Tony O’Neill, gardener and author of the popular “Composting Masterclass” and “Your First Vegetable Garden,” combines lifelong passion and expert knowledge to simplify the art of gardening. His mission? Helping you cultivate a thriving garden. More on Tony O’Neill
I love vegetable gardening, and if you do too, you may have come across powdery Mildew. There may have been times you might have seen that powder-like white substance on the surface of plant and tree leaves.
Have you ever thought about what that might be and what might be the reason for having such white spots on a living plant’s leaves? The stuff plagued me for years until I learned what it was and how to deal with it.
What Causes Powdery Mildew? Powdery Mildew is a fungus caused by microorganisms. It is problematic when there are damp, humid conditions. This fungal disease can affect many plants, leaving powdery substances that block the leaves from photosynthesizing.
Powdery Mildew is prevalent during the summer when it’s hot and humid after recent rain. These fungal spores are spread by the wind and by the unsuspecting gardener brushing against affected plants. They will completely cover leaves with a white powdery substance hence the name. This blocks the leaves from turning the sun’s light source into energy for the plant.
So, what is this white substance? How is it formed? How does it affect the plants? In this article, I will explain everything you need to not only be able to identify powdery Mildew but to understand where it comes from and how to prevent and treat it.
Causes of Powdery Mildew
Powdery Mildew is a fungus caused by microorganisms. As we have already discussed, it is caused by warm, humid conditions that provide an ideal breeding ground for powdery Mildew to spread and infect the rest of the plant and adjacent plants.
This fungal disease can affect many plants and trees and harm plant growth. Imagine putting a bucket over your favorite plant for a month. Would it still look good after this time? No. Because we all know plants need light to thrive. Powdery Mildew restricts the light the plant can utilize.
So, how is powdery Mildew caused? We now know it is caused by Fungus infection and prominent plant disease. Many types and species of fungi, such as Erysiphe, Phyllactinia, Microsphaera, Podosphaera, Uncinula, and Sphaerotheca, cause this disease in plants.
There are a lot of species of shrubs, trees, vines, flowers, fruits, vegetables, field crops, weeds, etc., that are affected by the powdery mildew disease.
So what makes the appearance white and powdery? It is basically due to the presence and formation of microscopic spores in huge numbers. These spores are wind-borne and do not need a medium like water for germination to spread the infection further.
These microscopic spores are known as conidia and are produced every 3 to 14 days. The ideal condition for spreading this disease in your plants includes a low moisture level in the soil along with high humidity levels on the surface of the plants or the environment in which the plants are growing.
Once the fungus takes over any of your plants, the many spores of the Mildew can spread to other plants through wind and can significantly impact the growth and health of your plants.
Symptoms and Identification
Powdery Mildew is easy to identify, provided you have seen it before. But, if you are new to gardening, you may have never come across it and do not know what is taking over the leaves on your plants. Therefore, you must know the symptoms and ways to identify the disease in the plants.
What are these symptoms, and how can they be identified? The various signs and the way to identify them can be found below:
- White flour-like powder all over the leaves
- Usually starting in circular white spots that can appear throughout the plants, including leaves, stems, and fruit.
- This infection can usually be found on the upper side of the leaves. But over time, as the fungus spreads, it will cover the entire plant.
- Young plants are more vulnerable to damage caused by this disease. The leaves turn pale yellow and completely dry out. This is because they are limited in leaf growth at this stage, so a more significant percentage of the plant is covered.
- The plant usually has restricted growth due to the lack of photosynthesis.
- The buds and growing tips of the leaves will appear disfigured.
All of the above symptoms will appear later in the growing season. The diseased plants are just growing fresh new leaves on the plants. Older leaves can become infested, and it is best to remove them. As the season progresses, cucumbers, squash, pumpkin, and marrow will get powdery Mildew.
This disease would have quite a severe impact on all plants. Let’s look at the effects of this disease on all plants in a bit of detail.
