Powdery mildew of pea

Houseplant Mold: Identify, remove, and prevent unwanted mold on indoor plants

White fuzzy mold isn’t any good on the cheese in your fridge, and it’s almost as frustrating to see in the containers of your plants. Especially if you’re growing herbs or other edible foods, but rest assured it’s easy to fix and can be prevented. Don’t worry, I think it’s probably safe to admit that at one time or another, even the most experienced gardeners have come face to face with mold growing on their houseplant soil!

What is the mold on your soil?

Mold is a type of fungus consisting of microscopic spores, or teeny tiny particles that are constantly floating around in the air. Unbeknownst to many, these mold spores exist everywhere and are on most surfaces.

When mold is present at low levels, under normal conditions, the amount found in the air isn’t typically a health concern.

However, when it begins to grow on the soil in your plants it may increase their susceptibility to root rot, causing damage. When found in higher levels it also decreases the air quality in your home impacting both humans and pets living in the space, negating the air-purifying benefits typically reaped from having houseplants. It can also trigger respiratory issues for people with mold allergies.

As an aside, while the terms mold and mildew are used interchangeably, there is a notable difference between the two. Scientifically, mildew refers to the type of fungus that grows on plants such as powdery mildew that may grow on plants in your vegetable garden. Commonly mildew is used to describe fungi that grow on the surface of items in a flat pattern. Mold often has a roundish shape and rises upward off the surface as it grows.

How does this mold develop

Mold growth occurs on almost any surface and isn’t an indicator of cleanliness. When airborne spores land on a surface and have given the right conditions, i.e. a food source, moisture, warmth and oxygen, they begin to regenerate and grow.

Unfortunately, the potting soil you use for your container plants, especially when grown indoors, is a prime location. The spores feed on organic material found in the potting mix. Your ambient household temperature and the moisture you give your plants can act as a catalyst, causing the furry stuff to take up residence and begin multiplying.

Types of mold

As I said before, mold is everywhere. There are hundreds of different types that occur both outside and inside your home, depending upon the fungal spores present. It’s important to know what type of mold you are dealing with to gain an understanding if it is dangerous or not.

The molds with associated health risks can be divided into three types:

  1. Allergenic: this type may cause allergic reactions such as asthma attacks in susceptible individuals.
  2. Pathogenic: this type may cause infections or other health problems in people with compromised immune systems or acute illnesses.
  3. Toxigenic: this type is what is known as “toxic mold” and can lead to dangerous or even deadly health conditions in anyone regardless of their health.

Common types

For simplicity’s sake, the common types of molds are classified by their color. But be aware different species of molds can grow as the same color

Green Molds – One of the most commonly found molds within homes, green mold is usually found growing on foods such as citrus fruits and bread.

White Molds – The other mold commonly found in homes, white mold is typically found growing on the soil of your plants or on porous, paper, pulp or wood-based surfaces. It is probably a harmless saprophytic fungus, an organism that feeds on organic matter to help break it down.

Red Molds – Actually, red mold isn’t mold at all, but instead a type of yeast. It typically accompanies other types of dark-colored molds and inhabits building materials like vinyl flooring, walls, carpets, and wall paneling.

Black Molds – Many people mistakenly think all black mold is dangerous. In reality, black molds are most commonly found growing outside growing around damp, dusty areas, soil, and plants and pose a low risk to humans.

Toxic molds can come in many different colors, not just black, and not all black molds are toxic. The CDC is careful to explain that “toxic” is an inaccurate descriptor. It’s not the mold itself that is toxic or poisonous, but rather certain types of molds, Stachybotrys chartarum especially, produce toxins that present hazards.

Identifying the mold

One of the first steps to follow when you see any kind of mold on the soil of your indoor houseplants is to identify what types it is, so you can properly remediate the problem.

White Mold: appears as downy, fuzzy growth on the surface of the soil. May look cottony in nature. As mentioned above, this mold is typically a saprophytic fungus and poses little harm to humans or your plants. This fungus colonizes the soil surface when conditions are damp and ventilation is limited.

