Lettuce dieback

By Mike Matheron, UA Extension Plant Pathologist

This disease has appeared in romaine plantings in southeastern Imperial County, Calif. and in Yuma, Ariz. over the past several years. Lettuce dieback also occurs in other lettuce production regions in California.

Initial symptoms on infected plants include extensive yellowing of the outermost leaves with the younger inner leaves usually remaining dark green in color. Dead spots on older leaves can develop into extensive areas of brown necrotic tissue.

As the disease progresses, plant stunting and death can occur. Rotted roots may also be present, but whether this is caused by the pathogens or is a secondary issue is not clear.

Lettuce dieback is caused by the Tomato bushy stunt virus and the closely related Lettuce necrotic stunt virus.

The disease is primarily a problem on romaine lettuce, although some green leaf, red leaf, and butterhead cultivars can be affected. To date, symptoms have not been observed in commercial plantings of crisphead lettuce.

Lettuce dieback is usually found in fields near rivers or low-lying areas that drain poorly. High salinity and plant stress will enhance lettuce dieback symptoms.

The viral pathogens can be dispersed by contaminated soil and water and can survive for a long period of time. No vectors for Tomato bushy stunt virus and Lettuce necrotic stunt virus are known.

Soil fumigation or crop rotation does not reduce disease severity in subsequent plantings of susceptible lettuce varieties.

Active research is in progress in California to develop commercial romaine varieties resistant to these two soil-borne viruses.

Contact Matheron: (928) 726-6856 or matheron@ag.arizona.edu.