Effects of Powdery Mildew
Some of these symptoms are a result of this disease. So the disease leads to the symptoms we mentioned and the indicators of this infection. Let us quickly see the effects of powdery Mildew on plants.
- Leaves start to curl upwards and twist in varying ways leading to the exposure of the lower side of the leave.
- The budding of flowers and the growing fruits on the plants get affected as the buds are covered with the powdery white substance that can lead to fruits and flowers rotting.
- If affected seriously, the leaves turn brown and drop sooner than expected and abruptly.
- The disease can result in the deformity of leaves and can lead to retarded growth of all plants infected by powdery Mildew.
- The disease can result in the overall reduction of fruit and crop yield.
If left unchecked and untreated, one infected plant can lead to all your plants contracting powdery Mildew. Avoiding this situation is a must. It is, therefore, imperative to take preventive steps so that the disease does not occur in the first place.
However, treatments are available to help control powdery Mildew should you contract it on some of your plants at home. Let us see how we can ensure that the disease does not occur in the first place.
Prevention Methods for Powdery Mildew
It is a well-known fact that prevention is always better than cure. So, your first endeavor should be to try and ensure that your plants miss Powdery Mildew. Following the steps below, you can rest knowing that you have taken every possible action to ensure your plants are not infected.
- Garden husbandry is essential.
- Ensure correct plant spacings.
- Consider watering applications
- Spray with fungicides as a preventative
- Monitor your plants for the signs and symptoms
- Deal with affected plants quickly
Garden husbandry is essential when combating any pest or disease in the garden. Hygiene is of paramount importance in stopping their spread. Removing decaying plant matter, such as leaves, from the soil surface will remove affected leaves from growing areas.
Ensure correct plant spacings.
Airflow will help to prevent powdery Mildew. Proper planting spacings increase airflow, allowing plants to dry off after rain. This also helps lower humidity and heat levels, precisely what the disease requires to thrive.
Consider watering applications
During the summer months, you can drastically reduce the chance of contracting this virus as it requires damp leaves to take hold and thrive. You can reduce the moisture on the plant’s canopy by ensuring that water is kept at the root level and not overhead.
Spray with fungicides as a preventative
Fungicides can help as a preventative this will kill any powdery mildew spores should they try to inhabit your plants. Preventing them from getting a hold can help you in combating this disease.
These are steps you can take to prevent fungus infection in your plants. Apart from these, you can check the situation and take appropriate action that may deem fit at that time, and you can take preventive steps on a case-to-case basis.
Monitor your plants for the signs and symptoms.
The earlier you can catch any signs of Powdery Mildew, the better and easier it is to stop it in its tracks. Checking over your plants during watering will allow you to spot the signs and symptoms of powdery Mildew and let you take action.
Deal with affected plants quickly
When you find affected plants, it is essential to deal with them quickly. If allowed to continue to spread, it can affect the whole garden. You can get it under control by removing plants with a significant infection or removing the leaves of plants showing signs of infection. Consider spraying with the treatments below.
Steps to take before treatment
Before starting any treatment for the fungus, you must take specific steps to ensure the treatment is effective. These steps can be a preliminary preparation for the treatment or part of the treatment itself. The various steps that you can take for treatment are:
- Make sure you plant your plants in sunny locations with ample sunlight.
- Make sure you prune plants promptly to ensure proper air circulation. After every cut, don’t forget to disinfect your pruning tools.
- If there is a small section of the plant with significant infection, make sure that you remove the diseased part and clean up the debris from the ground.
- Make some organic compost to mulch the ground after cleaning up the area so the diseased spores do not rise to the plants.
- Use milk sprays and spray your plants occasionally, preferably every 10 to 14 days.
- Wash your plants occasionally to prevent any daily formation of spores.
- Ensure you water the plants during the early morning so they get the whole day to dry. Use drip irrigation and techniques like soaker hoses to keep them dry.
- Make sure that you are using some slow-release fertilizer of organic nature so that excess nitrogen is prevented.
