Gummy stem blight is a fungal disease of cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, squash, watermelons, and other cucurbits.
Gummy stem blight (Didymella bryoniae) is responsible for crop losses of up to 30% when it occurs, but there are steps you can take to prevent it. First, you need to know what it looks like.
Gummy stem blight symptoms
Plants infected with gummy stem blight show symptoms on leaves, stems, and fruit. Those symptoms can vary, depending on the host plant, but most of the time leaves develop circular, water-soaked lesions that go from tan to dark brown. These lesions may develop yellow halos. When they dry, they may crack and then fall away. In some species, these lesions are more irregularly shaped. Leaves may also develop dark brown edges.
Infected stems have water-soaked areas that turn tan. In some cases, those areas evolve into dark cankers that may contain fruiting structures that look like black pepper. These fruiting bodies are called pycnidia [pik-NI-dea]. These cankers often discharge a gummy brown ooze, hence the name. That ooze can collect into reddish-brown or black beads, making it easy to confuse this disease with Fusarium wilt. Plants infected with Fusarium wilt won’t have the black pycnidia seen in gummy stem blight. New seedlings infected with gummy stem blight will look as though they absorbed too much water. They are darker than normal, too.
When fruits are infected with this pathogen, the condition is often called black rot. But this is not the bacterial black rot that affects members of the cabbage family. Fruits infected with gummy stem blight often start rotting at the stem end, making it look like an upside-down version of blossom end rot. Fruit can also rot from the inside out.
Gummy stem blight disease cycle
Gummy stem blight spores are common in the environment. This disease is both seed- and soil-borne. To become a problem, there must be enough heat and moisture for fungal spores to germinate. This disease is most likely when temperatures are 68°F to 77°F and humidity levels are above 85%, which explains why this disease is so common in the southeastern states of the US.
Leaves that stay wet for more than one hour provide the moisture needed for spores to germinate and penetrate healthy plant tissue. Spores also enter through plant wounds created by insect feeding, happy dogs, and other garden visitors. Other diseases, such as powdery mildew, can also weaken a plant, making it easy for fungal spores to take hold.
Once it enters a plant, this pathogen moves to the stems, where those cankers begin to form.
Gummy stem blight management
Infected plants should be removed and tossed in the trash bin. Two- or three-year crop rotations, removing plant debris at the end of each growing season, and maintaining proper plant spacing help prevent gummy stem blight. And keep those leaves dry by avoiding overhead watering. While there are no resistant varieties, you can buy seeds treated for gummy stem blight.
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