Sooty Mold: appears as black or dark green sooty looking patches on the base of the plant and on the soil surface. The presence of sooty mold indicates your houseplant is infected with scale, tiny insects that feed on the sap of your plant and then excrete what is known as honeydew. Sooty mold doesn’t directly harm plants but if left to reproduce it can inhibit photosynthesis.

Grey Mold: caused when the airborne spores of the fungus Botrytis land on open wounds of the plant or diseased/dying tissue. Grey mold appears as dusty gray spores and is generally found near the soil surface or in the densest areas of the plant’s foliage. Infected areas on the plant enlarge quickly, causing tissue collapse; if left untreated grey mold can kill the entire plant.

Powdery Mildew: presents as a white powdery film on the leaves and stems of your plants that looks similar to a dusting of flour. Over time it may darken in appearance to a grey color and spread to the soil. Powdery mildew impairs photosynthesis, stunting plant growth and can kill the plant if left untreated.

How to get rid of mold

Treatment methods vary slightly depending on the type of mold you have growing on your house plant soil.

Removing white mold

If you notice white fuzzy mold on your indoor plants it’s best if you get rid of it as quickly as you can, even though it is likely harmless.

  1. Before trying anything else, take the plant outside and let it sit where it can bask in natural sunlight and gets plenty of air movement. A full day outside is great, a couple is even better as long as you bring it indoors at night if the temperature drops too low. The sun and air may be enough to clear up the mold for you.
  2. If putting your plant outside doesn’t work, or isn’t feasible you’ll need to tackle the removal yourself. Wearing a mask, carefully scrape the mold off the top of the soil surface using a spoon, putty knife, or something similar. Dispose of the mold in a zip-top bag in the trash.
  3. Using a soft clean cloth dampened with a diluted dish detergent solution, wipe down the plant to remove any mold growing on the foliage. This helps to prevent reinfection of the potting soil.
  4. After removing the mold manually and cleaning the plant’s leaves, you can opt to apply a fungicide to treat the mold that is beneath the surface, down in the root zone. There are many options available, including a variety of organic formulations. Make sure to apply at the rate recommended on the product label.

Removing sooty mold

First things first, you need to treat the insect infestation in your houseplants or the sooty mold will continue to be problematic.

If the population of insects is low you can manually pick them off with your fingers or a pair of sterilized tweezers, disposing of them afterward. You can also dab them with an alcohol-soaked cotton swab. If the population is heavier apply insecticidal soap or horticultural oil to treat the plant.

Once the scale has been treated you can wipe the sooty mold off your plant’s foliage with a clean, damp cloth. A dilute soap solution may be used if the sooty mold is persistent. Then place your plant in the kitchen sink or bathtub and gently rinse all of the leaves.

Removing grey mold

Botrytis can harbor in the soil, so it’s important to make sure it is treated thoroughly to prevent reinfection.

  1. Isolate the plant from your other houseplants and remove any infected or diseased plant tissue using sterilized scissors or a razor blade. Dispose of tissue in the trash.
  2. Apply a biological or copper-based fungicide to the plant following the manufacturer’s directions on the product label. Make sure to thoroughly soak the soil as well. Reapply the chosen fungicide every 1-3 weeks or as needed until the fungal pressure has completely subsided.

Removing powdery mildew

Different strains of the fungus causing powdery mildew are responsible for infection of different houseplants. For example, the fungus that causes it in African violets is different than the fungus that causes it in your jade plant. This means transmission from one plant to another is low but it’s still imperative to treat it before it severely damages the infected plant.

  1. Remove any infected or diseased plant tissue using sterilized scissors or a razor blade. Dispose of tissue in the trash.
  2. Spray infected plants with bicarbonate solution (1 teaspoon baking soda in a quart of water) or a sulfur-based fungicide according to the label directions.

Remediating severe mold problems

If the problem is severe or widespread regardless of the type of mold, repotting your plants may be necessary. Repot them into clean, sterilized containers (soak plastic pots in a solution of 9 parts water and 1 part bleach, rinse thoroughly with clean water) with fresh potting mix. If you want to reuse the contaminated potting mix you can sterilize the soil to kill any pathogens in it.

How to prevent mold from growing

One of the best ways to deal with mold is to simply prevent it from growing, by following some of these general care practices.