- Make sure that all the plant debris that is collected after the harvest season is destroyed. Composting could have been a good option, but if there has been a fungus infection, it is better not to compost.
The above steps take care of the preparation for treating the infection. Now let us look at the treatment of the disease.
There are many tried and tested methods of treatment of Powdery Mildew. To begin treatment, you must understand that every fungal infection differs from others. Different fungi will infect different sections of the plants based on the plant species and the fungi.
If you follow the preventive steps correctly, this disease may not occur in your plants. You can opt for the following treatment methods if your plants get infected.
- Apply Fungicides
- Baking Soda Solutions
- Neem Oil Solutions
- SB Plant Invigorator
- Whole Milk
This is one of the most effective treatments for this disease. You can use sulfur dust or copper-based organic fungicides to prevent infection of vulnerable plants. To get the best results, make sure that you apply the fungicides at the earliest instance and the appearance of the signs of the disease.
To prepare the sulfur solution, take two parts of sulfur and eight parts of water. Sulfur is a vital element, so this proportion should work. You may change the balance based on the nature and intensity of the spread of the disease. Mix thoroughly to ensure that the sulfur has dissolved thoroughly.
Start by spraying all the plants in the affected area and repeat every 7 to 10 days. Do not apply this during the height of daytime temperatures. This may destroy the crops and plants and do more harm than good.
Baking Soda Solutions
Baking Soda is one beneficial powder that acts like magic in many applications in our daily lives, and baking soda as an antifungal substance has been tried and tested. You can use baking soda as an antifungal solution for the plants. Here’s how you can make the solution.
Mix some baking soda in water and make a solution. Mix this in 70/30 water/baking soda. Use a hand or gardening sprayer, and spray the solution on all your affected plants.
Assess the results and then repeat the process every 5 to 10 days. In most cases, the results appear rather quickly, but if it does not, you might need a more robust fungicide to kill the infection that has taken over your plants.
Neem Oil Solution
The neem tree is known for its magical antibacterial and antifungal properties and many medical applications. Neem oil is another preferred and highly effective natural and organic way of treating powdery mildew disease. It is effective in curing fungal infections but would also help your plants eliminate any other conditions, insects or bugs, etc.
Pour some neem oil into the water to prepare and mix the solution thoroughly. 40% neem oil in 60% of water shall do the trick. Pour the solution into a sprayer and spray through all your affected plants. Neem oil will bring speedy results. You can assess the effects in a few days and repeat the application process every 5 to 10 days until the fungal infection is destroyed.
SB Plant Invigorator
SB Plant Invigorator is a soap-based solution designed by a commercial tomato grower fed up with blights and mildewed taking his crops. He created this product to combat these pests and diseases and provide elements required for the plant’s recovery.
The above are some of the most effective treatments for treating Powdery mildew or fungal infections in plants. If you have noticed, all these treatments are organic and are commonly available.
Plants that are more prone to Powdery Mildew.
- Zucchini / Courgette
- Oak Tree
Powdery Mildew can be a problem for many people. This is not the only disease that you may come across. Other conditions and pests, such as the ones below, can plaque your growth. If a link is included, this will take you to other blog posts I have written on that subject to help you with your gardens.
In conclusion, to answer the question raised – The cause of Powdery Mildew is the formation of microbial fungus-infected spores on the plants and trees. These fungi are of various types and species and affect plants and trees of all types and species.
The best part is that this disease is curable and can be avoided if the prescribed prevention methods are followed well. Prevention is better than cure, but if you get powdery Mildew, pruning infected foliage can limit its spread.
Clean up debris from areas around infected plants. Treatments include various organic sprays and powders, Sulfur dust, Neem Oil and Baking Soda, SB Plant Invigorator, and commercially available products.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post about Powdery Mildew. I trust it answers your question fully. If this interests you, why not consider checking out some of my other blog posts and subscribing so you don’t miss future content?
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Remember, folks, You Reap What You Sow!