Managing sclerotinia lettuce drop with fungicides

By Mike Matheron, UA Extension Plant Pathologist

The successful management of any plant disease is achieved by focusing control efforts on one or more vulnerable stages in the disease or life cycle of the pathogen.

For lettuce drop caused by the fungi Sclerotinia minor and S. sclerotiorum, this point of attack centers on the fungal bodies called sclerotia. At crop maturity, sclerotia produced on infected plants are incorporated into the soil along with crop debris as the land is prepared for planting the next crop.

For the Sclerotinia fungi, sclerotia serve the same purpose as seeds for plants. That is they allow the organism to carry over in soil in a dormant state until conditions become favorable for germination and growth.

Over the last several years of research trials, traditional application of fungicides to the lettuce bed surface after thinning has provided at best about a 50 to 60 percent reduction in dead plants compared to plots without a fungicide treatment.

In a four-year comparison of fungicide efficacy when soil contained Sclerotinia minor, there were no statistically significant differences in disease reduction provided by the products Botran, Contans, Endura, Rovral, and Switch.

When soil contained Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, products that provided the highest and statistically equivalent levels of disease control were Contans, Endura, and Rovral.

Fungicide application to the bed surface prevents germination of sclerotia at or near the soil surface, but has little effect on sclerotia deeper in the soil profile. Ongoing research is focused on examining new chemistries and methods of application to soil with the goal of consistently increasing the level of Sclerotinia drop control above the 50 to 60 percent now achieved.

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