Grapevine diseases

Both indoor and outdoor grapes suffer from fungal diseases which affect leaves and fruit. The three top grape diseases are downy mildew, powdery mildew, and grey mould. Four grapevine viruses have also recently been detected in the U.K. but are not currently known to be widespread.

Grape powdery mildew

Grape powdery mildew

Quick facts

Common name Downy mildew, Powdery mildew and Grey mould
Scientific name Plasmopara viticola, Erysiphe necator and Botrytis cinerea
Plants affected Grapevines
Main causes Fungus

What are grapevine diseases?

The three main diseases that affect grapevines in the UK are;

  1. Downy mildew on the leaves – caused by the fungus-like organism Plasmopara viticola
  2. Powdery mildew on the leaves and fruit – caused by the fungal pathogen Erysiphe necator
  3. Grey mould leading to fruit rot – caused by the fungal pathogen Botrytis cinerea

Grapevines are also rather susceptible to the root disease honey fungus.

Recently, RHS researchers have detected four viruses affecting grapevines in the UK - caused by Grapevine virus A; Grapevine rupestris stem pitting associated virus; Grapevine fleck virus; and Grapevine leafroll-associated virus 1

Symptoms

Typical symptoms for the three diseases are as follows;

Downy mildew

  • Yellowish patches occur on the upper surfaces of leaves, often limited by veins, corresponding to whitish patches of fungus growth on the lower surfaces

Powdery mildew

  • White powdery fungal growth occurs on leaves, stems and fruits
  • Sometimes growth of the powdery mildew fungus is sparse and the symptom is a grey or purplish discolouration of the leaves
  • Fruit may become split or may drop prematurely if infected by powdery mildew
  • Fruits damaged by powdery mildew are often then infected by the grey mould pathogen and rot, or become mummified

Grey mould

  • Fruit becomes soft and brown, especially as it starts to ripen
  • A fluffy grey mould may appear on the affected fruits, particularly when humidity is high

Viruses

  • Rugose wood complex - reduced vigour and delayed bud break. Swellings may develop, on grafted vines, above the graft union. In some cultivars, a thick, corky layer of bark forms. The stem may become marked by pits and grooves. May be transmitted by vegetative propagation, and also by mealybugs and scale insects feeding activities
  • Fleck disease - causes leaves to become wrinkled, twisted, flecked or show yellow spots or veins. The whole plant may be stunted. Transmitted by vegetative propagation only
  • Leafroll disease - leaves become thick and brittle, leaf margins roll downwards, inter-veinal reddening on red-fruited cultivars, inter-veinal yellowing on white-fruited cultivars. May be transmitted by vegetative propagation, and also by mealybugs and scale insects feeding activities
  • Grapevine degeneration/decline - on leaves, vein banding, yellow mosaics or mottling may be seen, leaves may also develop malformed or fan-shaped, vines progressively decline producing low yields of poor-quality fruit

Control

Non-chemical control

  • Clean up and destroy fallen leaves to reduce the amount of downy mildew pathogen surviving the winter
  • Mulch plants each season to avoid drought stress, which predisposes them to powdery mildew infection, and make sure vines are adequately watered helping to prevent this problem
  • Avoid overhead watering as this increases humidity around the foliage which makes the plants more prone to powdery and downy mildews
  • Keep vines under glass well ventilated
  • Prune overcrowded shoots to improve air circulation around the foliage
  • Consider heating the glasshouse in dull weather to avoid excessive humidity

Resistance: A number of grape cultivars show some resistance to powdery mildew including the wine varieties 'Leon Millot', 'Orion', 'Seyval Blanc' and 'Triomphe d'Alsace' and the outdoor dessert variety 'Brant'.

Chemical control

There are no fungicides available to amateur gardeners for the control of either downy mildew or grey mould.

The products SB Plant Invigorator, Resolva Natural Power Bug and Mildew Control, and Ecofective Plant Defender contain a blend of surfactants and nutrients and can be used on any edible or ornamental plants, with no harvest interval. They have a physical mode of action and may be used against powdery mildews, as well as a range of pests such as whiteflies, aphids, spider mites, mealybugs, scale insects and psyllids.

Inclusion of a product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener.

Download

Fungicides for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining fungicides available to gardeners)

Biology

Downy mildew: the downy mildew pathogen survives over winter as resting spores in dead, infected leaves. These initiate new infections when splashed onto leaves in the spring. Subsequent infections occur from airborne spores produced on the initial infections. Wet conditions are required for infection to occur and the disease is very seldom seen on vines grown under glass. The pathogen is an obligate biotroph (it feeds on the living cells for extended periods without killing them, and cannot live on dead plant material). Vitis vinifera is susceptible; other Vitis spp. and related Parthenocissus spp. (Boston ivy, Virginia creeper) and Ampelopsis are less affected.

Powdery mildew: the powdery mildew fungus over-winters in the buds and when these emerge in the spring it produces airborne spores which spread the disease. The pathogen originated in north America, but is now present wherever vines are grown. Leaf infection reduces plant vigour. When fruits are infected they split as they expand and this allows secondary infection by grey mould (Botrytis cinerea).

Grey mould: this pathogen produces abundant airborne spores on dead plant material, where it is able to grow as a saprophyte (feeding on dead organic material). It normally only infects plants through wounds, or particularly vulnerable organs (flowers or ripening fruit). When ripening grapes become infected they usually either fall prematurely or rot and then become mummified. When exactly the right climatic conditions occur, the so-called 'noble rot' develops, leading to fruit with a very concentrated sugar content which is used to make certain very desirable and expensive vintages; such conditions are unfortunately, not likely to occur in the UK and most unlikely in vines under glass.


Gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Find out what to do this month with our gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Did you find the advice you needed?

RHS members can get exclusive individual advice from the RHS Gardening Advice team.

Join the RHS now

Get involved

We're a UK charity established to share the best in gardening. We want to enrich everyone's life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.