Spots on geranium leaves

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Geranium Care

The geranium, Pelargonium xhortorum, is widely grown in flower beds, containers, and hanging baskets. A wide variety of flower and foliage colors are available. From the true orange flower of ‘Orange Appeal’ to the fluorescent shade of ‘Orbit Violet’ there is surely a color to coordinate with any landscape plan. Flowers are packed densely on umbels rising above the plant foliage. Flowers may be single, double, or semi-double. In past years, most varieties were grown vegetatively from cuttings. Today, many varieties are available from seed. Plants grow 12 to 20 inches tall. Some of the named series, such as ‘Elite’ and ‘Orbit’, are known especially for compact growth which is desirable for containers and bedding displays.

Geraniums grow best in full sun. They like moist, well- drained soils and prefer a cool root zone. To keep flowers coming continuously throughout the summer, regular deadheading is necessary. Remove the spent flowerheads as they begin to deteriorate. This will prevent seeds from forming and force the plant into producing additional blooms. It also improves plant appearance as well as reducing the chance for disease.

Like all plants, geraniums have their share of disease and insect problems. One disease being seen this season is bacterial leaf spot. This disease is caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas pelargonii and is especially prevalent in warm, wet weather where plants are grown in crowded conditions. Disease symptoms include small (pinhead size), circular or irregular, brown, sunken spots on older or lower leaves. Large numbers of spots will occur on a single leaf, these will coalesce killing a large portion of the leaf which will then drop off. As the disease moves through the plant, the lower leaves wilt and yellow. In severe cases, the stem will possess black stem cankers killing the upper portion of the stem. Leaves infected with bacterial leaf spot should be removed as soon as it is noticed. Severly infected plants should be removed. There is no chemical cure for bacterial leaf spot. Make sure and destroy infected plants and plant parts this fall.

Another common disease of geranium is a fungal disease known as botrytis leaf spot or botrytis blossom blight. It is caused by Botrytis cinerea. Botrytis is favored under cool, moist conditions or where plants are watered frequently. Leaves develop zonate, brown leaf lesions which develop a grayish brown mass of fungal spores. The lower leaves will yellow and rot. Flowers may also become infected. They show discolored petals which wilt and fall. Remove affected leaves and flowers. Fungicide sprays, when environmental conditions are favorable, will help reduce levels of this disease. Chlorothalonil (Daconil 2787) is widely available for homeowner use and will help to control botrytis. Rust, root rots, stem rot, and leaf spots are other diseases known to infect geraniums.

Insects that frequently attack geraniums include aphids, cabbage loopers, and fall cankerworms. The four-lined plant bug, scale, and slugs can also cause damage. Properly identify the insect pest and control with the recommended insecticide.

Geraniums are one of the most popular annual plants grown by gardeners today. Proper selection, location, and care will keep them blooming and healthy all season long.

This article originally appeared in the July 29, 1994 issue, p. 124.

Geranium pests, diseases and other problems

Geraniums are extremely tolerant plants and known for being reliable, sturdy growers that perform well with very little care needed … which is ideal! However, from time to time problems can crop up and we have put together the following ‘troubleshooting’ section to help you get the very best from your plants. Thankfully there aren’t many pests that are attracted to geraniums and most problems are easily treatable so don’t panic if you encounter any problems – you don’t have to throw your lovely plants away!

Click on the heading below which best describes the problem:

  1. Holes in the leaves
  2. Small white flies on the plants
  3. Small green flies on the plants
  4. Small black flies on the soil
  5. Brown patches on the leaves of zonal geraniums
  6. Brown marks on the backs Ivy Leaved geraniums
  7. Grey mould on the leaves and/or stems
  8. Plants not flowering
  9. Plants not thriving
  10. Rotted stem
  11. Lower leaves turning yellow
  12. Cauliflower-like growth on the stem
  13. Plant collapses and dies

Holes in the leaves

This is usually caused by caterpillars – there is a moth that can appear about August or September that will chew the leaves of the zonals which needs catching in the evenings or eradicating with a systemic insecticide. Geraniums are rarely affected by slugs and snails.


