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April 6, 2014

ASK A MASTER GARDENER: Nematode infection in soil can remain until treated

Here are this week’s gardening questions and answers, provided by Parker County Master Gardeners. To submit a question, send it to For more information about Parker County Master Gardeners, or to become a member, call 817-598-6096 or visit

Are nematodes ever-present in soil or are they transmitted via seed or plants? Can one get nematodes from nursery stock that is grown in soilless media?

Soil-borne nematodes are microscopic roundworms that live in the soil and feed on plant roots. They remain in the soil year after year, unless controlled.

They can affect vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, okra, and others by restricting the flow of water and nutrients to the plant. The tell-tale sign of nematode infection is knots on the roots of plants. It is unlikely that any nematodes are present in the roots or soil of nursery stock plants due to the method of propagation and the planting media used by most growers.

Several methods offer effective control of nematodes. Plant cereal rye (Elbon) in the fall, cut it short in late winter, and then till into the soil. This will also provide green manure to help fertilize your garden. Another method is to plant marigolds in the summer months to suppress the nematode growth. Crop rotation is helpful as a control as well.

I have 2 acres with oak trees and three fruit trees (apple and pear). The fruit trees don’t produce very well. What do you recommend for better production of apples and pears?

Apples do best when you have at least two different varieties for cross pollination. Varieties that will do well in Parker County include Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, and Mutsu (Crispin). Pears don’t require different varieties for pollination. Recommended varieties for pears are European hybrids Kieffer, Orient, Moonglow and Magness.

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