  • Do not overwater – Without a doubt, overwatering is the leading culprit of mold growth. Let the top layer of soil dry out before watering your plants again: the top 2” of larger pots should be allowed to dry out before watering; the top ½ to 1-inch in smaller containers.
  • Reduce humidity – If you live in an area with high humidity, your houseplants’ soil may be predisposed to a mold problem. Use a dehumidifier to reduce the relative humidity around your plants.
  • Give them light – Make sure your houseplants are getting enough light. Natural sunlight is best, but supplemented light helps as well. If the weather is nice periodically put your plants outside to get sun, making sure they don’t get scorched.
  • Good drainage – Make sure the containers have drainage holes, don’t create a drainage layer when potting up your plants (this is an outdated practice), and don’t let plants sit in a saucer with standing water.
  • Good air circulation – Arrange plants so there is adequate space for the air to circulate between them. It also helps the soil dry out more quickly after watering.
  • Housekeeping – Remove dead leaves from plants as well as any debris that accumulates on the soil surface to prevent fungal growth.
  • Inspect any new plants coming into your home for mold or any other signs of disease, so it isn’t introduced and spread to your existing plants.
  • Natural antifungals – You can sprinkle cinnamon, baking soda, apple cider vinegar on the soil surface to naturally prevent growth. All three items are safe to use in a small amount and won’t pose any risk to your plants.

Conclusion

It’s not uncommon for mold to pop up on the soil surface of your houseplants. While in most cases the fuzzy, white mold isn’t anything to worry about, it’s still a good idea to get rid of it and then try to prevent it from popping up again. Mold prevention methods include proper watering, plenty of light, and good air circulation.

The daytime temperatures are getting warm and it’s cool at night. It seems like the perfect scenario for great growing weather. Your peas are up and growing like a storm. What’s that on the leaves and pods? There are white fuzzy spots growing on my peas. Powdery Mildew strikes again!!

Powdery mildew is the most common occurring plant fungal disease. Its appearance, when first noticed, is characterized by spots or patches of white to grayish powdery growth on the upper surface of leaves and their stems.

  • It impairs photosynthesis
  • Stunts growth
  • Increases the rate of plant decline

Advanced stage of powdery mildew:

  • Foliage turns to yellow, leaves curl or turn brown.

How does this happen? There are three requirements for disease to flourish. A host, the pathogen/disease and the right environmental conditions.

  • Powdery mildew (thin layers of fungal tissue on the surface of the leaf which produce spores) requires new and young living plant tissue to grow.
    • The disease grows as mycelium (fungal tissue) on the surface of the affected plant as white patches where the spores are produced.
      • Spores make up the white/gray powdery growth visible on the leaf surface.
      • Spores of powdery mildew are carried by the wind, splashing rain drops and/or insects to new plant tissue.
      • The spores can produce in 48 hours.
  • Warm, humid days and cool nights are the perfect conditions for the fungus to grow.
    • Moderate temperatures of 60° to 80° (F) are favorable temperatures for powdery mildew growth.
    • Temperatures of 90° (F) and above inhibits the growth of the disease.
  • High humidity for spore germination common in crowded plantings, where air circulation is poor and damp shaded areas invite this plant fungal disease.
  • Crop debris and host weeds are important to the survival of powdery mildew.
  • The spores of powdery mildew over winter attached to plant parts and plant debris.

These are the common preemptive strategies to avoid/combat powdery mildew.

  • Plant powdery mildew resistant varieties if available.
  • Plant in full sun.
  • Properly space plantings to allow good air circulation.
    • If plants are overcrowded, prune to allow increased air circulation, reduce humidity and cross infection.
  • Arrange your rows or beds east to west to eliminate shade possibility.
  • Tallest plantings should be to the north.
  • Avoid overhead watering. Best time to water is mid morning allowing the plants to completely dry.
  • Stay out of the garden when wet!!! Otherwise, you become a carrier of the disease.
  • Avoid the late summer application of nitrogen fertilizer (fish emulsion, composted poultry litter, ammonia nitrate, urea) which limits new growth the disease attacks.
  • Remove ALL diseased plant parts and burn or bag and remove from property.
    • If possible, remove diseased plant parts on a sunny, hot, wind free day.
      • Spores are killed by heat and direct sunlight.
      • In the absence of wind there is less of a chance for spore dispersal.
  • Remove ALL plant material and plant debris (mulch included) in the fall.
    • Survival rate of any overwintering fungal spores is decreased.
  • DO NOT COMPOST ANY PLANT MATERIAL OR DEBRIS where this disease was active.

