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Weird weather brings botrytis outbreak

This poor Pink Promise hybrid tea rose was turned into a brown mess by botrytis. (Photo: Debbie Arrington)

Fungal disease loves cool, cloudy, moist conditions

“What is this and how can I fix it?”

That question came attached to a photo of what should have been a big beautiful red rose. Instead, each petal was deeply edged in brown.

In the days ahead, more Sacramento roses will seem to stop opening in mid-bloom and suddenly become covered with spots and brown patches. If left on the bush, these flowers turn to yucky gray mush.

It’s an early outbreak of botrytis, a common fungus that attacks a broad range of ornamental and edible plants.

Usually, local gardeners don’t see Botrytis cinerea on their roses until October or November. But recent weather conditions have been just right for this opportunistic pathogen. Botrytis loves temperatures in the 70s, cloudy afternoons and a little rain.

It’s that splash of moisture that really launched this attack – both in April and now in May. Botrytis needs moisture for growth in plant tissues and what it loves are tender flower petals. It can’t seem to resist a wet bud on a cool, cloudy day.

Nicknamed gray mold, botrytis will eventually overwhelm the flower and turn it into soft mush. The earliest stages look like pink measles or brownish water spots on light colored flowers. Those brown spots quickly grow until they consume the whole petal. The fungus grows so fast, the flower never fully opens.

Although botrytis is common in the fall, a spring attack seems worse because we have more flowers in the garden.

Besides roses, botrytis also attacks African violet, asters, begonia, carnation, chrysanthemum, cyclamen, cymbidium, gerbera, geranium, gladiolus, hydrangea, marigolds, orchids, petunia, poinsettia, primrose, ranunculus, snapdragon, zinnia and many other garden favorites.

According to UC Integrated Pest Management program, the best control of botrytis is “good sanitation.” Clip off infected blooms, put them in a plastic bag and dispose in the trash. Do not compost them; that just recycles the spores back into the garden.

Pick up fallen blooms and petals around the bush and dispose of them, too.

When the heat returns (which will be soon), botrytis will disappear – it can’t stand temperatures over 90 degrees. But expect it to come back again in October – especially after the first fall rain.

For more information on botrytis, check out these pest notes from UC IPM:


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Dec. 10:

Take advantage of these dry but crisp conditions. It’s time to get out the rake!

* Rake leaves away from storm drains and keep gutters clear.

* Fallen leaves can be used for mulch and compost. Chop up large leaves with a couple of passes with a lawn mower.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs while they’re dormant. Without their foliage, trees are easier to prune.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Make sure to take frost precautions with new transplants and sensitive plants. Mulch, water and cover tender plants in the late afternoon to retain warmth.

* Succulent plants are at particular risk if temperatures drop below freezing. Don’t water succulents before frost; cover instead. Use cloth sheets, not plastic. Make sure to remove coverings during the day.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they'll bloom again next December.

* Just because it rained doesn't mean every plant got watered. Give a drink to plants that the rain didn't reach, such as under eaves or under evergreen trees. Also, well-watered plants hold up better to frost than thirsty plants.

* Plant garlic (December's the last chance -- the ground is getting cold!) and onions for harvest in summer.

* Bare-root season begins. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb. Beware of soggy soil. It can rot bare-root plants.

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