This is shaping up to be a summer of downy mildews in Ohio. Rainstorms, high humidity, overcast skies and cool-ish nighttime temperatures are very conducive to downy mildew occurrence and spread. We reported the first “sightings” of cucumber downy mildew last week in Seneca and Wayne Counties in Ohio, and today OSU diagnostician Dr. Francesca Rotondo spotted a very severe outbreak of downy mildew in potted basil in a big box store garden center in Wooster (see photos). The pathogens that cause downy mildew in cucurbits and basil are different and don’t cross-infect among the two different plant groups. However, they do respond similarly to environmental conditions.
The garden center manager in Wooster was notified and will have the diseased basil plants removed and destroyed promptly.
Management options for commercial growers are 1) resistant varieties and 2) fungicides applied preventatively. Dr. Andy Wyenandt and colleagues at Rutgers University recently published an excellent discussion of available management tactics, including those for conventional and organic commercial basil producers. Information is also available on the Basil Ag Pest Monitor website, including photos of symptoms, management options and a map of basil downy mildew reports.
Management options are limited for home gardeners – resistant varieties are the most viable choice. In established garden basil plantings of susceptible varieties, monitor plants closely and remove and destroy leaves and stems with downy mildew symptoms. This may or may not slow disease progress, depending on environmental conditions and the presence of inoculum in nearby plantings. Leaves without symptoms are safe to eat, so if downy mildew appears in one’s garden basil, it may be time to make pesto or a nice Caprese salad before the disease spreads.