Gary W. Moorman, Professor of Plant Pathology
While root rot can be caused by several different species of the fungus-like organism Pythium, the three most commonly encountered species are Pythium irregulare, Pythium aphanidermatum, and Pythium ultimum . P. ultimum and P. irregulare are often found in field soil, sand, pond and stream water and their sediments, and dead roots of previous crops. P irregulare has been isolated from almost every type of greenhouse crop grown but P. aphanidermatum seems to be associated primarily with poinsettia and very few other crops. Pythium can be in commercially available soilless potting mixes. It is easily introduced into pasteurized soil or soilless mixes by using dirty tools, dirty pots or flats, walking on or allowing pets to walk on the mixes and by dumping the mixes on benches or potting shed floors that have not been thoroughly cleaned. Fungus gnat and shorefly activity may also be involved in moving Pythium from place to place in greenhouses. When introduced into a soil mix that has been heat-treated for too long or at too high a temperature, Pythium can cause severe root rot because it has few competitors to check its activity. P. aphanidermatum and P. irregulare pose a threat to crops grown in ebb and flow systems because they form a swimming spore stage that can move in water. This is likely to occur only if irrigation times are long (45 min. or longer) or if pots sit in puddles of water because the bench or floor does not drain completely. If Pythium infests a cutting bed or if contaminated water is used in propagation, large losses occur. Pythium ultimum is primarily associated with soil and sand. As growers switched to soilless mixes, this species became less important than when growers used field soil in the potting mix. P. ultimum does not form the swimming spore stage but can be a problem in ebb and flow systems if the reservoir becomes fouled with potting mix and plant debris particles harboring it. Almost all plants are susceptible to Pythium root rot. Root tips, very important in taking up nutrients and water, are attacked and killed first. Pythium also can rot the base of cuttings.
- Plants are stunted.
- Root tips are brown and dead.
- Plants wilt at mid-day and may recover at night.
- Plants yellow and die.
- Brown tissue on the outer portion of the root easily pulls off leaving a strand of vascular tissue exposed.
- The cells of roots contain round, microscopic, thick-walled spores.
Pythium root rot is difficult to control once rot has begun. Every effort should be directed toward preventing the disease before it begins by using heat-pasteurized potting mix (entire pile heated to 180F and held at that temperature for 30 min. Longer times and higher temperatures will kill beneficial organism in the soil.). Cover the treated soil and store it or commercial soilless mixes in an area that will not be contaminated through the introduction of non-treated soil.
If pond or stream water is used for irrigation, be certain the intake pipe is well above the bottom so that sediment is not drawn in. If the water supply is suspected of being a source of Pythium, it may be necessary to treat the water before use. First, contact the author (see address above) to arrange to have the water tested for Pythium . Slow sand filtration has been shown to be an effective, simple, and inexpensive method for removing Pythium from water. Heat, ultraviolet light, ozone, and chlorination can be effective but are expensive and require some training to be used properly.
Cover ebb and flow system reservoirs to prevent contaminated debris from entering the system. Pass return water over a coarse screen to remove potting soil and plant debris in order to help keep Pythium out of the reservoir.
Disinfect all bench surfaces, potting benches, tools, and equipment that will contact the potting mix. Periodically, thoroughly clean and disinfect ebb and flow reservoirs, benches, and flood and drain floors.
In a greenhouse operation with a history of Pythium root rot, apply a fungicide or a biological control agent as early in the cropping cycle as possible. Biological agents should be applied to the potting mix before, during or immediately after transplant. They can even be applied to plants in plug trays before transplanting. Do not apply ANY chemical pesticides to the potting mix 10 days before or for 10 days after applying the biological control agent. Biological control agents and fungicides may have to be applied more than once in order to maintain adequate protection.
Some populations of Pythium have resistance to metalaxyl, mefenoxam and/or propamocarb. If these chemicals do not appear to be protecting your plants, switch to another product and contact the author of this fact sheet for assistance in assessing the cause of the problem.
The following biological agents and chemicals are registered for controlling Pythium . Be certain the crop to be treated is listed on the product label before treating the crop.
Active Ingredients and Trade Names of the Chemicals
|FRAC Group No.||Risk Level||Class||Active ingredient||REI Restricted Entry Interval||Trade Names (EPA Reg. no.)|
|4||3||Acylanine||Mefenoxam||0||Subdue MAXX (100-796)|
|14||1||Thiadiazole||etridiazole||12||Truban (58185-7), Terrazole (400-416)|
|40||Cinnamic acid derivative||dimethomorph||12||Stature (241-419-67690)|
|Phosphite||phosphorus acid salts||4||Alude (71962-1-1001)|
|potassium phosphate||4||Vital (42519-24)|
|Combined 1 products|
|1+M||thiophanate methyl + etridiazole||Banrot (58185-10)|
Fungicides and Fungicide Resistance Management - Certain fungicides, usually systemic fungicides, are said to be 'at risk' to the development of resistance if they are used repeatedly. See the Risk Level in the above table (1 = low risk; 3 = high risk). The Fungicide Resistance Action Committee has developed a numbering system in which chemicals with the same FRAC Group number have the same mode of action (See http://www.frac.info/frac/index.htm ). It is recommended that chemicals at high risk be used sparingly and in rotation or mixed with chemicals with different modes of actions (different FRAC number).
|Biological coontrol agent (type of organism)||Trade Name (EPA reg. no.)|
|Bacillus subtilis (bacterium)||Companion (GB03 strain) (71065-1), Serenade (69592-4), Rhapsody (QST 713 strain) (69592-10)|
|Candida oleophila (yeast)||Aspire (55638-29)|
|Gliocladium catenulatum (fungus)|
|Streptomyces griseoviridis||Mycostop ((64137-5)|
|Trichoderma harziamum (fungus)||PlantShield, (68539-4)|
|Trichoderma virens||SoilGard (70051-3)|
Release of zoospores.
Pythium spores (round) in root cells.
Notice: The user of this information assumes all risks for personal injury or property damage.
Warning! Pesticides are poisonous. Read and follow all directions and safety precautions on labels. Handle carefully and store in original labeled containers out of the reach of children, pets, and livestock. Dispose of empty containers right away, in a safe manner and place. Do not contaminate forage, streams or ponds.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of Congress, May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U. S. Department of Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences research and extension programs are funded in part by Pennsylvania counties, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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