Whitefly can be a problem with the regal and sometimes the scented pelargoniums, though they do not actually damage the plant. Garden Centres are loaded with insecticides to combat this pest, but it is a case of persevering during the warm weather, as they breed very rapidly. We spend a huge amount of money to keep this pest under control – and it still pops up again! Try using “Provado”, it could help here!


Greenfly are more of a problem than Whitefly, as these DO damage the plant as they can distort the leaves and spread quickly. Obtain a ‘systemic spray’ from the hardware shop (systemic just means the spray gets into the plant system and the fly eat the leaves and get the insecticide into them). Spray the whole plant, particularly under the leaves and the compost too. Best to isolate the plant if possible to stop them spreading or spray all plants so they are all protected.

Sciarid flies

These are small black flies which you will see on the surface of the compost, and their larvae can damage the roots. They can thrive in peat composts, but are not normally so active that they kill the plants. Once their life cycle moves on, they disappear, so are only a nuisance for about two months in the year. Drenching with a weak solution of Jeyes Fluid will usually put an end to them. Correct watering – keeping the soil moist but never wet – will help to keep them away.

Pelargonium rust

Pelargonium rust can affect the zonal varieties, and it is getting everywhere nowadays – it first came into the country in 1964 and has gradually spread from Eastbourne, where it was first detected. It only affects the zonal types, and particularly thrives during a damp summer or autumn. However, it is not “life threatening” to the plants, and luckily it does not seem to infect the plants very rapidly, so simply removing the affected leaves will be a good control. We would also advise spraying with a suitable fungicide usually availlable at Garden Centres. Make sure you spray the underside of the leaves and the compost too so that all spores are treated. Within a day or two take off the affected leaves and either burn or put into the dustbin – do not put them on the compost heap. We do not recommend destroying your plants, as pelargonium rust is only a fungus, much like grey mould or botrytis, and is now endemic in this country, so any new plants you get will most likely suffer from it sooner or later. Ivy leaf geraniums never have rust, only zonals are ever infected.


If you see brown marks on the backs of the leaves of your ivy leaved geraniums, what you have got is not a disease at all, but a physiological disorder called Oedema. This often affects the older leaves of the ivy or hybrid ivy types and is caused by erratic watering. If the plants have got rather dry and are then watered the stomata on the back of the leaves cannot always cope, and they burst. Afterwards they callous over, so what you see is like a scar. We would suggest removing any leaves that look unsightly – the new leaves that grow will not have it. Be careful to keep the roots of the plants moist at all times, especially at the times of the year when they are growing rapidly and are transpiring a great deal. Moist, but never waterlogged, is the golden rule.

Grey Mould

Grey mould, or botrytis, to give it it’s proper name, is a nuisance once autumn arrives. Damaged leaves or dying flowers will begin to rot once the cold, damp days arrive, and petals falling on to leaves can cause damage. The answer is threefold, one is to make sure there are no damaged leaves or flowers on the plants, the second is to supply adequate ventilation so that there is movement of air, and the third is to visit the Garden Centre to buy a fungicide designed to combat grey mould. Smokes are preferable in a greenhouse, because they do not increase the humidity, but are not practical in a porch or conservatory.

Plants not flowering

If plants are not flowering, check the following:

  1. What type of geranium is it? Regal and Angels naturally flower for a shorter period than other types.
  2. Is the plant growing well – bushy, healthy and happy looking?
  3. What feed is it getting? The best feed to boost flowering is high potash – tomato feed is good for encouraging flowering.
  4. Light – the better the light, the more geraniums will flower.
  5. Watering – is the plant getting enough to drink? The soil should moist at all times but never leave the plant sitting in puddles of water!
  6. What size pot is it in? – if the plant is in a huge pot it will be filling the pot with roots and not be concentrating on flowering. Try reducing the pot size – this restricts the roots so plant put its effort into flowering.

