May 5, 2021Summer Sanitation Is Important as Ever
To contact John Palumbo go to: jpalumbo@ag.Arizona.edu
Pigweeds are some of the most common summer annual broadleaf weeds in the low deserts. Although they are often lumped together, there are 4 different species of pigweed that are common here and more than 10 species that occur as weeds in California and Arizona. Their growth habits and response to herbicides are similar. It is easy to identify them by physical characteristics but one species of pigweed can hybridize with another and become less distinguishable.
Palmer Amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri) is probably the most common pigweed species found in this region. It is very aggressive and fast growing and can become 6 feet tall or higher if uncontrolled. It has one thick stem and several lateral branches. The leaves are lance shaped, hairless and have distinctive white veins on the underside. It has flowering tassels that become stiff and spiny. This species has become resistant to Glyphosate in many parts of the county.
Redroot Pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus) is probably the second most common pigweed species. It is shorter and the seed heads are smaller, in clusters and have stiff spine-like scales. It has leaf hairs on the margins and the veins are often reddish. The lower stems are often reddish. This species will hybridize with Palmer Amaranth and become less distinguishable.
Tumble Pigweed (Amaranthus albus) is very different from Palmers or Redroot. It grows lower to the ground and has many branches that turn upright. The leaves are much smaller and narrower. The numerous stems are light green rather than red. The seed heads are small, spiny and at the base of the leaves rather than in long terminal spikes. When mature, the branches are sticky, stiff bristles that break off at the ground and tumble with the wind.
Prostrate Pigweed (Amaranthus blitoides) is very similar to Tumble Pigweed but the stems are more prostrate, grow close to the ground and form mats. The stems and leaves are smaller and reddish rather than light green.
Downy mildew has always been one of the major problem for PCAs and growers in the desert southwest. The symptoms observed are green to yellow angular spots on the upper surface of the leaves and fluffy growth on the lower side (See Picture). Symptoms usually start from older leaves. As disease progresses the lesion turn brown and dry up and in some occasions, the disease can become systemic causing dark discoloration of vascular tissue.
Favorable condition for disease development:
The pathogen Bremia lactucae thrives in damp, cool condition, with moisture present on leaves. Spores are short-lived but dispersed efficiently by wind during moist period. Cultivated lettuce is the main host of the pathogen but it has also been reported to infectartichoke, cornflower and strawflower.
Why is downy mildew difficult to manage?
One of the main reason that hinders the disease management is the complexity of the pathogen. Bremia lactucae consists of multiple races (pathotypes), and new races continue to occur as pathogen evolves. The pathogen is one of the fastest evolving plant pathogen. And each pathotypes have developed insensitivity to fungicides to different extent.
One of the best practice is to grow resistant cultivar, but there are limitations. As the pathogen is highly variable and dynamic, resistant cultivars are not a permanent solution as the pathogen overcomes the resistance by evolving into virulent strains and isolates.
Preventative application of fungicides are effective to some extent. Reducing leaf wetness and humidity by using drip or furrow irrigation can be helpful. However, weather condition like rain during cool weather as we had in past couple of weeks is conducive to development of epidemics and we have very little control on that matter.
It Takes a Village:
And better yet the whole nation or world! Downy mildew is a bigger problem than we think. It is just not a problem in Arizona and California, it is a nationwide, worldwide problem. Thousands of plant pathologist/scientists/labs are working hard everyday to combat the disease.
Dr. Michelmore’s lab in University of California-Davis has been working on downy mildew for years and they need our help to build the database for next several years. Please let me (Bindu Poudel) or anyone in University of Arizona know if you see symptoms in the field. We can come collect the samples and send it to UC-Davis. The goal is to racetype as many isolates as possible to understand the genetic variability, the more information we have about the pathogen, the more it helps the scientific community come up with better management practice, better resistant cultivars etc.
Learn more about the Bremia Project:
Bremia Project Database:
Mark C. Siemens
Vol. 12, Issue 9, Published 5/5/2021
Automated thinning machines have been commercially available since 2012. These machines identify crop plants and intermittently deliver an herbicidal spray or dose of liquid fertilizer to thin the stand to the desired plant spacing. Some growers have converted older machines to spot apply pesticides to crop plants rather than thin lettuce. Spot spraying just the crop plant makes sense – it reduces applied chemical amount by about 1/3rd as compared to band spraying and by roughly 90% as compared to broadcast. I have heard reports of improved efficacy with this technique, perhaps due to better coverage, however this potential benefit has not been validated in formal trials.
A drawback with automated thinning machines is their high cost. Retail prices for machines are approximately $25,000 per seed line, or about $200,000 for a 4-row, 2-line machine. Another option might be to use automated systems designed for spot spraying weeds. These devices have been commercially available since the mid 90’s and function similarly to automated thinning machines in that they use optical sensors to detect plants and solenoid activated spray assemblies to intermittingly spray unwanted plants (Fig. 1). The cost of these devices is quite reasonable – about $3,000 per unit, or about $24,000 for a 4-row, 2-line machine.
Automated spot sprayers are typically used in agriculture to control weeds in fallow fields (Fig. 2), but could easily be adapted to apply pesticides or even fertilizer to vegetable crops. Spot applying foliar fertilizers to vegetable crops is an interesting concept and is being investigated in California with lettuce.
Another potential use of spot sprayers is to control herbicide resistant weeds. The device can be positioned between crop rows to spot spray a non-selective herbicide to target weeds. Placing the sprayer in a hooded enclosure prevents unwanted drift onto crop plants. We are conducting trials using this technique in cotton this season (Fig. 3). We are also looking for collaborators interested in trying the device as a pesticide and/or fertilizer spot applicator in vegetable crops for this upcoming season. If you are interested collaborating or would like to see a demo of the device, please feel free to reach out to me.