[EDITOR’S NOTE – Clemson University Extension expert Tony Melton is a regular contributor to SPW. If you have an article you or idea you’d like to contribute, send it to us at

Tony Melton


We had an extremely cold December/January, a very warm February, and now a frosty March; therefore, everything including plants, insects, plant diseases, and even me are confused.

Folks want to be planting things they should not, insects are coming out looking for crops to devour, diseases are ready to invade your crops, and plants don’t know whether to flower or not.

I hate to say it but a typical weird Southern winter/spring.

With the cold Christmas season and summer-like February everything from peaches (top photo) to strawberries are flowering/fruiting early.

Living in South Carolina we must keep our smiling faces and beautiful places so we must always do what my daddy (the persistent farmer) would say: “Look at the good side of what the Good Lord gives us.”  Maybe just enough frost to keep us from going rampant when it comes to planting summer crops, fertilizing crops way too early, and irrigating excessively which encouraging diseases.

There is a method to this weather madness – keeping us from making foolish farming mistakes.

Daddy would also say, “Everything will work out when it is time to plant and it is not time to plant until the folks fishing at the creek are setting on the ground instead of on a bucket.”  However, I hope the wonderful, juicy South Carolina peaches are spared from these late frosts, unlike last year.

I hope that the cold/wet conditions this past winter and these ups and downs this spring will help keep some of our pest problems under tow so they may be a little less of a headache this summer.  Extreme conditions have a way of doing what I call “interrupting a pest’s lifestyle” — preventing them from surviving the winter and keeping them from rapidly multiplying.

Looking back, I understand that Mama and Daddy knew that certain things like crop pests and a certain rambunctious, mean, little boy needed to be kept under tow.  All the mowing, planting, hoeing, pruning, picking, shelling, and snapping not only helped feed our family, and kept our yard, garden, and farm in order, but also made me what I am today. Many today would call it child abuse but letting kids run rampant (what I call the worst pest syndrome) is the worst abuse of all.

Plagues Of Pests

It seems like the last few years have been noted by what new, exotic, and/or just awful pest invades the south.  First came a resistant form of a disease called downy mildew on vegetables in the cucurbit family (cantaloupes, cucumbers, squash, watermelons, etc.), and made them very difficult and expensive to successfully grow in the fall.

Then, a new fruit fly called the Spotted Wing Drosophila that could attack fruit like strawberries and blackberries before they get over-ripe.

Then, the Kudzu Bugs and the Sugarcane Beetles invaded farms and pastures (however, the last couple years something has reduced the amount of Kudzu Bugs to a tolerable level).

Then, an awful white mold disease called Sclerotinia (what I call white mold on steroids) devastated cole crops and legumes. I think our cold winter may make it bad again this spring.

Then came two new leafspot bacterial diseases on brassica crops that riddle their leaves.  Rotation of at least one year is the most widely used control.

Finally, a new stinkbug called the Brown Marmorated Stinkbug started to increase in the South and makes it more difficult to grow fruits and vegetables.

Last year, I was hoping for a little relief from some of these problems.  In fact, I felt like the fellow in one of legendary southern comedian Jerry Clower’s jokes who climbed a tree and got into a tussle with a raccoon, then hollered out to hunters below, “Shoot up here amongst us — one of us has to have some relief!”

But Wait, There’s More…

Then I found a new disease on cucurbits in SC called Plectosporium Blight.  Lesions on the plants are small elongated, diamond/football shaped, white-to-cream colored areas that sometime coalesce until most of the vines and leaf petioles turn white and the foliage dies. For us country boys it looks like someone took a pocket knife and scrapped the stems of the plants and scared it up.

Then, we found a new root-knot nematode called Meloidogyne enterolobii which can be devastating to sweet potatoes and other vegetables.

Get the picture?

This year has already started with a bang because of the possibility of having Strawberry dried calyx disorder (SDCD) in South Carolina.  It has been observed since 2005 in farms around Plant City, FL and Huelva, Spain. This disorder starts as a slight darkening of newly opened and already formed flowers, resembling salt injury, and then progresses towards calyx burning, and fruit discoloration and deformation. For more information go to:

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