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Vinca Diseases

Annual vinca (Catharanthus roseus) is commonly used for summer color in landscapes. It thrives in sunny areas and is fairly drought tolerant. It is also called Madagascar periwinkle or just vinca. This can be confusing because other plants in the genus Vinca are perennial vines, which are also called vinca or periwinkle. These perform best in shady areas. Although annual and perennial vincas have some diseases in common, this fact sheet applies mainly to annual vinca. Neither plant has any significant insect pests.

Phytophthora Stem Blight & Root Rot

Annual vinca with Phytophthora stem blight and root rot. Department of Plant Pathology Archive, North Carolina State University, www.forestryimages.org

Annual vinca with Phytophthora stem blight and root rot.
Department of Plant Pathology Archive, North Carolina State University, www.forestryimages.org

Aerial stem blight and root rot are caused by Phytophthora nicotianae and occasionally other species. Stem and branch blight frequently occurs without root rot, but root rot is involved in some cases. Dark brown to black lesions form on stems and branches, causing the portions above to wilt and die back. Symptoms of root rot include yellowing and scorching of leaves, poor growth, and stunting of plants, followed by wilting and death. Plants with root rot have reduced root systems, and individual roots tend to slough off the outer tissue, leaving the inner core behind.

Prevention & Treatment: Water management is the main preventative measure. Frequent watering, even in moderate to dry sites, can make conditions favorable for the development of branch blight and root rot. Annual vinca and Vinca species are fairly drought tolerant, so water only as needed. When rainfall is insufficient to supply an inch of water per week, apply deep supplemental irrigation once, or possibly twice per week, depending on soil type, sun exposure, and weather conditions. Avoid excessive amounts of fertilizer as well. To help prevent root rot, it is also important to provide excellent drainage. When preparing a plant bed, thoroughly dig up the whole area. Adding organic materials, such as composted pine bark, to the soil will help increase drainage due to improved soil structure.

Remove and destroy infected plants. The remaining plants can be treated with a fungicide if cultural practices fail to prevent new infections from occurring. For root rot, use potassium salts of phosphorous acid as a soil drench. For aerial blight, use sprays of potassium salts of phosphorous acid, copper sulfate, copper ammonium complex, copper soap, or chlorothalonil. Read the label completely and apply all chemicals according to the directions on the label. See Table 1 for examples of brands and products.

Pythium Root Rot

The pathogen that causes this disease is closely related to Phytophthora species, so root rot symptoms are similar. This pathogen does not cause branch blight, only root rot and damping off of seedlings.

Prevention & Treatment: See root rot management information under Phytophthora Stem Blight and Root Rot.

Leaf Spot Diseases

The fungi Alternaria alternata and Ulocladium species occasionally cause spots on foliage, stems, and petioles. Symptoms first appear on lower leaves and stems, and if left unchecked, move upward. Spots caused by both fungi are small, ranging from the size of a pinhead to 1/8 inch in diameter. As they enlarge, light and dark bands may alternate within the lesion, giving it a target spot appearance. As the spots increase in number, leaves turn yellow and drop from the plants.

Prevention & Treatment: Cultural practices that reduce the amount of moisture on the foliage and/or the length of time leaves remain wet will suppress this disease. Therefore, avoid overhead irrigation whenever possible or water during pre-dawn hours, so the plants have plenty of time to dry before evening. Strive to maintain optimum soil pH and nutrient levels as low fertility increases disease severity. Remove heavily infected plants immediately to minimize disease spread. To reduce the overwintering population of the pathogen, remove dead plants from the garden after they are killed by a hard frost. Fungicides may be necessary for managing serious leaf spot infections. Spray plants weekly with chlorothalonil as needed. Mix and use according to label directions. See Table 1 for examples of brands and products.

Rhizoctonia Stem & Root Rot

Rhizoctonia stem and root rot on perennial groundcover vinca. R.K. Jones, North Carolina State University, www.forestryimages.org

Rhizoctonia stem and root rot on perennial groundcover vinca.
R.K. Jones, North Carolina State University, www.forestryimages.org

Rhizoctonia species sometimes cause stem rots of vinca plants and seedlings. Root rots also occur but are less commonly encountered. Plants affected by stem rot turn yellow, wilt, and collapse. Death by root rot is generally slower and more subtle. Affected plants are stunted, their roots have brown lesions, leaves turn yellow, and plants wilt even when soil moisture is sufficient.

Prevention & Treatment: Purchase only healthy, green plants. Inspect the roots if there are any doubts. Make sure plants are not installed too deeply. Apply supplemental water only as needed and water thoroughly when an application is made. Light, frequent waterings encourage the growth of stem rot pathogens because of increased humidity levels near the stem. Frequent watering can also exclude oxygen from the root zone, which encourages root rot pathogens. Remove and destroy plants that are clearly diseased, making an effort to remove all roots when root disease is present. Fungicides can be applied to the remaining plants if necessary. Spray or drench plants with thiophanate methyl or chlorothalonil. Mix and treat plants according to label directions. See Table 1 for examples of brands and products.

