By Sarah Jandricic and Chevonne Carlow
It’s that time of year again, when baskets of Million Bells (Calibrachoa) are going up in the greenhouse. Here’s how to deal with and prevent some of their most common issues.
Iron deficiency in Calibrachoa. The resulting yellowing can look similar to symptoms caused by black root rot or nitrogen deficiency.
From a nutritional standpoint, the best thing you can is keep the pH of your calibrachoa in its ideal range; between 5.5 and 6.0. A pH higher than this can inhibit nutrient uptake, especially micronutrients such as iron.
Iron deficiency can be difficult to distinguish from other issues (like Black Root Rot – see below), but typically leads to yellowing of new growth. Leaves may only show chlorosis between the veins, or it may be spread throughout the leaf. This is different from nitrogen deficiency where yellowing occurs in the oldest leaves. If iron deficiency occurs, adding a chelated form of iron is best for uptake.
- Yellowed plant growth (yellow circle) and dead plugs (orange circle) on a plug tray of Callibrachoa from black root rot.
Million bells are also highly susceptible to Black Root Rot (Thielaviopsis) – I’ve seen this take out a good chunk of a crop. Symptoms include:
- Stunting of foliage and roots
- Plants in a tray will have uneven heights
- black areas on roots
- yellowing of leaves
Prevention is worth a pound of cure with this disease, as it is difficult to eradicate once established. Important steps to take include:
- Proper Sanitation. To avoid an issue with Black Root Rot year after year, immediately dispose of diseased plants, limit water splashing, and sanitize benches, floors and used pots/plug trays. Always physically wash surfaces with a cleaner to remove organic matter, then follow up with a disinfectant such as KleenGrow (ammonium chloride compound).
- Consider prophylactic applications of fungicides on plug trays. Products include Senator (thiophanate-methyl) or Medallion (fludioxonil). Preventative applications are an especially good idea if you’ve issues in the past. Adding bio-fungicides containing Trichoderma harzianum (e.g. Rootshield, Trianum) may also help.
- Lowering your pH. This disease is significantly inhibited by a lower pH – between 5.0 and 5.5.
- Manage fungus gnats and shoreflies, since these insects can spread Black Root Rot between plants. Treatments include nematodes, Hypoaspsis mites , or applications of Dimiln (diflubenzuron) or Citation (cyromazine).
If already established, rotated applications of Senator and Medallion may limit Black Root Rot, but are unlikely to cure it.
Aphids tend to be found on flowers and new growth of Calibrachoa.
Lastly, Million Bells are highly attractive to aphids. With baskets hung up in the greenhouse, they can be “out of sight, out of mind”, but regular monitoring is needed to prevent large aphid outbreaks. Place sticky cards directly in baskets, and routinely check plant material for aphid cast skins and honeydew.
Once aphids are detected (and they will be!), applications of Beleaf (flonicamid), Enstar (kinoprene) or Endeavor (pymetrozine) will usually take care of them. However, be aware that all of these insecticides take around 4-5 days to start causing aphid death.