Plant Spacing Effects on Microclimate and Rhizoctonia Web Blight Development in Container-grown Azalea

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  • 1 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Southern Horticultural Research Station, P.O. Box 287, Poplarville, MS 39470
  • | 2 University of Georgia, Department of Plant Pathology, Athens, GA 30602

Rhizoctonia web blight, caused by Rhizoctonia solani and binucleate Rhizoctonia spp., is an annual problem in compact cultivars of container-grown azalea (Rhododendron spp.) in the Gulf Coast states. Increasing the space between plants is commonly recommended for suppression of the disease, but experimental evidence for the effectiveness of this cultural practice in container-grown azalea is lacking. During the summers of 2002 and 2003, disease severity was measured weekly in the inoculated center plant of plots consisting of 49 potted `Gumpo White' azalea plants growing in 3.8-L containers and having a canopy diameter of about 30 cm. Plant spacing within plots was 0, 6, 12, 18, or 24 cm, and plots were arranged in three randomized complete blocks. Evaporation, leaf wetness (LW), relative humidity (RH), and temperature were monitored in each plot. Disease severity increased steadily from mid-July to late August or early September, after which it leveled off or declined. Evaporation increased and the number of hours within the temperature range favorable for disease development (25 to 30 °C) decreased significantly with plant spacing (P < 0.05), but LW and RH were not significantly different among treatments. Plant spacing also had no significant effect on disease severity. Daily overhead irrigation and compact plant form likely contributed to the lack of effect of spacing on disease development.

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