Plants not thriving

If plants are not thriving, check the following:

  1. Have a look at the roots – Take the plant out of the pot and have a look at the roots. If white then healthy and fine. If browning then the roots are dying.
  2. What compost is it growing in? It needs to be in general purpose compost – not bark based or coir as that will hold too much moisture.
  3. Is the compost stale and compacted? Try replanting into fresh compost.
  4. What feed is it getting? The best feed for foliage growth is a balanced fertiliser – our geranium fertiliser is good for foliage and flowering.
  5. Light – the better the light, the more geraniums will thrive.
  6. Watering – is the plant getting too much water? If the plant is too wet it will ‘drown’ as the roots need to have air around them for the oxygen.
  7. Look for sciarid fly – if there small black flies on the surface of the compost, their larvae may be damaging the roots. They can thrive in peat composts, but are not normally so active that they kill the plants. Once their life cycle moves on, they disappear, so are only a nuisance for about two months in the year. Drenching with a weak solution of Jeyes Fluid will usually put an end to them. Correct watering – keeping the soil moist but never wet – will help to keep them away.

Stem rot

Alas, this is something that geraniums are prone to, and we find that it is more likely to happen in very hot weather. It is caused by a soil-borne fungus, and if the pot gets hot it seems to give rise to the trouble. From our experience, it also seems to occur if the plant has dried out too much, and is then copiously watered.


If you spot yellowing of the bottom leaves of your geranium plants this can occur for any of several reasons:

  1. Insufficient light is reaching the lower part of the plant. This is probably the cause of the problem if the plants are too close together, or are too far from a good source of light. If you use a photographer’s light meter, you will discover that three feet in from a window will reduce the light level by 50%!
  2. The plants are receiving insufficient water at the roots. Although all of the pelargonium family will rot in a humid atmosphere, it is a mistake to think that they need to be kept dry at the roots. They are never dormant, so require moisture all the year round to transpire, but less, of course, in winter and in dull weather. When bone dry the stems go hard and woody, and the plant never grows as well – it is always best to renew the plant with fresh cuttings when this has occurred.
  3. The plants are drowning! Too much water will exclude the oxygen from the roots, causing them to die. It is said that 90% of house plants are killed from over watering. Never be afraid of taking a plant out of it’s pot to see what is happening to the roots. Sometimes it is possible to take a cutting off the top of a plant if it is only rotting at the bottom.
  4. The plants have been moved recently and are adjusting to their new environment.

Leafy gall

This is a strange, cauliflower-like growth that occurs where the stem enters the soil, and can occur on any of the pelargonium family. This problem is a complete mystery, as nobody has yet found the cause, so therefore there is no cure. It occurs completely indiscriminately – the first time we found it, in our early days of growing pelargoniums, we rushed off to a nurseryman and said “Look what we’ve found!” “Oh yes,” he said, “I just break that off and throw it away.” And this is still the only thing one can do. The plants continue to grow quite normally once it is removed, and cuttings taken from those plants do not necessarily have it – it just occurs as and when it feels like it!

Plant collapse

Sometimes geranium plants suddenly collapse and die. This is know an ‘Plant collapse’ and has two main causes:

  1. Vine weevil. This is a pest which seems to be on the increase and is difficult to eradicate. We know that fuchsia growers are very concerned about it. A garden centre is the place to go to for advice on suitable chemicals to combat the pest. We think they will probably recommend a product from PBI called “Provado”, but they might have other suggestions. We know of one nurseryman who recommends letting bantam chickens loose in the greenhouse! Levingtons do now produce a compost that will kill vine weevil, but that would entail washing the roots and repotting everything. We are sorry there is no magic remedy to this problem.
  2. Mice! We once had a letter from a frantic customer who said her plants in the conservatory were keeling over from above the soil level. In fear and trepidation, in case we upset her, we phoned and suggested she might have mice in the conservatory. “Do you know! I think you might be right!” she said. Phew!

