Strawberry mottle is an unassuming viral disease that can cut your strawberry crop by 30%.
When strawberry mottle occurs alone, the damage tends to be relatively isolated. All too often, however, more than one virus appears simultaneously in a condition called virus decline. Virus decline can eliminate any chance of enjoying a sweet, juicy strawberry from your garden, no matter how well you care for your plants.
Vectors of strawberry mottle disease
Strawberry mottle is transmitted by insects, most commonly by strawberry, melon, and cotton aphids. Infected plants can also spread the disease. Unlike the strawberry mild yellow edge virus, which stays in an aphid’s gut for its lifetime, the strawberry mottle virus can only be transmitted for 2 or 3 hours after an aphid or other insect has fed on an infected plant, keeping outbreaks relatively localized. [Ten feet away probably looks impossible to a mostly flightless bug that is only 1/8” long.]
Symptoms of strawberry mottle
As insects pierce plant cells to suck out the sugary sap, viruses move from the insect’s saliva to the plant. As viruses tend to do, these pseudo-lifeforms start reprogramming plant cells to produce more viruses. All this reproduction clogs plant veins.
Strawberry mottle first appears on young leaves as smaller-than-normal leaves. They may also show yellow distorted areas. Stunting may occur, and they produce less fruit and runners than they might otherwise. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more severe, with older leaves turning red.
Strawberry mottle management
Strawberry mottle is more likely when plants stay in place over the winter, but that doesn’t mean you must rip out your plants each year. [Note: don’t rip plants out of the ground. Instead, cut them off at soil level to leave valuable soil microbes in place.]
To reduce the likelihood of strawberry mottle appearing in your garden, only buy certified disease-free plants and always place new plants in quarantine. As much as possible, try to control aphids around strawberry plants. If a plant becomes infected, remove it.
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