When fungus pressure/threshold is too great you can pull all diseased plants or are there fungicides to use? The answer is YES!!

  • Horticultural oils – Saf-T-Side Spray Oil®, Sunspray Ultra Fine Spray Oil® – follow label directions
  • Neem Oil (plant based), Jojoba Oil (plant based) – follow label directions
    • Never apply when temperatures are 90° (F) or above or with drought stressed plants.
    • Never apply an oil spray within two (2) weeks of a sulfur application as plants may be damaged.
  • Wettable Sulfur is most effective when applied before disease symptoms appear. – Safer Garden Fungicide® – follow label directions
    • Never apply when temperatures are 90° (F) or above or with drought stressed plants.
    • Never apply within two (2) weeks of an oil spray.
    • Be careful when spraying squash and melons as there may be damage.
  • Baking soda ( Sodium Bicarbonate)
    • Combine with horticultural/dormant oil with liquid/insecticidal soap
      • 1 TBS Baking Soda, 1 tsp horticultural/dormant oil, 1 tsp insecticidal/liquid soap to 1 gallon of water.
      • Spray every one to two weeks.
      • Use sparingly to avoid sweetening (alkaline) the soil.
  • Potassium Bicarbonate – Kaligreen® – contact fungicide killing spores of powdery mildew quickly.
    • Approved for organic use. Follow label directions.
  • Mouthwash – generic ethanol based – spray 1 part mouthwash to 3 parts water.
    • Caution use on new foliage as it may be damaged.
  • Vinegar – spray 2 -3 TBS apple cider vinegar (5% acetic acid) mixed with 1 gallon water.
    • Caution use on new foliage as it may be damaged.
  • Milk – natural occurring compounds in milk attack the disease while improving the plants immune system.
    • Spray 1 part milk to 2 parts water weekly.

Biological Fungicides – beneficial microorganisms when sprayed on plant tissue destroy fungal disease. Serenade®, Actinovate AG®, Cease®

  • Active ingredient – Bacillus subtillis – prevents powdery mildew from infecting the plant. Follow label directions.
    • Non toxic to people, pets and beneficial insects
      • Not proven to be as effective as oils or sulfur

Here are a few examples of powdery mildew.

Remember, fall clean-up is essential!! Be on your guard!

Papa

Yellow Leaves on a Sweet Pea Plant

Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of tanakawho

Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) are elegant cool-season annuals with brightly colored flowers. They grow best in moist, well-drained soil and full sun. Sweet peas are members of the legume family and thrive in early spring before summer’s heat wilts them. While they are generally easy to grow, sweet peas are susceptible to some diseases that can cause their leaves to turn yellow.

Mosaic

The pea mosaic virus can cause yellowing and mottling of the sweet pea’s leaves. Symptoms include foliage with dark green areas combined with yellow-green areas. The mosaic virus is spread by aphids, which can be treated with an insecticide and by controlling nearby weeds.

Powdery Mildew

Powdery mildew (Erysiphe polygoni) is a grayish-white growth on the stems and leaves of infected sweet pea plants. As the fungus progresses, infected leaves will yellow and wither. The powdery mildew spores are spread through the air. Use a fungicide regularly and as soon as you spot the powdery mildew.

Spotted Wilt

Spotted wilt is a virus that causes circular spots on leaves that are first yellow, then brown. The virus, which can kill your plants, is spread by thrips. Use an insecticide and control nearby weeds, including grasses.

Ramularia Leaf Spot

Ramularia leaf spot is a fungus specific to sweet peas that causes large tan to yellow spots on plants, starting with the lower leaves. After infection, the leaves often will drop. The fungus survives in foliage that has been removed, so do not compost infected plants. Overly wet conditions can cause the fungus to appear. The University of California Agriculture Department recommends not planting sweet peas in the same area each year if you have problem with the fungus. Water sweet peas at ground level and use a fungicide if necessary.