Gray Mold (Botrytis Blight)

Botrytis blight stem canker on annual vinca. Department of Plant Pathology Archive, North Carolina State University, www.forestryimages.org

Botrytis blight stem canker on annual vinca.
Department of Plant Pathology Archive, North Carolina State University, www.forestryimages.org

This disease, caused by Botrytis cinerea, is seen occasionally during cool, moist spring weather, especially in heavily fertilized landscape plantings. The pathogen usually builds up on dead plant parts, and disease develops when these come into contact with living tissue. Symptoms progress rapidly and can include leaf spots and blights, stem cankers, stem rots, and damping-off of seedlings. Stem cankers are similar to those produced by Phytophthora species. Profuse gray fungal growth is produced on dead plant parts; this tell-tale sign gives the disease its common name, gray mold.

Prevention & Treatment: Wait until warm weather persists before planting annual vinca. Handle plants carefully during planting to avoid wounding. Remove and destroy declining (senescing) leaves and flowers on a continual basis. Remove severely diseased plants from the planting. Water only as needed and fertilize according to soil test recommendations. Avoid overhead irrigation, if possible, or water early in the morning so that foliage dries before nightfall. Space plants well to improve air circulation within the plant canopy. Fungicides are rarely needed to control Botrytis blight on vinca in a landscape setting if cultural practices are followed, and weather follows normal patterns. If the disease becomes severe and weather conditions are favorable for disease development, thiophanate methyl can be sprayed. Follow label directions for mixing and use.

Black Root Rot

Black root rot is caused by the fungus Thielaviopsis basicola. The disease isn’t common on vinca in landscapes but can be introduced by planting infected material or planting in areas where other, more susceptible hosts, such as pansies, have succumbed. Like the symptoms of other root rot diseases, infected plants are stunted and turn yellow. Washing and inspecting the root systems can point towards a diagnosis of black root rot. Diseased plants have small root systems with a “salt-and-pepper” appearance. The root color results from the presence of dark fungal growth and black resting spores growing within the roots. As the disease becomes more severe, roots turn black and soft.

Prevention & Treatment: Avoid planting vinca in areas where pansies have performed poorly or where Japanese hollies have died. Select plants with a healthy green appearance and uniform height. Fertilize according to soil test results, avoiding fertilizers with a high ammonium nitrogen content, such as ammonium nitrate or ammonium sulfate. High pH soils can lead to increased disease severity so apply lime only if needed. Remove and destroy all infected plants, including the entire root system. Thiophanate methyl can be used as a drench to protect remaining plants.

Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV)

Tomato spotted wilt virus symptoms on annual vinca. Division of Plant Industry Archive, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, www.forestryimages.org

Tomato spotted wilt virus symptoms on annual vinca.
Division of Plant Industry Archive, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, www.forestryimages.org

This virus disease shows up occasionally in landscape plantings of vinca and many other herbaceous plants. Tiny insects called thrips spread TSWV. Symptoms vary from host to host. On vinca, symptoms include black concentric ring spots or line patterns, yellowing, stunting, and distortion.

Prevention & Treatment: Inspect plants for virus symptoms prior to purchase. Remove all diseased plants from flowerbeds, as infected plants cannot be cured and can support the spread of the disease. Thrips management has not been shown to significantly slow the spread of TSWV. In addition, thrips are difficult to control because they often feed deep within flowers or flower buds, and two life stages, the eggs and the pupae, are unaffected by insecticides. Avoid planting vinca near vegetable gardens, as many vegetables are also susceptible. Controlling weeds is also essential because many weeds can harbor both thrips and the virus.

Table 1. Control of Vinca Diseases

Active Ingredient Examples of Brands & Products
Chlorothalonil Bonide Fung-onil Concentrate; & RTU2
Ferti-lome Broad Spectrum Landscape & Garden Fungicide Concentrate; & RTU2
GardenTech Daconil Fungicide Concentrate; & RTU2
Hi-Yield Vegetable, Flower, Fruit & Ornamental Fungicide Concentrate
Ortho MAX Garden Disease Control Concentrate
Southern Ag Liquid Ornamental & Vegetable Fungicide Concentrate
Tiger Brand Daconil Concentrate
Copper Fungicides Bonide Liquid Copper Concentrate (a copper soap); & RTU2
Camelot O Fungicide/ Bactericide Concentrate (a copper soap)
Natural Guard Copper Soap Liquid Fungicide Concentrate; & RTU2
Bonide Copper Fungicide Spray or Dust (copper sulfate); & RTU2
Monterey Liqui-Cop Copper Fungicidal Garden Spray Concentrate (copper ammonium complex); & RTS1
Southern Ag Liquid Copper Fungicide Concentrate (copper ammonium complex)
Monterey Liquid Copper Fungicide RTU2 (a copper soap)
Espoma Organic Copper Soap RTU2
Potassium Salts of Phosphorous Acid Monterey Garden Phos (concentrate)
Organocide Plant Doctor (concentrate)
Agrisel Biophos Pro (concentrate)
Thiophanate Methyl Cleary’s 3336-WP Turf & Ornamental Fungicide (a wettable powder)
Southern Ag Thiomyl Systemic Fungicide (a wettable powder)
1 RTS = Ready to Spray (a hose-end sprayer)
2 RTU = Ready to Use (a pre-mixed spray bottle)
With all pesticides, read and follow all label instructions and precautions.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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