Gummy stem blight is more common and more severe on fall cucurbit crops than crops grown in the spring. The cooler weather and longer dew periods in the fall provide an ideal environment for the fungal pathogen to grow and spread. Gummy stem blight is most common on watermelon and may also be seen on cantaloupe, cucumber, pumpkin, and winter squash foliage. Butternut squash fruit are susceptible to black rot, the fruit rot phase.
All growers—conventional and organic—should follow two proven steps to eradicate (eliminate) the gummy stem blight fungus from infested fields.
Rotate away from all cucurbit crops for 2 years to allow time for the gummy stem blight fungus to die out in infested crop debris. The timeline starts when the first (diseased) crop is disked. It takes a full 24 months for 90% of the debris to decay under South Carolina weather conditions.
Promptly disk cucurbit crop debris after harvest to stop the spread of airborne ascospores from fruiting bodies that form on vines, stems, crowns, petioles, tendrils, and leaves. Burying crop debris helps it decay faster.
Four fungicides provide good control of gummy stem blight on watermelon, the most susceptible cucurbit grown in the fall: Miravis Prime (FRAC Codes 7 + 12), Switch (FRAC Codes 9 + 12), Inspire Super (FRAC Codes 3 + 9), and Luna Experience (FRAC Codes 7 + 3). Note that because these fungicides share active ingredients in FRAC groups 3, 7, 9, and 12, the only products that can be rotated with each other are Miravis Prime and Inspire Super. Another option is to rotate a generic formulation of tebuconazole (FRAC Code 3) with Miravis Prime or Switch. None of these fungicides controls downy mildew or anthracnose. See Watermelon Fungicide Guide for 2021 for a sample spray program for fall watermelon that covers all major foliar diseases.
Downy mildew was found on watermelon this week in Allendale and Barnwell counties. Although downy mildew does not infect fruit, it reduces sugar content once 1 in 4 leaves (25%) are infected.
All watermelons should be sprayed with a fungicide effective against downy mildew. See pages 214-215 in the 2021 Southeastern U.S. Vegetable Crop Handbook. Any fungicide listed there can be used except Aliette, Previcur Flex, or Curzate. Do not use these fungicides to manage downy mildew on watermelon, as the isolate on watermelon in 2020 was resistant to them. Gavel, Ranman, and Elumin are the least expensive choices. Growers should apply a downy-mildew specific fungicide this week, a protectant (chlorothalonil or mancozeb) next week, and repeat this sequence until one week before the last harvest. See the following publications for more info on watermelon disease management:
Fusarium wilt is showing up in watermelon fields and in research plots at Coastal REC in Charleston. The most telltale symptoms are wilting of a few leaves at the crown of the plant, wilting of one vine on a plant, or wilting without yellowing of a small plant.
A good field diagnostic trick is to cut a wilted vine close to the crown, split it open lengthwise, and look for reddish brown spots on the crosswise cut or streaks in the lengthwise cut.