Downy mildew has hit cucurbit crops on several area farms this week. The photos below were taken at just one farm. Both cucumbers and cantaloupes were affected.
Visit the North Carolina State University Cucurbit Downy Mildew website to learn more about this disease.
According to North Carolina State University plant pathologist Dr. Frank Louws, this year downy mildew was detected in NC a full 60 days earlier than usual, in early June. Normally downy mildew is not a big problem in the spring crop as it has been this year.
Normally downy mildew moves into NC following a track from Florida, through Georgia, then South Carolina, before finding its way into NC. This year it first showed up in Florida, then Texas, and then NC. Now it is all over the state and first showed up in cucumbers but now is also in cantaloupe. Spores can travel for miles in wind and storms.
This strain only affects cucumbers and melons. A different pathotype affects squash and those spores could move in at any time. Once downy mildew gains a foothold it is difficult to control.
* Note: After posting this web page, I have already heard from several growers telling me they have had good results with this or that product on powdery mildew. Powdery mildew and downy mildew are not the same disease so what works on one will not necessarily work on the other.
Cultural strategies can help prevent downy mildew. Plant resistant varieties. Plant in locations with good air circulation. Use drip irrigation to minimize leaf wetness.
There are a number of OMRI-listed products purported to help control downy mildew in cucurbits: copper, neem, biofungicides (e.g., Serenade®), peroxides (e.g., OxiDate®), and bicarbonates (e.g., Kaligreen®). According to Dr. Louws, research has shown that copper is the best organic option, but only on the crops that show little to no symptoms. He said if the infection is far along not to bother spraying because it wouldn’t do much good. Spray early in the morning to avoid phytotoxicity problems caused by spraying in the heat of the day. If the disease is present on the farm, a prophylactic application of a copper product can be made to curcurbit crops that show mild or no symptoms. If the weather does not favor the disease (which likes it warm and wet and humid), then the copper is more likely to suppress the disease. In other words, the copper may help but it may not be enough. (See Pesticide Use Guidelines).
In the case of the farm shown below, there is no point in removing infected crops to reduce the spread of spores because there are already so many spores present. It doesn’t take many spores to cause an infection and there is no way to eradicate them all.
Because downy mildew can be so devastating to crops, growers are encouraged to monitor North Carolina State University’s Cucurbit Downy Mildew website throughout the growing season and start applying prophylactic sprays to all cucurbits as soon as downy mildew is detected in the state. Once it is on your farm it is difficult to control organically.
Growers in western North Carolina should consult Agriculture Agent Sue Colucci’s blog, WNC Vegetable and Small Fruits News. Sue is an area agent in western NC and is a plant pathologist and she will have updates on her site for the western region.
Check out Cornell’s website for more information on copper products for organic production.
Visit the Cucurbit Downy Mildew website for control strategies for conventional growers.