Bacterial Diseases of Geranium


Florist’s Geranium ( Pelargonium x hortorum L. H. Bailey) sre susceptible to three bacterial diseases that cause leaf spots, wilt, or both these symptoms. Xanthomonas campestris pv . pelargonii is the most destructive disease of florist’s geranium; ivy and seed geraniums are also susceptible. This disease has been referred to as bacterial stem rot, bacterial wilt, bacterial leaf spot, and bacterial blight. In spite of widespread use of culture-indexing techniques and clean plant programs, this disease still appears from time to time and can cause a serious problem for growers. Pseudomonas species, including P. cichorii and P. syringae pv. syringae, cause leaf spot diseases on a wide range of flowering potted plants. Southern bacterial wilt caused by Ralstonia solanacearum Race 3, Biovar 2 is a serious disease of both geraniums and vegetables in the Solanaceae and is under federal quarantine due to the threat to agricultural crops.

Xanthomonas campestris pv . pelargoni

Symptoms of bacterial blight can vary depending on cultivar, species, and environmental conditions. Small, water-soaked lesions develop first on leaf undersides and in time become visible on the upper surface as round, tan to brown, slightly sunken, 2-3 mm spots with a defined margin. Initial lesions are often followed by wedge-shaped chlorotic to necrotic areas. The bacterium moves from leaf spots into the water conducting tissue of the plants and plants wilt. Wilt is often followed by stem rot and plant collapse. Infected cuttings may not root and develop rot at the base. Ivy geraniums fail to exhibit wilt due to the nature of their leaves; infected foliage loses its luster and develops symptoms of nutrient deficiency or mite infestation. Temperatures below 50° F or above 90° F may prevent symptom development and older plants are less susceptible to systemic infection; infected stock plants may not show symptoms resulting in infected daughter plants. Xanthomonas can infect through the root system, although it does not survive in growth media in the absence of undecomposed, infected host debris. It can also persist on the foliage of nonhost plants, epiphytically on geranium leaves, and on wild Geranium species. The bacterium spreads within the greenhouse on infected tools, through splashing irrigation water, dripping of water or infected leaves falling from hanging baskets, and by the greenhouse whitefly.

Pseudomonas cichorii

Pseudomonas cichorii and P. syringae cause leaf spots that are indistinguishable from each other and may vary with environmental conditions. Plants subjected to excessive leaf wetting develop large, irregularly shaped, dark brown to black lesions. In the absence of leaf wetting, lesions are smaller with tan centers and dark margins. Yellowing always occurs. The optimum temperature for P. syringae (60°- 70° F) is lower than that of P . cichorii (75°-85 ° F); otherwise, their life cycles are similar. The bacteria may be borne on seed, on cuttings, and epiphytically on other hosts. Chrysanthemums are known to carry populations of P . cichorii and should be kept separate from geraniums and other known hosts. The pathogens are favored by periods of high humidity and extended periods of leaf wetness.

Ralstonia solanacearum

R. solanacearum, the cause of southern bacterial wilt, exists in two races: Race 1 which is commonly found in the southern United States and Race 3. Race 3, Biovar 2 is a threat to agricultural crops as well as geranium and under federal quarantine. R. solanacearum is a soil-borne pathogen that enters the plant through the root system and causes a vascular wilt. Leaf spots are typically not observed. The disease almost always results in plant death. High temperatures (80°-90° F) and high soil moisture are conducive to disease development. This disease, unlike Xanthomonas Blight, causes root necrosis. Because R. solanacearum Race 3, Biovar 2 is under federal quarantine, suspect plants should not be discarded, but separated from the rest of the crop and submitted to a Diagnostic Lab for confirmation. See fact sheets on Southern Bacterial Wilt and State and Federal Regulations Governing Plant Pests in Massachusetts for more information.

Contact the UMass Extension Plant Diagnostic Lab at (413) 545-3208.

