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Sooty Mold gray-black and velvety, often crust-like coating may develop on the leaves, needles, fruits and branches of certain plants. The coating is actually the growth of one of several species of black-colored fungi or molds. The coating can be removed easily by rubbing the leaf between the fingers, thus exposing the green leaf tissue below.
Sooty molds grow only on the plant surface and will not kill plants. In fact, sooty molds often grow on sidewalks or fences under infested trees. Sooty molds are normally considered to be a cosmetic or aesthetic problem. In extremely severe cases, it is possible for the black growth to block enough sunlight to interfere with photosynthesis. In such cases, leaves, needles, fruits and new shoots may be smaller or less intensely colored.
Respiration can be reduced through the physical closure of stomates by the vegetative growth of the molds. Under drought conditions, plants affected with sooty mold will wilt more rapidly than unaffected plants. If plant vigor has been reduced, the plant may also be predisposed to further injury by other insects, diseases or environmental stresses.
Many sooty mold fungi are sticky and that helps them adhere to the surfaces on which they grow and absorb the moisture they need. The black crusty growth can cause yellowing of foliage when the sunlight is obstructed.
Disease Cycle : Sooty mold growth is of two types. The first grows on leaves, which lasts for the life of the leaf. The second persists on stems and twigs of woody plants and this type is renewed from existing parts of the fungus produced the previous season. During the growing season, the fungi produce spores that are blown and splashed to honeydew or plant exudate coated surfaces.
When conditions are wet, the spores germinate and sooty mold grows on the medium available. Warm temperatures and dry weather increase the prevalence of sooty molds. During dry periods, aphid populations and their honeydew production typically increase on foliage undergoing moisture stress. In addition, under dry conditions, less rain is available to remove or dilute honeydew concentrations suitable for sooty mold growth on leaves and other surfaces.
Injury : On leaves, this coat of mold screens out light and reduces the plants capacity to produce food. On some trees no obvious damage can be noticed. Shrubs under trees that are heavily infested with honeydew-producing insects may be seriously damaged or killed because the leaf chlorophyll cannot function properly. Azalea, Rhododendron, Pieris, Cotoneaster, holly and other low-growing shrubs, growing under shady conditions are susceptible to serious damage.
Control :Most plants will tolerate a small insect population and light amounts of sooty mold. When sooty molds are present on any surface in the landscape, it indicates there is, or has been, a sucking insect population present in the vicinity. Control of sooty molds begins with managing the insect creating the honeydew. For example, populations of aphids usually are highest on succulent, new growth. In some situations a strong stream of water can dislodge the insects. Also fertilize and water to keep plants healthy but not excessively vigorous.
One must identify the insect that is causing the problem and the plant being attacked before deciding on a method of management. A strong spray of water can be used to dislodge the mold growth from many plants. For most plants, adding a mild soap or detergent solution at one teaspoon per gallon will aid in cleaning them. Use caution, since some plants may be damaged by soaps. You should test for damage if you are not sure. Prepare your wash suspension, spray a small area of the plant, then wait a week or so to see if any damage will appear.
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