Plant rust refers to a variety of rust-coloured fungi that infect plants in many home gardens. Each form of rust will only affect a particular plant species and is not easily spread to different species. The fungi in rust do not contain chlorophyll so they cannot manufacture their own food; they rely instead on the energy supply of other plants. Prevention is the best course of action for avoiding rust, while a homemade garlic solution (which naturally contains sulphur) can help to control it.
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Rust on plants is identifiable by the spots that first appear on the topside of the leaf. These spots are usually yellow with a tint of green or orange, perhaps with a reddish centre. The underside of the leaf will have bumps directly underneath the spots on the topside. These bumps contain the fungus spores.
The spores are distributed by wind or rain. It is easy to distribute them to other leaves on the plant by watering from above, which causes splashing. Always water plants at the base (in the soil) to keep the leaves and stems as dry as possible.
Moisture and Air Circulation
Moisture helps the rust fungi to thrive. Rust is likely to appear in warm, moist weather or periods during which humidity is high. Avoid overwatering plants; always let the top layer of the soil dry out before watering again. It is important to give plants plenty of space to breathe and grow from the very beginning of their life. Plants whose leaves don’t get enough air and remain wet for long periods of time are more susceptible to fungal infections.
Proper sanitation in the garden is important for keeping away fungal infections and a host of other diseases. Leaves infected with rust should be removed at the first sign of infection and destroyed. Seal them in a bag and throw them away or burn them. Never put infected leaves in the compost pile, as this will spread the fungi to other plants in the garden when the compost is used. After pruning the rusted leaves, disinfect the pruning shears with a 10 per cent bleach solution or a solution of white vinegar and water. Infected leaves that fall from a plant should be promptly removed and destroyed, as the fungi can last through winter in garden soil.
Garlic contains sulphur, which rust fungi do not like. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden recommends mixing a garlic solution to spray on infected plants. To make it, blend two heads of garlic (about 0.113kg.) with 1 quart of water for five to 10 minutes in a blender. This solution requires something viscous to help it attach to the rust: Add a few drops of liquid hand soap after blending. Strain the solution through cheesecloth to remove any remaining garlic chunks. Mix one part garlic solution to nine parts water and spray on the infected plant with a spray bottle. If the rust is in an advanced stage, apply the solution at full strength. Be sure to test the solution on a small spot on the plant before spraying on the entire plant. It is best to spray the garlic solution in the early morning.
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