Club root

Club root is a fungal infection of the roots of brassicas, such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, turnip and swede, leading to swollen and distorted roots and stunted growth.

Club root on cabbage

Quick facts

Common name Club root
Scientific name Plasmodiophora brassicae
Plants affected Brassicas and ornamental and wild relatives
Main symptoms Swollen and distorted roots
Caused by Fungus-like organism
Timing Mid-summer to late autumn

What is club root?

Club root is an infection of the roots of brassicas and related plants by Plasmodiophora brassicae, a soil-dwelling  micro-organism related to the slime moulds, leading to massive swelling, distortion and severely retarded growth.

It affects Brussels sproutscabbages, cauliflowers, turnips, swedes and radishes, and ornamental relatives such as Cheiranthus (wallflowers), Matthiola (stocks), Aubrieta (aubretia) and cabbage-family weeds such as Capsella bursa-pastoris (shepherd’s purse).

Club root can infect whenever the soil is moist and warm, so most new infections occur from mid-summer until late autumn.

Symptoms

You may see the following symptoms:

  • Above ground: Stunted growth, purplish foliage and wilting in hot weather, which may recover under wetter conditions
  • Below ground: The root system becomes massively swollen and distorted, with a loss of the finer roots
  • Growth and yield are severely reduced and very badly affected plants may die

Control

Non-chemical control

  • If you buy brassica plants, take great care that they come from a guaranteed club root-free source. Be particularly careful in accepting plants from gardening friends, who with the best of intentions may be an unwitting source of infection.
  • If the disease is known to be present, try to give plants a head start by growing them on in healthy soil to a larger than normal size before planting out, or as transplants in pots of at least 9cm (3½in) diameter, so that they begin growth in the affected soil with a larger than usual healthy root system.
  • Beware of spreading contaminated soil on tools, wheelbarrows or footwear.
  • Club root is reduced (but not eliminated) by raising the soil pH by liming. On acid soils, lime at the rate of 500g per sq m (15oz per sq yd), with lighter dressings of 270g per sq m (8oz per sq yd) in future years.
  • Along with the liming regime, take care to improve drainage, by making raised beds for example.
  • Keep down susceptible weeds like shepherd’s purse, charlock, wild radish.
  • Some cultivars show some levels of resistance: Brussels sprouts 'Chronos' and 'Crispus F1', calabrese ‘Trixie’, cauliflower ‘Clapton’, Cabbages ‘Kilaxy’ and ‘Kilaton’,  kale ‘Tall Green Curled’ and swede ‘Marian’ also show resistance.

Chemical control

There are no chemicals available to gardeners to treat club root.

Biology

Plasmodiophora brassicae is loosely described as a fungus but is in fact more closely related to the slime moulds. It produces resting spores that can contaminate soil for up to 20 years. In the presence of susceptible plant roots, these resting spores germinate and infect the root hairs, causing the distortion. The fungus produces more resting spores in the affected tissue, which eventually rots and releases them back to the soil, ready for the cycle to start over again.

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