By Mike Matheron, UA Extension Plant Pathologist

Lettuce dieback disease has appeared in some romaine plantings in southeastern Imperial County, Calif. and in Yuma, Ariz. Lettuce dieback occurs in other lettuce production regions in California as well.

Initial symptoms on infected plants consist of 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 unclear.

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 as well. 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. The viral pathogens can be dispersed by contaminated soil and water and can survive for a long period of time.

No known vectors for Tomato bushy stunt virus and Lettuce necrotic stunt virus are known. Soil fumigation or crop rotation do not reduce disease severity in subsequent plantings of susceptible lettuce varieties.

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

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