I always recommend that gardeners thoroughly inspect every plant for disease problems before they purchase it. Examine both the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves, especially those leaves closest to the soil. Look at the stems and even the roots. Any spots, streaks, dark discolored or soft, mushy tissue is a warning sign that your new plant may come with a disease problem. Once a new pathogen is introduced into a garden, it may cause problems for years to come. In addition, nursery plants may move across the country before they make it to a local garden center. As a result infected plants can bring new plant diseases to Minnesota.
Boxwoods infected with the boxwood blight fungus first develop tan leaf spots with a dark brown border. Chalky white spores form on the lower surface of the leaf just below leaf spots, under humid conditions. Leaf spots grow large enough to blight the entire leaf. Infected leaves fall off, resulting in bare branches throughout the shrub. The fungus also infects branches anywhere from the soil line to the tip of the branch. These infections start out as dark brown to black short lines, and grow to completely encircle and girdle the stem. Roots of the boxwood shrub are not infected by the fungus and remain healthy.
Boxwood blight has not yet been identified in Minnesota. If you suspect your plant is infected with boxwood blight first use the University of Minnesota Extension's online diagnostic tool for Boxwood to determine if the problem might be a more common look alike. If Boxwood blight appears to be the most likely suspect, please contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture by sending an email with photos of the plant to email@example.com or leave a voice message at 1- 888-545-6884. A MDA employee will respond in 1 to 2 days.
A second invasive disease to be on the look out for this year is downy mildew of basil. This disease is caused by the fungus-like organism Peronospora belbahrii. Downy mildew on basil was first found in the United States in Florida in 2007. It was seen throughout the eastern states in 2008 and was identified in Wisconsin in 2010. Downy mildew of basil has not been officially identified in Minnesota.
M. McGrath, Cornell University, Bugwood.org
Photo 1: Downy mildew symptoms on the upper leaf surface of a sweet basil plant
The downy mildew pathogen can move into a garden on infected seed, transplants or on wind currents. Unlike other downy mildew pathogens that prefer cool weather, basil downy mildew will tolerate cool weather but thrives in warm conditions. This means that the pathogen is actively growing and spreading for most of Minnesota's growing season.
At the end of April, University of Wisconsin plant pathologist Amanda Gevens reported identification of basil transplants infected with downy mildew, available for sale at a local store in Wisconsin. This early arrival of the pathogen in the Midwest could mean that more severe disease is found in the region this year as the pathogen will have time to grow and spread.
S. Jensen, Cornell University, Bugwood.org
Photo 2: Dark growth on the lower leaf surface of a plant infected with basil downy mildew
If you suspect your basil plants are infected with downy mildew, please contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture by sending an email with photos of the plant to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a voice message at 1- 888-545-6884. A MDA employee will respond in 1 to 2 days.