Managing Diseases of High Tunnel Tomatoes

Kate Everts, Vegetable Pathologist, University of Delaware and University of Maryland; keverts@umd.edu

I have received several questions about timber rot caused by Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, leaf mold caused by Fulvia fulva, and gray mold caused by Botrytis cinerea over the past week for greenhouse and high tunnel tomatoes in Maryland and Delaware.

Timber rot is common where tomatoes (or another susceptible host) have been planted in ground beds in the past. The fungus Sclerotinia sclerotiorum causes disease on hundreds of plant species. Therefore rotation is difficult. Even when a high tunnel is moved between seasons, the disease can be severe because the fungus overwinters both in and around the tunnels. Usually the primary source of inoculum is outside of a high tunnel. In the spring when the soil is moist, the fungal fruiting bodies emerge and spores (ascospores) are released. These ascospores will be released continually throughout the spring and are carried on wind into the doors or raised sides of nearby high tunnels. Ascospores are usually carried or dispersed less than 330 feet. Therefore it is important to use sanitation within 330 feet of a high tunnel. No plants, leaf clippings, potting mix, or soil from the tunnels should be discarded within this area.

There are some practices that will help reduce timber rot pressure, such as minimizing the length of time that the soil stays wet. The biocontrol, Contans has been effective in managing Sclerotinia diseases in the field. Contans, which is a formulation of the fungus Coniothyrium minitans, parasitizes the survival structures of S. sclerotiorum. If it is sprayed on the area around the high tunnel and watered into the soil, it may help reduce ascospore formation in future years. Because the product is a live organism, it must be handled carefully to preserve its effectiveness. Contans would be a good choice for fields or areas around high tunnels, which are used repeatedly for a susceptible crop. See the Contans label for additional information. Other products labeled for Sclerotinia timber rot are Endura, which is labeled for field use, and Botran, which is labeled for greenhouse use.

Leaf mold and gray mold are both favored by high humidity and therefore improving air flow can reduce the extent of disease spread. There are several fungicides that are labeled for greenhouse use that will help reduce disease. These include Scala for leaf mold, Mycostop and Decree for suppressing gray mold, mancozeb products such as Dithane F-45, and copper. In addition to timber rot, Botran has activity on gray mold.

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