Agriculture: Lettuce Pest Management Guidelines

Lettuce Drop

  • Lettuce drop: Sclerotinia minor, Sclerotinia sclerotiorum
  • Symptoms and Signs

    Two species of Sclerotinia infect lettuce in California and cause the lettuce drop disease: in coastal growing areas Sclerotinia minor is the primary species of importance, while in other areas S. sclerotiorum is more prevalent.

    Sclerotinia minor only infects the stems and leaves in contact with the soil. Once infection takes place, the fungus will cause a brown, soft decay that eventually destroys the plant crown tissue. Older leaves then wilt and later the entire plant will wilt and collapse, making it unharvestable. Plant collapse usually occurs when lettuce is near maturity. Profuse amounts of white mycelia and small [up to 0.125 inch (3 mm)], black, hard, resting bodies (sclerotia) form on the outside of the decayed crown.

    Sclerotinia sclerotiorum can also infect lower leaves and stems, causing symptoms similar to those of S. minor. In addition, S. sclerotiorum has an aerial spore that can infect any of the upper leaves. Spores usually infect damaged or senescent tissue when the weather is cool and moist. Infection results in a watery, soft rot that is accompanied by white mycelial growth and formation of sclerotia. Sclerotinia sclerotiorum forms sclerotia that are larger (0.25–0.50 inch) than those of S. minor.

    Comments on the Disease

    Sclerotia of both species enable the pathogens to survive in the soil for 2 to 3 years without susceptible hosts. Wet soil conditions favor disease development of both species. For S. sclerotiorum, cool and moist conditions are necessary for development of the fruiting structure (apothecium) that produces the airborne spores. In California, S. minor does not have a spore-producing stage. Symptoms caused by Sclerotinia species could resemble Verticillium wilt, Botrytis crown rot, and Phoma basal rot symptoms.

    The use of wider, 80-inch beds for lettuce production may cause lettuce drop from S. minor to be more severe because of increased bed moisture. In addition, the use of wider beds may be allowing S. sclerotiorum to increase in importance in the Salinas and other coastal valleys.


    Cultural Control

    For S. minor, crop rotations and deep inversion plowing may be helpful in reducing incidence of lettuce drop.

    • Avoid known crop hosts including beans, cauliflower, celery, corn salad, endive, escarole, fennel, pepper, radicchio, and tomato. Cover crop hosts to avoid include Austrian winter pea, mustards, phacelia, and vetch.
    • Avoid overly wet soils and keep the bed surface as dry as possible with careful irrigation.
    • Level land to provide even distribution of water and assure good drainage with beds as high as possible.
    • Collect and remove infected plants. Though costly and time consuming, it can effectively reduce inoculum in the field.

    Cultural practices are not as helpful for controlling lettuce drop caused by S. sclerotiorum because the primary inoculum is windborne spores. This species also has an extremely broad host range.

    Organically Acceptable Methods

    Use cultural controls in an organically certified crop.

    Chemical Control

    In coastal fields with a history of lettuce drop, protectant fungicides applied after thinning the crop can reduce lettuce drop caused by S. minor. Fungicides must be directed to the base of the young plants and be applied before plants become too large. Such post-thinning applications are not effective against S. sclerotiorum. For this species, apply fungicides beginning with the rosette stage when conditions are favorable for the development of the disease. A number of applications may be needed for satisfactory control.

    Common name Amount per acre REI‡ PHI‡
    (Example trade name) (hours) (days)
    Not all registered pesticides are listed. The following are ranked with the pesticides having the greatest IPM value listed first—the most effective and least likely to cause resistance are at the top of the table. When choosing a pesticide, consider information relating to the pesticide's properties and application timing, honey bees, and environmental impact. Always read the label of the product being used.
    (Rovral 4F) 1–2 pt 24 14
    MODE-OF-ACTION GROUP NAME (NUMBER1): Dicarboximide (2)
    COMMENTS: Do not make more than three applications per crop.
    (Switch 62.5WG) 11–14 oz 12 0
    MODE-OF-ACTION GROUP NAME (NUMBER1): Anilinopyrimidine (9)/Phenylpyrrole (12)
    (Botran) Label rates 12 14
    MODE-OF-ACTION GROUP NAME (NUMBER1): Aromatic hydrocarbon (14)
    (Endura) 8–11 oz 12 14
    MODE-OF-ACTION GROUP NAME (NUMBER1): Carboxamide (7)
    COMMENTS: Do not make more than two applications per season.
    (Cannonball WG) Label rates 12 0
    MODE-OF-ACTION GROUP NAME (NUMBER1): Phenylpyrrole (12)
    Restricted entry interval (REI) is the number of hours (unless otherwise noted) from treatment until the treated area can be safely entered without protective clothing. Preharvest interval (PHI) is the number of days from treatment to harvest. In some cases the REI exceeds the PHI. The longer of two intervals is the minimum time that must elapse before harvest.
    1 Group numbers are assigned by the Fungicide Resistance Action Committee (FRAC) according to different modes of actions. Fungicides with a different group number are suitable to alternate in a resistance management program. For fungicides with mode-of-action group numbers 1, 4, 9, 11, or 17, make no more than one application before rotating to a fungicide with a different mode-of-action group number; for fungicides with other group numbers, make no more than two consecutive applications before rotating to a fungicide with a different mode-of-action group number.
    Text Updated: 04/17
    Treatment Table Updated: 04/17