An Entomologist by training, it generally takes a lot to gross me out. (I’m constantly suppressing shrieks of “It’s adorable!” when growers show me aphids). But now that it’s dark and wet in the greenhouse, there’s been a sudden appearance of a rather unlovable pest some growers have been referring to as “Pot Worm”.
Not an actual worm at all, this pest is a lover of over-watering and fungal production. Read on to find out what it REALLY is, and how to control it.
Entomopathogenic nematodes – used to control fungus gnats, shoreflies and thrips – are often a “gateway bio” into biocontrol use in greenhouses. This is because not only are they effective and easy to use, but they’re generally compatible with insecticide use. Readily applied with regular spray equipment or through drip lines, nematodes can even be tanked mixed with pesticides to save on labour costs.
In this post, I’ll share some of my research at NC State, looking at which commonly used pesticides in Canadian and U.S. greenhouses are safe to use with nematodes.
It’s that time of year again, when baskets of Million Bells (Calibrachoa) are going up in the greenhouse. Here’s how to deal with and prevent some of their most common issues.
Iron deficiency in Calibrachoa. The resulting yellowing can look similar to symptoms caused by black root rot or nitrogen deficiency.
From a nutritional standpoint, the best thing you can is keep the pH of your calibrachoa in its ideal range; between 5.5 and 6.0. A pH higher than this can inhibit nutrient uptake, especially micronutrients such as iron.
Iron deficiency can be difficult to distinguish from other issues (like Black Root Rot – see below), but typically leads to yellowing of new growth. Leaves may only show chlorosis between the veins, or it may be spread throughout the leaf. This is different from nitrogen deficiency where yellowing occurs in the oldest leaves. If iron deficiency occurs, adding a chelated form of iron is best for uptake.
Yellowed plant growth (yellow circle) and dead plugs (orange circle) on a plug tray of Callibrachoa from black root rot.
Million bells are also highly susceptible toBlack Root Rot (Thielaviopsis) – I’ve seen this take out a good chunk of a crop. Symptoms include:
Stunting of foliage and roots
Plants in a tray will have uneven heights
black areas on roots
yellowing of leaves
Prevention is worth a pound of cure with this disease, as it is difficult to eradicate once established. Important steps to take include:
Proper Sanitation. To avoid an issue with Black Root Rot year after year, immediately dispose of diseased plants, limit water splashing, and sanitize benches, floors and used pots/plug trays. Always physically wash surfaces with a cleaner to remove organic matter, then follow up with a disinfectant such as KleenGrow (ammonium chloride compound).
Consider prophylactic applications of fungicides onplug trays. Products include Senator (thiophanate-methyl) or Medallion (fludioxonil). Preventative applications are an especially good idea if you’ve issues in the past. Adding bio-fungicides containing Trichoderma harzianum(e.g. Rootshield, Trianum) may also help.
Lowering your pH. This diseaseis significantly inhibited by a lower pH – between 5.0 and 5.5.
Manage fungus gnats and shoreflies, since these insects can spread Black Root Rot between plants. Treatments include nematodes, Hypoaspsis mites , or applications of Dimiln (diflubenzuron) or Citation (cyromazine).
If already established, rotated applications of Senator and Medallion may limit Black Root Rot, but are unlikely to cure it.
Aphids tend to be found on flowers and new growth of Calibrachoa.
Lastly, Million Bells are highly attractive to aphids. With baskets hung up in the greenhouse, they can be “out of sight, out of mind”, but regular monitoring is needed to prevent large aphid outbreaks. Place sticky cards directly in baskets, and routinely check plant material for aphid cast skins and honeydew.
Once aphids are detected (and they will be!), applications of Beleaf (flonicamid), Enstar (kinoprene) or Endeavor (pymetrozine) will usually take care of them. However, be aware that all of these insecticides take around 4-5 days to start causing aphid death.
Diagnosing a plant with vague symptoms likewilting, yellow and stunting is much like being a “plant detective”. First, you need to profile the “victim” — here, Callibrachoa plugs. Then, collect DNA evidence. Finally, use knowledge and instinct to narrow down your “suspects”. Only then can you come up with a plan to stop the assailant.
Yellowed plant growth (yellow circle) and dead plugs (orange circle) on a plug tray of Callibrachoa.
An unhealthy plug; few white roots are visible.
In this case, our DNA evidence (c/o UofG Lab Services) gave me 3 possible suspects: Pythium disotocum, Fusarium oxysporum and Thielaviopsis basicola. But which of these was the real culprit?
P. disotocum is rarely documented as an aggressive pathogen in flowers, so we can eliminate that. Similarly, Fusarium is often “around” at low levels without causing a problem. But, T. basicola, better known as Black Root Rot, is a common problem in Callibrachoa, specifically. Rotting roots are not always directly evident (even under a microscope), but severe discoloration of the foliage is a good clue, since this pathogen produces toxins that result in yellowing. Left unchecked, Black Root Rot causes severe stunting and plant death.
Luckily, there are treatments for Black Root Rot, and preventative measures that can be taken.
A fungus gnat (left) and shorefly (right) caught on a yellow sticky card. Both of these pests can transmit Black Root Rot and other pathogens.
Drenches of Senator 70 WP (thiophanate-methyl) are the best option for dealing with an existing outbreak of Black Root Rot
Black Root Rot is often transmitted by fungus gnats and shoreflies. Management of these insects is key to prevention. They can be controlled with soil applications of nematodes, predatory mites (e.g. Hypoaspis), or insect growth regulars like Dimilin (diflubenzuron). These products are compatible with biocontrol programs for other pests, like thrips and aphids.
A high soil pH encourages the growth of Black Root Rot. pH should be kept below 5.6.
Bio-fungicides containing the beneficial organism Trichoderma harzianum (e.g Rootshield) can help protect plants from this Black Root Rot if applied at planting.
Researchers realized that nematodes can “stick” to the inside of spray tanks, reducing the number of nematodes coming out of the nozzle as you spray. This is unlikely to be a problem using backpack sprayers (since the volume is so small), but could be an issue if you use a towed sprayer on wheels.
What’s the solution? Agitation, agitation, agitation.
To keep your nematode numbers consistent throughout the application, do your best to keep nematodes in suspension. And, if you have any concerns about your application technique, it’s easy enough to assess if you have a microscope (or have a friendly neighbourhood OMAFRA agent with one).
Nematodes (S. feltiae) preparing to enter an adult western flower thrips. Photo by R. Buitenhuis (Vineland).
Nematodes are around 0.5 mm long, and can be easily seen using the low magnification setting on a scope. A black background makes them easier to see. Live nematodes are usually serpentine or “J” shaped, and often wiggle slightly. Dead nematodes are stick straight.
By counting the number of live nematodes in a small volume of your original spray solution (1 mL should do it), you can compare this to the number of nematodes in the same volume (1mL) from the nozzle dribble at the end of your application. Seeing a huge reduction here? Then you may have a problem.
To ensure nematode health, also follow these other tips:
Air temperature should be less than 30 C at application time
Apply during low light levels since nematodes are UV sensitive
Nematodes can be stored in a refrigerator (4C) but should be used within 4 weeks of receipt
Do not apply nematodes though sprayers that exceed 300 psi