Petri dish with spores growing

Powdery Mildew Spores

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Powdery mildew Spores are Already in Your Garden

While this may sound alarmist, it’s not an unrealistic or paranoid exaggeration.

The Power of Spores

Consider the nature of spores; they exist to reproduce. Not to mention, they are invincible. They can survive in all weather extremes for long periods of time, travel great distances, and there are lots of them in our environment. Studies look at how far above and below us they exist in order to help define the limits of our biosphere.

Spores are pretty powerful stuff. The theory of panspermia suggests that spores may have brought life to our planet. Did you know that spores can survive space travel, radical ethnobotanist and native Coloradoan Terence Mckenna even proposes that connections exist between spores, earthlings, and aliens? Isn’t wild that spores not only create life but are also intelligent and able to communicate? Really?! How do gardeners stand a chance?

Spores are no joke. Even NASA is scared of these things. NASA has an Office of Planetary Protection and a United Nations Outer Space Treaty requiring countries to sterilize their spaceships in order to avoid interplanetary contamination. We wouldn’t want to contaminate the solar system, nor would we want to bring anything back from space that could harm our earthly environment.

Me, Myself and Spores

So what do hypothetical space spores have to do with your garden? It’s the tenacity and omnipresence of spores that make powdery mildew and its fungal counterparts some of the biggest challenges when growing, indoors or out. Many experienced gardeners consider powdery mildew one of their worst enemies. The amount of work required to combat PM, once it’s established, can seriously compromise your grow and result in crops that lack in your desired quality. Since spores will continue to surround us, it is best to learn more about your enemy to better know how to combat it.

Know Your Enemy

How many species of fungi are there? Tough to say. Around 100,000 have been formally identified and the number of them being classified rises day by day. Many estimates put the actual numbers in the millions. They weren’t recognized as distinct from plants until the last century (the basic difference being that fungi don’t photosynthesize). In addition to mushrooms, fungi include yeasts, molds and mildews. One basic commonality of these fungi being that they all develop from spores. While many people love mushrooms, parasites are typically unpopular. Some people feed on fungi, some fungi feed on people. Fungi may be friend or foe: regardless of the “f” word you’re using to describe them, parasitic fungi can make you, your pet, or your plants their, um, host (to put it politely).

The Uninvited Guest

Examples of humans and their pets hosting a parasite party include athlete’s foot and ringworm. Here the fungus is dining on the outer surface of our skin, hair, and/or nails. Don’t feel bad if these uninvited guests appear as neither condition is uncommon, and you’re not nearly as bad off as these ants zombie fungi.

Powdery mildew and downy mildew are obligate parasites, which means they must have a host in order to accomplish their mission of reproducing. The list of species victimized by these mildews is a mile long. An interesting side note: such parasites “are exceptionally difficult, and often impossible” to reproduce in a laboratory according to Encyclopedia Britannica. However, don’t let that fool you, your garden can succeed where the lab fails (and will do so if you’re careless or unprepared). Before you know it, your prized plants can go from feeding you . . . to feeding fungi.

Never encountered powdery mildew in your garden? Then you’re likely employing excellent gardening practices, Way to Grow! But don’t get too cocky, you are 100% in the minority.  Even if you have managed to escape the seemingly inescapable powdery mildew spore, it is still important to act as if it could happen at any time. Want to learn more? Keep reading about P.M. right here on Way to Grow’s Sproutin’ Knowledge Blog!


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