This has been a rainy growing season in much of Ohio and other states east of the Mississippi River. With intense rain events leading to standing water in fields and stretches of hot weather, both favorable for Phytophthora capsici, the cause of Phytophthora blight, the disease has been such a problem that shortages of jack-o-lantern as well as pie pumpkins are expected this Fall. If Phytophthora blight was detected in a field at any time this season, growers are advised to harvest mature, uninfected fruits as early as possible. These fruits need to be laid out individually (not touching, so bins are not acceptable) in a shaded area with good ventilation so that they can cure. A barn floor would be an ideal location since they would not get rained on, but outside under a tree (to prevent sunscald) would be better than nothing. If putting them outside, do NOT put them on a tarp or plastic that would tend to hold rainwater and spread the disease to the other fruits. If any of these fruits start to show signs of infection (discolored areas or white, cottony growth – see photo) remove them from the area immediately and discard them in an area away from the fields or curing location.
Dr. Meg McGrath of Cornell University found that hosing pumpkins off first to remove soil (using a garden hose with a trigger spray nozzle) was the second most important step in reducing disease incidence (getting them out of the field being the most important). Washed fruits need to be dried as quickly as possible. Dipping fruit in 10% Clorox, GreenShield or Kocide was no better than just hosing them off, and these products are not labeled for this use.
Pumpkins (or other cucurbits) with symptoms in the field should be removed and destroyed away from the field and surface water sources. Leaving them in the field will contribute to inoculum buildup; if Phytophthora blight was present in a field, practice rotation of at least four years away from susceptible crops including all cucurbits, peppers, tomatoes, and beans.
Ron Becker contributed to an earlier version of this post in 2007. We thank the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association’s Ohio Vegetable and Small Fruit Research and Development Program for financial support of our disease diagnostics program.