C7 – Leaf Spots


A wide range of fungal pathogens cause leaf spot symptoms on herb crops. The majority of these cause only minor or sporadic problems on UK protected herbs. Examples are listed in Table 1. Bacterial leaf spot diseases are considered in a separate best-practice guideline (Section C.9). In general, infection by fungal leaf spot pathogens is favoured by conditions of high relative humidity, with disease spread by water splash. Many of these pathogens are seed-borne. In the UK, the most prevalent leaf spot diseases of protected edible herbs are caused by Septoria species and these are described in more detail below. A new leaf blight disease of dill and coriander is also described below.

Table 1. Examples of leaf spot diseases on UK protected herbs


Leaf spot species recorded


Chives Alternaria porri


Coriander Ramularia coriandri


Septoria species


Itersonilia perplexans


Dill Alternaria radicina


Itersonilia perplexans


Lavender Septoria lavandulae


Phomopsis lavandulae


Lemon balm Septoria melissae


Parsley Alternaria dauci


Alternaria radicini


Alternaria petroselini


Septoria petroselini


Rosemary Phoma species


St John’s wort Colletotrichum gloeosporioides


Septoria leaf spots (Septoria species)

Septoria leaf spot is an important disease of parsley caused by Septoria petroselini. The disease also occurs occasionally on other herbs such as coriander (caused by a Septoria species), lemon balm (caused by S. melissae) and lavender (caused by S. lavandulae). Septoria species affect other crops of the Umbelliferae family (e.g. celery) but the host range for each species is limited. For example, S. petroselini only infects parsley and S. apiicola only infects celery.

The fungus can be seed-borne for parsley and coriander, and may also survive in plant debris and on volunteer plants. Under favourable environmental conditions, the disease can spread rapidly, affecting both yield and quality. Because of its seed-borne nature, the disease can potentially develop on crops under any production system, although those that are overhead watered are more at risk.


Typical early symptoms on parsley and coriander are brown sunken leaf spots on leaves and cotyledons (Figures 1 and 2). Occasionally, the lesions have yellow haloes. As the leaf spots age, the centres turn tan or light grey and tiny black fungal spore cases (pycnidia) are often visible, which is a useful diagnostic feature for this disease (Figure 3). When infection is severe (Figure 4), leaves may die and drop off, and lesions may develop on petioles.


[]Figure 1.
Early symptoms of Septoria leaf spot (Septoria petroselini) on curly leaf parsley

[]Figure 2.
Early symptoms of Septoria leaf spot (Septoria petroselini) on flat leaf parsley

[]Figure 3.
Close-up of spore cases (pycnidia) of Septoria petroselini on a parsley leaf

[]Figure 4.
Severe symptoms of leaf spot (Septoria petroselini) on parsley

On lemon balm, Septoria leaf spots are dark brown/black, up to 3 mm diameter and angular in shape (being constricted between leaf veins) (Figure 5). Spore cases are sometimes visible within leaf spots on the underside of the leaf.


[]Figure 5.
Symptoms of Septoria leaf spot (Septoria melissae) on lemon balm

Disease sources and spread

The fungus is seed-borne (at least for parsley and coriander) and transmission from seed to growing plants has been demonstrated experimentally for parsley. Spore cases are sometimes visible on the seed surface but infection may also be more deep-seated within seeds. The seed coat attached to the cotyledon can act as a source of infection during propagation so that the fungus infects seedling leaves.

In addition to seed-borne inoculum, Septoria can survive on parsley crop debris for at least three years and also on volunteer or overwintered plants. There is also a risk of cross-infection between neighbouring crops (e.g. with sequential planting).

Conditions for infection

Crops are most at risk after long periods of leaf wetness, particularly at warm temperatures and high relative humidity. Disease development is highly dependent on the presence of water for the spore cases to swell and release spores, for splash dispersal of spores between plants and for leaf infection to occur. Spores are readily spread by irrigation and also by people (e.g. on wet boots) and machinery. The following information is known about infection conditions for parsley leaf spot:

  • Mature parsley leaves are more susceptible to infection than young leaves.
  • Infection and symptom development can occur over a wide temperature range. Optimum temperatures for disease development are around 20-25oC.
  • At 20-25oC, increasing leaf wetness duration results in greater disease severity, with most disease occurring after 72 hours of leaf wetness.
  • Under optimum conditions, symptoms can develop on parsley after only 9 days.

Integrated disease management

Cultural control

As Septoria species can be seed-borne, use of clean seed is important for disease avoidance. Thiram fungicide can be used as a warm water soak for parsley seed (but not approved for coriander) to reduce Septoria infection to acceptable levels. However, under EC regulations this is not permitted for seed being used for organic production. There is potential for reducing levels of Septoria species on seed using hot water treatment, but treatment conditions are critical and are not well defined for parsley or coriander seed. Research is ongoing to adapt a seed treatment technique originally developed for cereals, for use on vegetable seed including parsley. The technique involves treatment of seed with hot humid air and precise control of temperature, air humidity and treatment duration. (Thermoseed; www.incotec.com)

Growers can confirm the health of seed samples at the following laboratories:

Fera – www.fera.defra.gov.uk

NIAB – www.niab.com

Plant health solutions – www.planthealth.co.uk

SASA – www.sasa.gov.uk

Request that diagnostic methods for parsley Septoria include a check for spore viability rather than just presence or absence of pycnidia.

