DOI: 10.1111/ppa.13873 ISSN: 0032-0862

In‐field climatic factors driving Sclerotinia head rot progression across different sunflower planting dates

Phrasia Mapfumo, Sikelela Buthelezi, Emma Archer, Dirk Z. H. Swanevelder, P. Markus Wilken, Nicky Creux
  • Horticulture
  • Plant Science
  • Genetics
  • Agronomy and Crop Science


Sclerotinia head rot, caused by Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, is a major disease limiting sunflower production in tropical and subtropical agroecological zones. Sporadic outbreaks across South Africa have resulted in major losses, yet little is known about the in‐field climatic factors driving this infection. Short‐interval, staggered plantings have been proposed as a control method for Sclerotinia head rot, which help to limit the number of plants in a susceptible developmental stage during conducive environmental conditions. However, this complicates field management practices, especially if working at the fringes of a planting window due to delayed rains. This study aimed to investigate the effect of planting date on Sclerotinia head rot progression in monthly plantings across the summer period. Artificial mycelial plug inoculations were performed at the R5.9 flowering stage in an open field. Disease establishment, progression and severity were monitored at 3‐day intervals for 30 days. We show that disease establishment was delayed by low relative humidity or extreme low temperatures in the January and March planting dates where the first lesions were only observed 6 days post‐inoculation. Consistently high temperatures above 27°C also suppressed disease progression and produced low area under the disease progress curve (AUDPC) scores of 75.15 and 29.4 for the October and November planting dates, respectively. These findings suggest that regardless of season or location, selecting a planting date that ensures the sunflower bloom period aligns with the hottest, driest part of the season will probably suppress Sclerotinia head rot in regions with average summer highs above 27°C.

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