Management of Bacterial Diseases

Strict adherence to good sanitation practices is essential to the management of bacterial diseases. There are no pesticide sprays or drenches that will cure plants or provide total protection from bacterial diseases.

  • Symptomatic plants should be discarded.
  • Diseased plant debris should be promptly removed from the growing area.
  • Workers should wash their hands frequently and immediately after handling infected plants or soil.
  • Splashing from irrigation water should be minimized.
  • Minimize leaf wetness by watering early in the day or sub-irrigating.
  • Avoid handling plants when they are wet.
  • Nutrition may affect disease susceptibility; avoid excess or insufficient fertilization.
  • Culture index stock plants or purchase of plants from a reputable source.
  • Tools should disinfected frequently.
  • Do not re-use growing medium.
  • Do not hang ivy baskets over seed or zonal geraniums.
  • As much as possible, separate seed geraniums from vegetative cuttings. Plants from different propagators should be separated.
  • Bactericides such as copper hydroxide and copper sulfate pentahydrate are only marginally effective in controlling bacterial diseases.

Video – Diagnosing Bacterial Wilt Diseases

This movie was made by Dr. Rob Wick, Plant Pathologist at UMass Amherst during a diagnostic plant pathology workshop in Bangladesh. To demonstrate bacterial streaming, Rob used a tomato plant that had a vascular bacterial infection (Ralstonia solanacearum). A stem about 3 inches long is suspended in a glass of water using a paper clip. The paper clip is straightened and pierced through the stem and perched on the top of the glass. To see streaming, a dark background is placed behind the glass and illuminated with side lighting. Once set up, do not disturb; the bacterial will come out in seconds. The bacteria produce a sticky matrix which helps protect them, and allows the bacterial strands to remain intact as they fall through the water. Note the “pools” of bacteria forming in the bottom of the glass. This same sticky mess clogs up the water conducting cells of the plant resulting in wilt. This technique will work with Clavibacter, Xanthomonas and Ralstonia vascular infections. The type of plant does not matter, so will also work with a geranium leaf.

Geranium (Pelargonium spp.)-Alternaria Leaf Spot

Cause This fungal disease, caused by Alternaria alternata, has not been formally reported from the Pacific Northwest but has been found on a few samples sent to the OSU Plant Clinic. The disease is favored by prolonged cool, moist conditions and low nitrogen fertility. Older leaves are particularly susceptible if they are senescing. The fungus survives on dead leaves on the soil surface and spores are spread by air currents.

Symptoms Dark brown, irregularly shaped spots appear on leaves. Spots range in size from barely visible to 0.33 inch in diameter. Larger spots may show several dark concentric rings within the spot. Spots may be surrounded by a diffuse yellow halo. Spotting is mostly on the lower leaves, although new growth may be affected. Numerous spots close together on leaves may coalesce. Severely infected leaves shrivel, turn black, and fall off. Only leaves are affected.

Cultural control

  • Space plants for good air circulation.
  • Remove and destroy infected leaves and fallen plant debris.
  • Maintain optimum plant fertility.
  • Water at base of plants and/or with drip irrigation. Do not wet foliage.

Chemical control Use just before conditions favor disease development.

