoes, people are looking forward to planting their gardens this year.
"They're all hoping it's not going to happen again," Don Leidig with Leidig's Farms in Warriors Mark said. "I think everybody's excited about planting stuff. They're stopping and looking. I think the garden's going to be a big thing again."
Leidig said he hopes that the fungal blight that developed on tomatoes, potatoes and petunias last year didn't survive the long, hard winter. The weather's already more normal than last year's rainy spring, Leidig added.
Mirror photos by J.D. Cavrich
Laura Stauffer waters geraniums at Spring Farm Greenhouses. Warm days have many area residents ready to start planting.
That weather is a double-edged sword, said Tom Ford, Blair County extension director and area educator for commercial horticulture.
"It's always sort of disconcerting when April has been as dry as it's been," Ford said, adding that heavy rains like the ones at the end of the month can increase the amount of blight infections in products. "It's a little too early to tell."
Some area orchards are already reporting a bacterial blight infection on apple, pear and some ornamental trees different than the fungal blight that affected tomatoes last year.
Experts offer some suggestions to fight a possible return of the blight that infested several crops last year:
Prune back infected parts of trees to keep the disease from spreading.
Use protective sprays as soon as plants such as tomatoes are 6 inches tall.
Watch for potatoes that were affected by the blight and were accidentally left in the soil as they could resprout and pass through gardens this year.
Contact the local cooperative extension office for more information regarding gardening tips and blight prevention
The tomato blight, if it has survived in the area, won't be detected until mid-June or so, Ford said.
Last year, Blair County orchards reported 100 to 150 strikes of the infection on many of their trees, each about 18 inches in length. None reported the infection reaching the main trunk of the tree, which would completely destroy the crop.
"If you don't prune out those strikes and allow the disease to progress, it can spread," Ford said.
The key this year is to do preventive fungicide programs every week on plants once they are 6 inches or taller.
"That's going to be the key, especially this year," Ford said.
Gardening is as popular as ever, he said.
"[The blight] did not dampen anyone's spirits," he said. "If anything, home gardeners are trying to be more prepared to deal with the issue. A lot of people who haven't gardened before are gardening."
At Spring Farm Greenhouses in Martinsburg, some flowers and trees are blooming as much as two weeks ahead of their normal schedule, owner Lorraine Martin said.
"We had a really good spring so far, and we expect it to continue," Martin said. "We just expect everybody to be really into gardening this year. More people are staying home, trying to brighten up their own backyard."
Vegetables and fruit trees are very popular so far this year, Martin said, as are organic soils, fertilizers and sprays and biodegradable pots.
"People are really trying to be more conscious of the environment," she said.
The nursery is advising customers it should be safe to plant by May 15, while LouAnn Hinish, owner of Hinish Farm Market & Orchard in Roaring Spring, said she advised holding off until Memorial Day for planting.
It's shaping up to be an excellent planting season, Martin said.
"It all remains to be seen," she said. "Everybody's excited."
Mirror Staff Writer Wendy Zook is at 946-7520.