Greenhouse disease management: Seed treatments and transplant production

Seed used in transplant production should be certified ‘clean’ or disease-free. Most commercial seed comes with certification and is pretreated with fungicide. Important diseases such as Bacterial leaf spot of tomato and pepper can cause major problems in transplant production if introduced in the greenhouse, especially if untreated seed is infested. Remember, a small amount of infested seed can be a major source of inoculum in the greenhouse and cause significant problems in the field later in the growing season.

As a rule for any crop, any non-certified or untreated seed should be treated, if applicable, with a Clorox treatment, or with hot water seed treatment, then treated pre-seeding or at seeding with fungicide(s) to help minimize damping-off diseases. Organic and conventional tomato growers who grow a significant number of heirloom vegetables, such as tomatoes, should consider using the hot water seed treatment to help reduce the chances for bacterial problems. Remember, Chlorox simply acts as a surface disinfectant, kllling pathogens that may reside on the surface of the seed. The hot water seed treatment method will also kill potential pathogens within the seed.

Hot water seed treatment method
Hot water seed treatment is a non-chemical alternative to conventional chlorine treatment which only kills pathogens on the surface of the seed. Heat-treatment done correctly kills pathogens inside the seed as well. If done incorrectly, it may not eradicate pathogens and may reduce germination and vigor. For cole crops, it is especially important to follow treatment protocols as seeds can split.

Seed heat treatment follows a strict time and temperature protocol and is best done with thermostatically controlled water baths. Two baths are required: one for pre-heating, and a second for the effective (pathogen killing) temperature. For cole crops, the initial pre-heating is at 100°F (38°C) for 10 minutes. The effective temperature is 122°F (50°C). Soaking at the effective temperature should be done for 20 minutes for broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kale, and Chinese cabbage, and 25 minutes for Brussels sprouts and cabbage. Immediately after removal from the bath, seeds should be rinsed with cool water to stop the heating process. After that, seeds should be dried on a screen or paper. Pelleted seeds are not recommended for heat treatment. Only treat seed that will be used in the current season.

As an alternative to hot water seed treatment, use 1 part Alcide (sodium chlorite), 1 part lactic acid, and 18 parts water as a seed soak. Treat seed 1-2 minutes and rinse for 5 minutes in running water at room temperature.

For more information on seed treatment methods please see page 124 in the upcoming 2020/2021 Mid-Atlantic Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations Guide.

Transplant production
Proper greenhouse sanitation is important for healthy, disease-free vegetable transplant production. Efforts need to be made to keep transplant production greenhouses free of unnecessary plant debris, soils, and weeds which may harbor insect pests and disease.

  • All equipment, benches, flats, plug trays and floors should be properly cleaned and then disinfested prior to use with efforts taken throughout the transplant production season to minimize potential problems.
  • Any weeds in or around the greenhouse structure should be removed prior to and after any production.
  • Any transplant brought into the greenhouse from an outside source needs to be certified ‘clean’, as well as visually inspected for potential insects and diseases once it reaches your location. Suspect plants should not be placed in the greenhouse.

Remember, disinfestants, such as Clorox, Green-Shield, or hydrogen dioxide products (Zerotol – for commercial greenhouses, garden centers and Oxidate – commercial greenhouse and field), kill only what they come into direct contact with so thorough coverage and/or soaking is necessary. The labels do not specify time intervals for specific uses, only to state that surfaces be ‘thoroughly wetted’. Therefore, labels need to be followed precisely for different use patterns (i.e., disinfesting flats vs. floors or benches) to ensure proper dilution ratios. Hydrogen dioxide products work best when diluted with water containing little or no organic matter and in water with a neutral pH. There are a number conventional and organic products labeled for disease control during transplant production in the greenhouse.

Sanitizing greenhouse surfaces and treatment of flats and trays
There are several different groups of sanitizers that are recommended for plant pathogen and algae control in transplant greenhouses. Alcohol is often used to disinfect grafting tools. All these products have different properties:

  • Quaternary ammonium chloride salts (Q-salts such as Green-Shield, Physan 20, KleenGrow) are labeled for control of fungal, bacterial and viral plant pathogens, and algae. They can be applied to floors, walls, benches, tools, pots and flats as sanitizers.
  • Hydrogen Dioxide, Hydrogen Peroxide, and Peroxyacetic Acid containing products (ZeroTol 2.0, OxiDate 2.0, SaniDate12.0) kill bacteria, fungi, algae and their spores on contact. They are labeled as disinfectants for use on greenhouse surfaces, equipment, benches, pots, trays and tools.
  • Chlorine bleach may be used for pots or flats, but is not recommended for application to walls, benches or flooring. When used properly, chlorine is an effective disinfectant. A solution of chlorine bleach and water is short-lived and the half-life (time required for 50 percent reduction in strength) of a chlorine solution may be as little as a few hours.

New flats and plug trays are recommended for the production of transplants to avoid pathogens that cause damping-off and other diseases. If flats and trays are reused, they should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfested as described below. Permit flats to dry completely prior to use. Styrofoam planting trays can become porous over time and should be discarded when they no longer can be effectively sanitized.

  • Sanitizing trays with Chlorine: Dip flats or trays in a labeled chlorine sanitizer at recommended rates (3.5 fl oz. of a 5.25% sodium hypochlorite equivalent product per gal of water) several times. Cover treated flats and trays with a tarp to keep them moist for a minimum of 20 minutes. Wash flats and trays with clean water or a Q-salts solution to eliminate the chlorine. It is important that the bleach solution remains in the pH 6.5-7.5 range and that a new solution is made up every 2 h or whenever it becomes contaminated (the solution should be checked for free chlorine levels at least every hour using test strips). Organic matter will deactivate the active chlorine ingredients quickly.

For more information on seed treatments and disinfectant products labeled for use in the greenhouse please see the upcoming 2020/2021 Mid-Atlantic Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations Guide.

Selected organic and conventional fungicides, bactericides
An updated table for selected organic and conventional fungicides and bactericides labeled for greenhouse use will be available in Table E-11 in the upcoming 2020/2021 Mid-Atlantic Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations Guide. The table includes an updated comprehensive list of conventional and organic fungicides and biopesticides approved for greenhouse use.

Source: Rutgers University (Andy Wyenandt)

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