The viability of Septoria species on parsley and coriander seed may decline over time during storage but this is not a reliable control method.

Although there are significant varietal differences in the susceptibility of parsley to S. petroselini there are no resistant varieties available.

The risk of Septoria and other fungal leaf spot diseases can be reduced by using the following measures:

  • As leaf spot fungi can survive in plant debris, plant trays and pots should be new, or washed and disinfected before re-use in propagation or pot production.
  • New parsley for cut herb production should be planted in soil where parsley has not been grown for at least 3 years.
  • In all production systems, irrigation and ventilation should be carefully regulated since overhead watering can result in splash dispersal of the fungus between plants, while poor air movement can lead to extended periods of leaf wetness that are conducive for disease development.
  • If overhead watering is necessary, avoid watering late in the day when leaf wetness duration will be prolonged.
  • Inspect plants regularly for early symptoms of leaf spot and rogue out infected plants.
  • Remove crop debris and volunteer plants, and dispose of them carefully.
  • Isolate new plantings to avoid splash dispersal from currently or recently affected crops.
  • Wider plant spacing may help to improve air circulation in the canopy, thus reducing leaf wetness duration and associated disease risk.
  • In cut herbs, mowing alone is unlikely to eliminate the disease as the fungus can survive on crop debris. Flaming, as practised by some cut herb growers, could be more effective.
  • Restrict entry into the crop.
  • Use clean footware.
  • Clean planting and harvesting equipment.
  • Remove surplus or reject plants from the cropped area and dispose of carefully.

Biological control

The biological fungicide Serenade ASO (Bacillus subtilis) may be used on protected herbs and is compatible for use with biological pest control. Efficacy of the fungicide against Septoria leaf spots on herbs has not been reported.

Chemical control (protected herbs)

For protected herb production systems where fungicides are used, Amistar (azoxystrobin) and Signum (boscalid + pyraclostrobin) are likely to be highly effective against Septoria leaf spot. In trials on parsley Septoria, both fungicides gave excellent control when applied 5 or 2 days before infection (HDC project FV 318).

Management of Septoria leaf spot could involve an early application of Amistar as a protectant, or an application of Signum immediately after high risk environmental conditions (e.g. high temperatures, long leaf wetness duration) or if early symptoms of the disease were observed. Be aware that for Amistar, the harvest interval is 28 days for crops harvested in November to April and 14 days for crops harvested in May to October.

Before selecting products to use for leaf spot control on protected herbs, test treat a small batch of plants before widespread application if using a product for the first time, to ensure crop safety.

Growers using strobilurin fungicides such as Amistar or Signum should be aware of the need to use strategies to minimise the risk of selecting resistant strains. If more than one fungicide treatment is applied to a crop, alternate products from different groups with a lower resistance risk, e.g. Serenade ASO. See Section A – Principles of IPM for further details on strategies to minimise the risk of selecting resistant strains.

Use of Amistar is compatible with biological control of pests in IPM. There is no information available yet on the side effects of Signum on products used for pest biocontrol.

  • Full details for the use of biological control agents and compatibility of pesticides are available from biological control suppliers or consultants.
  • Pesticide approval information in this guideline is current at 31 March 2013.
  • Regular changes occur in the approval status of pesticides arising from changes in pesticide legislation or from other reasons. For the most up to date information, please check with a professional supplier or the CRD website http://www.pesticides.gov.uk/.  General enquiries on pesticides and detergents are now being handled by the Defra Helpline (as of April 2013): Tel: 08459 33 55 77.
  • Always follow label recommendations or statutory conditions for use on Extension of Authorisation for minor use (EAMU, previously SOLA) notices of approval.
  • Always follow instructions for Pesticide Resistance Management guidelines given on the label or EAMU.
  • Growers must hold a paper or electronic copy of the current EAMU before using any product under the EAMU arrangements. Any use of a pesticide with an EAMU is at grower’s own risk. Relevant EAMUs are sent to HDC members by HDC, or are available from CRD (see above) or from consultants.
  • Use pesticides safely.

Leaf blight of dill and coriander

Leaf blight caused by Itersonilia perplexans was first found on samples of coriander and particularly dill in 2009. Further outbreaks on dill have been reported each season since then. Symptoms include marginal leaf spots and foliar death (Figure 6).

I. perplexans is closely related to I. pastinacae, which is recorded as a seed
contaminant surviving on debris and surfaces, but probably not as a true
infection. Itersonilia species are also present in soil and survive on debris
between crops. Contaminated seed lots or infested soil are therefore the most likely sources of inoculum for this pathogen.

Growth, sporulation, and infection by I. perplexans are favoured by abundant
rainfall, high relative humidity (> 70%) and cool temperatures (10 to 15°C).


[]Figure 6.
Leaf blight (Itersonilia perplexans) on dill

Further information

Dennis, J. & Wilson, J. 1997. Disease control in coriander and other spice seeds. Australia: Rural Industries and Development Corporation.

HDC Factsheet 09/04. Management of celery leaf spot.

HDC Factsheet 15/10. Septoria blight of parsley.

HDC Project 237. Outdoor celery: development of integrated strategies for the management of septoria leaf spot and other diseases. Final report, March 2004.

HDC Project 318. Outdoor herbs: Integrated management of parsley septoria and coriander bacterial blight. Final report, July 2010.