Manganese Deficiency

Yellow leaves are often caused by a manganese deficiency, according to Cal Poly State University. The deficiency is frequently seen in soil with a very high pH. Manganese is vital for photosynthesis, and a lack of it will cause chlorosis (reduced chlorophyll). Do a garden pH test and add sulfur as needed to amend the soil.

Powdery Mildew on Peas

Powdery mildew of peas is a fungal disease caused by the fungus Erysiphe pisi.

It is a serious disease of field peas, whose infection causes significant yield losses.

Severe pod infection can lead to poor seed quality and premature ripening may result in shrunken seeds.

Seeds from infected pods may be discoloured and less palatable, which reduces their market value. Such grains are not fit for consumption.

Crops grown late are more likely to be affected by this disease than early sown crops, and when the disease is severe, the peas become stunted, turn yellow, and defoliate.

BIOLOGY

The fungus over-winters on infected pea trash and produces spores which are blown by wind into new crops to cause infections. Under favourable conditions the disease may completely colonise a plant in 5 – 6 days and once a few plants become infected it rapidly spreads to adjacent areas.

Warm, humid environmental conditions for 4 – 5 days late in the growing season during flowering and pod filling are favourable for the development of powdery mildew disease. Although rainfall is not favourable for the disease, because it washes the spores off plants, dewy nights are sufficient for disease development.

The disease may also be seed-borne, although this source of infection may be less important.

SIGNS & SYMPTOMS

All aerial parts of the plant (Leaves, stems and pods) may become infected resulting in withering of the whole plant, but disease symptoms first appear on the upper surfaces of the oldest leaves.

Symptoms consist of a light, greyish, powdery growth on the leaves, pods and occasionally on the stems. This powdery growth is easily rubbed off. As the plant ages, tiny fruiting bodies of the fungus often form in the powdery growth.

Heavily infected foliage turns blue-white in colour and the tissues below these infected areas may turn purple.

Severe pod infection can cause a grey-brown discolouration of the seeds. These seeds develop an objectionable flavour which lowers the quality of the grains.

MANAGEMENT

Chemical method

An effective management of the disease can be achieved by use of fungicides which have systemic or translaminar properties, because infection may occur at both sides of the leaves.

Systemic fungicides, however, due to their single site mode of action, are prone to resistance development and the pathogen has the ability to develop resistance to these chemicals. Resistance management can be achieved by alternating several fungicides (with different active ingredients) within a crop’s season.

The following fungicides are recommended for use in control and/or management of powdery mildew on peas;

  • ABSOLUTE 375SC 10ml/20l
  • RANSOM 600WP 15g/20l
  • EXPLORER 3 SL 10ml/20l
  • EXEMPO CURVE 250SC 15ml/20l
  • JUPITER 125SC 15ml/20l
  • CHARIOT 500SC 20ml/20l
  • MEGAPRODE LOCK 525WP 30g/20l
  • MILESTONE 250SC 10ml/20l
  • TOMAHAWK 250EC 10ml/20l
  • CADILLAC 800WP 50g/20l (prevention purposes)
  • BIODISTINCTION XTRA 700CS50ml/20l (copper-based solution which prevents & suppresses the activity of the fungus).

Non-chemical approaches

  • Plant tolerant varieties
  • Rotate with non-host crops such as potato, maize, wheat or other grains
  • Ensure proper spacing between plants for free air circulation
  • Plant crops in rainy seasons because there is less powdery mildew invasion
  • Early seeding is recommended because powdery mildew infection is more damaging on late-maturing pea crops.
  • Maintain field sanitation/hygiene
  • Avoid heavy application of fertilizer.
  • Minimize field movements from infected areas to non-infected areas
  • Overhead sprinkling may help reduce powdery mildew because spores are washed off the crop.

Tips!

  • When using a pesticide, always wear protective clothing and follow the instructions on the product label, e.g. Dosage, timing of application, and pre-harvest interval.
  • When spraying, mix the fungicide with INTEGRA 3ml/20l, which improves the efficacy of the chemical by acting as a sticker, spreader and penetrant.
  • Timely control of the disease helps to reduce/prevent losses attributed to its infection.
  • A repeat of fungicide spray should be done 1-2weeks.
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