  • Bonide Fung-onil Multi-purpose Fungicide at 2.25 teaspoons/gal water. H
  • Broadform at 4 to 8 fl oz/100 gal water. Group 7 + 11 fungicide. 12-hr reentry.
  • Chipco 26019 N/G at 1 to 2.5 lb/100 gal water. Group 2 fungicide. 12-hr reentry.
  • Compass O 50 WDG at 2 to 4 oz/100 gal water. Do not use organosilicate additives. Group 11 fungicide. 12-hr reentry.
  • Copper-Count-N at 1 quart/100 gal water. Oregon only. 48-hr reentry general or 24-hr reentry for greenhouse.
  • CuPRO 5000 at 1.5 to 5 lb/A. Group M1 fungicide. 48-hr reentry.
  • Daconil Weather Stik at 1.4 pints/100 gal water. Group M5 fungicide. 12-hr reentry.
  • Disarm O at 1 to 4 fl oz/100 gal water. Group 11 fungicide. 12-hr reentry.
  • Eagle 20 EW at 6 to 12 fl oz/100 gal water. Group 3 fungicide. 24-hr reentry.
  • Exotherm Termil at 1 can/1500 sq ft of greenhouse. It ignites to form a vapor that condenses back on the plants. See label for details. Group M5 fungicide. 24-hr reentry with no ventilation or 12-hr reentry with ventilation.
  • Fame SC at 1 to 4 fl oz/100 gal water. Group 11 fungicide. 12-hr reentry.
  • Heritage at 4 to 8 oz/100 gal water plus a non-silicone-based wetter sticker. Group 11 fungicide. 4-hr reentry.
  • Mancozeb-based products. Group M3 fungicides. 24-hr reentry.
    • Fore 80 WP at 1.5 lb/100 gal water plus a spreader-sticker.
    • Protect DF at 1 to 2 lb/100 gal water plus 2 to 4 oz spreader-sticker.
  • Medallion WDG at 1 to 2 oz/100 gal water. Use with oils or adjuvants may damage plant. Some geranium cultivars may become stunted or chlorotic when higher rates are used. Group 12 fungicide. 12-hr reentry.
  • Monterey Liqui-Cop at 3 Tbsp/gal water. H
  • Mozart TR at 1 can/4,500 sq ft of greenhouse. Group 12 fungicide. 12-hr reentry with no ventilation.
  • Myclobutanil 20 EW T&O at 6 to 12 fl oz/100 gal water plus spreading agent. May observe a PGR effect. Group 3 fungicide. 24-hr reentry.
  • Nu-Cop 50 DF at 1 lb/100 gal water. 48-hr reentry. O
  • Orkestra at 4 to 6 fl oz/100 gal water. Group 7 + 11 fungicide. 12-hr reentry.
  • Pageant at 4 to 8 oz/100 gal water. Group 7 + 11 fungicide. 12-hr reentry.
  • Spectro 90 WDG at 1 to 2 lb/100 gal water. Group 1 + M5 fungicide. 12-hr reentry.
  • Terraguard SC at 4 to 8 fl oz/100 gal water. Group 3 fungicide. 12-hr reentry.
  • Trinity TR at 1 can/3,000 sq ft of greenhouse. Group 3 fungicide. 12-hr reentry without ventilation or 4-hr with ventilation.
  • Zyban WSB at 24 oz/100 gal water. Not to be confused with the smoking cessation drug. Group 1 + M3 fungicide. 24-hr reentry.

Reference Strider, D.L. 1985. Diseases of Floral Crops, vol. 2. New York: Praeger Publishers.

Geranium bacterial leaf spot

problem solver

Geranium bacterial leaf spot Xanthomonas campestris pv. pelargonii

IDENTIFICATION — Bacterial leaf spot is sometimes known as bacterial blight, bacterial stem rot or bacterial wilt. No matter what you call it, it’s bad news. This disease has two phases; the first phase infects the leaves and the second infects the stem and roots.

The first symptoms of this disease may not be obvious. They are small, distinct, water-soaked or brown spots on the undersides of the leaves. The leaves quickly wilt, die and may or may not fall off. In some cultivars “V”-shaped yellow or dead areas develop from the margin to the veins.

In the second phase, the bacteria have moved to the water-conducting tissues of the stem and roots. The water-conducting tissues turn brown to black and the roots are blackened although not yet decayed. This leads to the rapid decline of the entire plant.

CONTROL — Prevention is the best policy. This disease is favored by warm and moist conditions with limited air movement. Space plants to improve air circulation, and don’t overhead water – the infection can be splashed in water drops. Remove all plant debris because these bacteria can survive for three to six months. If you take cuttings from your geraniums, sterilize all your tools in a 10-percent bleach solution. Also use sterile containers and potting mix.

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