Department of Plant Pathology, University of California, Davis, c/o U.S. Agricultural Research Station, Salinas 93905
Microplot and field experiments were conducted to evaluate the effects of inoculum density on Verticillium wilt and cauliflower growth. Soil containing Verticillium dahliae microsclerotia was mixed with various proportions of fumigated soil to establish different inoculum densities (fumigated soil was used as the noninfested control). Seven inoculum density treatments replicated four times were established, and the treatments were arranged in a randomized complete block design. Soil was collected from each microplot immediately after soil infestation for V. dahliae assay by plating onto sodium polypectate agar (NP-10) selective medium using the Anderson sampler technique. Five-week-old cauliflower was transplanted into two beds within each 1.2- by 1.2-m microplot. At the same time, several extra plants were also transplanted at the edge of each bed for destructive sampling to examine the disease onset (vascular discoloration) after planting. Cauliflower plants were monitored for Verticillium wilt development. Stomatal resistance in two visually healthy upper and two lower, diseased leaves in each microplot was measured three times at weekly intervals after initial wilt symptoms occurred. At maturity, all plants were uprooted, washed free of soil, and wilt incidence and severity, plant height, number of leaves, and dry weights of leaves and roots were determined. The higher the inoculum density, the earlier was disease onset. A density of 4 microsclerotia per g of dry soil caused 16% wilt incidence, but about 10 microsclerotia per g of soil caused 50% wilt incidence. Both wilt incidence and severity increased with increasing inoculum density up to about 20 microsclerotia per g of soil, and additional inoculum did not result in significantly higher disease incidence and severity. A negative exponential model described the disease relationships to inoculum levels under both microplot and field conditions. Stomatal resistance of diseased leaves was significantly higher at higher inoculum densities; in healthy leaves, however, no treatment differences occurred. The height, number of leaves, and dry weights of leaves and roots of plants in the fumigated control were significantly higher than in infested treatments, but the effects of inoculum density treatments were variable between years. Timing of cauliflower infection, crop physiological processes related to hydraulic conductance, and wilt intensity (incidence and severity) were thus affected by the inoculum density. Verticillium wilt management methods used in cauliflower should reduce inoculum density to less than four micro-sclerotia per g of soil to produce crops with the fewest number of infected plants.