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Potato Vine Premature Decline: Causes and Management

Marc A. Cubeta, Extension Plant Pathologist
Nancy G. Creamer, Extension Horticulturist
Carl R. Crozier, Extension Soil Scientist
David Monks, Extension Horticulturist/Weed Scientist
Kenneth A. Sorensen, Extension Entomologist

Vegetable Disease Information Note No. 24
Department of Plant Pathology
North Carolina State University

For many years growers, county extension agents and consultants in eastern North Carolina and elsewhere have noticed that potato vines often die prematurely. The degree of potato vine premature decline varies among fields, years, and cultivars. Potato vine premature decline occurs in many areas in the United States where potatoes are grown, and has recently received considerable attention in books, magazines, newsletters and scientific journals. There are numerous federal and state research projects directed towards this problem. The problem has been referred to as “Potato Early Dying”, “Potato Premature Death”, “Potato Root Rot”, “Potato Wilt”, “Drought Injury”, etc. In North Carolina many causes are associated with potato vine premature decline, including the Potato Early Dying complex, caused by the lesion nematode (Pratylenchus penetrans) and Verticillium fungi (Verticillium dahliae and V. albo-atrum), air pollution, insect damage, fertilizer salt damage, shallow hard pans and soilborne bacterial and fungal pathogens.

Effective management of potato vine premature decline relies largely on accuarate and proper diagnosis of the specific cause. However, in several instances, the combination of two or more causes may result in especially severe decline and death of vines (e.g. lesion nematode and Verticillium fungus; European corn borer and the black leg bacterium, etc.). Often the presence of one or more conditions may mask other problems. For example verticillium wilt and other diseases are often masked by high fertility, poor drainage, shallow hard pans and low soil pH (< 5.0). The purpose of this note is to provide county agents, consultants and growers involved with potato production in North Carolina with information about the many causes of potato vine premature decline and strategies for managing each cause. Usually several strategies are needed for managing potato vine decline. The causes and strategies for managing potato vine decline in eastern North Carolina are summarized in the table below.


Causes
Occurrence*
Crop rotation
Land selection
Land preparation
Assay seed and soil
Purchase certified seed
Plant resistant cultivars
Air pollution
5%
No
No
No
No
No
Yes
Bacterial wilt
<1%
Maybe
Yes
No
No
Yes
No
Black dot
root rot
<1%
Yes
Yes
Maybe
Yes
Yes
No
Black
leg
6%
Maybe
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Maybe
Colorado
potato
beetle
4%
Yes
Yes
No
Yes
No
No
Drought
3%
No
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
European
corn
borer
10%
No
No
No
Maybe
No
No
Fusarium
wilt
2%
Yes
Yes
No
No
Yes
Maybe
Herbicide
damage
2%
Maybe
Yes
No
Yes
No
No
High, soil
soluble
salts
7%
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No
Lesion and
root-knot
nematodes
1%
Maybe
Yes
No
Yes
No
No
Low soil
pH (<5.0)
3%
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
No
Nutrition
3%
No
Yes
No
Yes
No
No
Poor
drainage
3%
No
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
Pythium
root rot
<1
Maybe
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
Rhizoctonia
stem canker
5
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
Seedpiece
decay
15
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
Shallow
hardpan
10
No
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
Southern
stem rot
10
No
Yes
Yes
Maybe
No
No
Verticillium
wilt
2
Maybe
Yes
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Viruses
(leafroll,PVY)
1
No
No
No
Yes
Yes
Maybe

* Occurrence was determined by examining Plant Disease and Insect Clinic records from 1969 to 1996.
Yes = usually an effective management practice for reducing potato vine premature decline,
No = usually not an effective management practice for reducing potato vine premature decline,
Maybe = may or may not be an effective management practice for reducing potato vine premature vine decline.

Crop rotation means that potatoes were not grown in the same field for at least 2-3 years.

Land selection includes: assessing fields for previous drainage, disease, insect, nutrient and weed problems.

Land preparation includes: ditching, leveling and primary tillage operations.

Assaying potato seed and soil includes: carefully examining potato seedpieces for diseases and insects. Soil assays for nematodes and herbicide residues can also be performed.

Purchase certified seed from a reliable source and get to know your seed growers. Also evaluate seed quality, warm seed prior to cutting, and treat cut, seedpieces with a drying agent or fungicide prior to planting, if needed.

Planting a resistant cultivar means using a potato variety that has resistance to a specific cause of potato premature vine decline. Certain resistant varieties may have undesirable horticultural traits.

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