Recognizing and preventing viral diseases in greenhouses

Plant viruses are serious pests of ornamental and edible crops alike and cause significant losses for greenhouse producers. Once infected, a plant will remain infected with the viral disease throughout its lifespan – and may pass the virus along to progeny. There are no chemical or biological products that cure plants infected with a virus. Instead, prevention is key for successful management of viral diseases in greenhouse crops.

Growers and greenhouse employees should be able to recognize common signs of plant viruses. Viruses can cause unusual physical characteristics like mosaic patterns, ringspots, mottling, leaf distortion, stunting, and yellowing, among others (Figures 1, 2, 3, and 4). While these symptoms may also result from other issues like nutrient disorders, other pests, or even unique attributes like variegation or speckling, training employees to spot usual versus unusual characteristics for a particular plant will help diagnose and correct many production problems. In some cases, infected plants may show no symptoms and evade detection.

Start Virus-free. Plant viruses can infect greenhouse crops in many ways. Viruses can come in on plant material – from seeds to cuttings, plugs, and/or mature plants. A grower’s first line of defense is to begin with virus-free plant material. How can you start with virus-free plants?

  • Choose varieties or cultivars that have genetic resistance to common viruses, when possible. Many food crops and a limited number of ornamental crops have genetic resistance or increased tolerance to one or more viruses.
  • If resistance packages are not available for specific plants, purchase certified virus-free seed, cuttings, or plantlets.
  • When neither of these options is available for the plants you grow, quarantine incoming plants and train all employees to look for unusual symptoms that may be present or develop over time.

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