Verticillium & Fusarium Wilts

Out of all the pests and diseases that a gardener may face, soil wilts are by far the most discouraging. One day your plants are flowering and starting to grow fruit, while the next day, they're terminally wilting away! It's difficult to watch a perfectly healthy crop wither to nothing in a matter of a week, but so goes the life of soil-borne verticillium and fusarium wilts. Systemically shutting down nutrient and water pathways, these fungal wilts almost always kill their host garden plants. While the short term outlook is grim, there are verticillium and fusarium wilt treatment options! Keep reading to find out how to diagnose and eliminate these frustrating soil diseases.

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Fusarium & Verticillium Wilt -

Although comprised of many fungi species and subspecies, fusarium and verticillium wilts cause distinct symptoms in their plant host. Entering from a small cut or wound on a root, the fungi make their way into the vascular tissues of the plant. From here, the wilts reproduce and begin to completely plug up entire sections of nutrient and water transporting pathways. Generally, when the disease is just setting in, only one side or section of the plant may be affected. Older leaves will suddenly droop for no apparent reason, quickly followed by newer growth. The foliage will yellow and die as the wilt infection becomes worse. Young plants can be affected, but generally the diseases hit plants the hardest when they're in the flowering and early fruit production stages.

  • Diagnosis - To make sure that soil-borne wilts are the culprit, cut the stem or a branch off the infected plant. If brown splotches or rings are present, you're looking at wilt! To be absolutely certain that wilt is the issue, place the stem or branch in a glass of water. When present, there will be a cloudy brownish slime exuding from the cut part of the branch after only a couple of hours.
  • Susceptible Garden Crops - Hundreds of plant species can be affected by fusarium and verticillium wilts, but the most common garden crops with susceptibility include: Tomatoes, okra, eggplants, sweet peppers, melons, squashes, artichokes, peas, cauliflower, peanuts, cabbage, sunflowers, basil, beans, berries, and sweet potatoes.

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Verticillium & Fusarium Wilt Treatment -

If you've been unfamiliar with soil wilts up until now, let me be the first to tell you that they're not easy to get rid of. Dwelling deep in affected garden soils, these fungal diseases can remain present for years. With no "cure all" solution available for organic gardeners, a different kind of treatment regimen must be pursued.

Healthy strawberry plant on left. Verticillium infected on right. Photo By: Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University.
Healthy strawberry plant on left. Verticillium infected on right. Photo By: Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University.
  • Sanitize - When working between garden beds, always practice good sanitation. By cleaning shovels, scissors, and all other garden tools, you'll minimize the risk of spreading around these plant diseases.
  • Throw Out All Affected Plant Material - Never compost plant material that has been affected by soil wilts. Cut each plant at the base of the stem and throw away. While you'll eventually want to remove as much of the roots as possible, this should be done at the end of the season, as to not cause the infection to spread to surrounding plants.
  • Solarize the Soil - While solarizing your soil is optional, it can drastically reduce the number of potential pathogens in the topsoil. This process entails covering your garden beds with thick black plastic and allowing the summer sun to beat down on it. The heat trapped in by the plastic will bake the soil and kill off many verticillium and fusarium wilt spores. The downside to this technique is that the plastic should remain on top of the affected garden beds for six to eight weeks.

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  • Rotate Crops - Even if you chose to solarize your garden soil, plant verticillium and fusarium wilt resistant crops in affected soils for the next few years. If you suspect that verticillium wilt is an issue, plant celery, corn, asparagus, onions, garlic, carrots or alfalfa. If fusarium wilt is present, plant similar crops to the ones already mentioned for verticillium wilt, or seek out varieties that are known for fusarium resistance.
  • Improve Soil Health - The fungi that cause verticillium and fusarium wilt generally affect garden soils that remain soggy and have poor drainage. Deeply tilling in perilite and compost will increase soil drainage and promote more beneficial organisms to compete with the pesky fungi.

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After spending a few years of following the above practices, susceptible crops can be reintroduced with caution. When planting these varieties again, always seek out cultivars that have a known resistance to verticillium or fusarium wilt. If the wilt persists, start the treatment process again! It may be a pain, but a wilt free garden is a happy garden! Thanks for reading this guide on verticillium and fusarium wilt treatment.


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