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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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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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