Dear Culturalist: A Story of Murder and Mildew

By Onya Ganja on February 26, 2018

Dear Culturalist,
I recently started growing, just a couple of plants in a closet in my basement. I showed them to a friend, and he told me one of them has powdery mildew. What should I do?

Things could always be worse. Fungal diseases are everywhere. A friend of mine went to Argentina, and the pot was okay, but the foot fungus she came back with was unreal. A doctor literally had to cut it out of her foot with a knife. So feel lucky that it is only your little weed plant with a fungal problem.

First, I think you should learn how to use Google, and then use those newfound skills to look at a million pictures of powdery mildew. Which I not-so-affectionately call PM. Then go down to your little grow closet and remove anything that looks like it has powdery mildew.

This means that if you see leaves with powdery mildew, trim them. If you see a plant totally covered in 'dew, remove it—i.e., kill it and bury it in your backyard with the rest of the bodies you or your neighbor might be hiding. Though I’ve never seen any research or regulation suggesting powdery mildew is harmful to human health, it definitely does not make your weed less gross or improve the terpene profile.

You could try buying a bunch of stuff to make some wild concoction to spray your plants with, if they are still in a vegetative state. You can use your newfound Google skills again to look up recipes involving baking soda and dish soap, which might be able to help you. Though honestly, I have never actually witnessed success with spraying something after PM has made a plant its home.

Look, man, you only have two plants, just butcher the sick one. Then hope the other one does not need to meet the same fate. It might have some genetic immunity to PM, but do not convince yourself a sick plant can be saved when it can’t. Be honest with yourself, don’t drag it out.

I grow outdoors in full sun and leave lots of space between the plants. Similar to how I trim my... mustache... I prune all of my plants just enough to allow for proper airflow, but I never overdo it. Cannabis plants want to feel the breeze in between their branches or they will likely get very sad, for one reason or another.

I have never seen powdery mildew in my garden. Lots of other gross stuff, for sure, but never PM in my cannabis garden. I have seen lots of powdery mildew, though, and have had it attempt to consume other crops of mine.

But wait! There is one thing you could try before murder: You could ask the powdery mildew to leave. Be nice but make it clear it isn’t welcome. Talk to your plant and the powdery mildew—mean every word you say. The lady who tried to train me to be a Buddhist nun taught me this trick. Sometimes it works with spiders in my tree fort, so maybe mildew will be equally open to listening.

Seems like the nice thing to do, which is always the right thing. (Not really.) Why I jumped right to murder probably has to do with that sordid history I spoke about. The first time I ever saw powdery mildew was in my catnip patch. It was the summer, and I started catnip farming, after harvesting it from the wild for many years. I was planting in pouring rain, so I wouldn’t have to water a giant garden. I planted more than 500 catnip plants that I started from seed indoors. Near the end of the transplanting, I realized I was running out of room in my tilled soil. So I started spacing the rows closer together. I knew they were too close together, but I did it anyway.

Bam. Just like that, those rows of catnip came down with the PM real bad by the end of the season. I culled every plant from those rows and learned a good lesson: If you don’t have enough room for all the plants you have, kill a bunch, or find them new loving homes.

I have seen lots of powdery mildew in indoor gardens for a variety of reasons. High humidity, overcrowding, lazy pruning and getting clones from a friend are pretty sure-fire ways to get a mildew zoo going on in your garden. Genetics play a role, too. I think I have seen a lot of borderline feral cultivars that almost seem immune to the powdery plague.

Once I was walking down the street with a giant thing of balloons, and I saw a plant covered in PM, so I made fun of it. “Eww,” I said as I laughed and pointed at the poor plant. Very impolite, and I guess the plant agreed with me because later that day I was walking by it again, and it retaliated. As I walked past the plant, it somehow magically popped a bunch of my precious balloons. It really felt like revenge to me, and the plant looked happy with itself.

Anyways, if you kill the one plant and then spot powdery mildew on your remaining one, you can try pruning again, but you are probably going to need to kill that plant, too. Disinfect the room and go cry for a month before you try again. Try again, though!

In summation, murder and properly discard the one plant, and pray for the other. Or wait and see how truly gross things can get. Either way, next time avoid powdery mildew in the first place. That topic is a whole other column, but quick tips for you are, fungal diseases love humidity, and you probably should not trust anyone with free clones.

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