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Plant F-ing: My Dahlias Have Jock Itch

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Photo by Lindsay William-Ross/LAist

Photo by Lindsay William-Ross/LAist
Plant F-ing is a new Ask LAist series about growing food and flora at home--especially for those renters who do not have access to the luxuries of a yard and only have windows and patios to work with. If you've got a question, please send it to editor[@] and our in-house garden guru, aka Hand of Gardener, will answer (between rants, perhaps).

I’m not going to wait until one of you gets your compost together to ask me an important question. I’m not going to hear the 4th query on “why do I suck at gardening?” (A: worms hate you). This column needs to be responsive, sure… but let me ask a question that you should be asking: Why do my dahlias have jock itch?

By “Jock itch” I mean powdery mildew. It is a nasty little fungus that pops up this time of year. Late in the season when night temperatures drop and the marine layer settles in… it’s jock itch time for your dahlias, grapes, or squash leaves. The Valley gets it bad, Venice and South bay too. Nighttime moisture is generally bad for your garden and your… er, um “parts” both. Come on, I know you know what I’m sayin’. Powdery mildew--as it’s more commonly called--looks like it sounds. If you have a fuzzy, white/gray film on your plants… that’s it. On your parts...wrong column. Anyway, PM knocks down the producing abilities of all your plants and you’ll need to treat it sooner than later.

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Thankfully the organic control is simple and not expensive. 1 part milk to 10 parts water in a spray bottle with a touch of baking soda will knock it back for 3-5 days. If it sounds way too weird… chill. Even Martha Stewart, the Queen-of-all-things-good, approves of the above recipe. Just put it in a spray bottle and spritz away at the affected leaves. Of course your balcony and all of your garden will smell like “old baby bibs”, but for those of you considering actual children it should serve as sufficient warning to avoid that.

Copper sulfate, a commercial formula used by large growers, will last 3-4 weeks. But the old baby bib smelling formula really, really, really works. Save your money. You’ll need it this weekend for the annual Dahlia Show & Sale at the South Coast Botanical in Palos Verde.

My thing, as a grower, IS dahlias. This is the time of year I don my “Member’s Only” jacket, the brown plastic, 80’s era specs & my USS Enterprise Navy polyester Commander cap. I age myself two generations and transform into my inner-geezer as I commune with the 2,000 blooms of the annual show. Dahlia societies tend to attract old dudes… really, really old dudes. If that’s your thing… score! I’m pretty sure they all have done their share of “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out” during WWII and ‘Nam; but now they definitely have set their sights set on blue ribbons, and red and even “the crappy white ones” from the judges. Dahlia shows roll like that. These guys take it waaaay serious--it’s death or glory on the battlefield. Oo-rah and Amen!

Not that I don’t have anything against the AARP Fem mafia at the Iris or Rose meetings. I do love me the Avon-skin-so-soft set serving lemonade at the Begonia club. But dahlia growers tend toward the Viagra-assisted geezer flava’. And there will be a few 4-foot tall Japanese dahlia Ikebana (really) competitors there too, sure, but grandpas outnumber grandmas 3-1. I can’t make up pictures like this… go see for yourself. Semper Fi!