What Causes Grape Powdery Mildew: Treating Powdery Mildew On Grapes

What Causes Grape Powdery Mildew: Treating Powdery Mildew On Grapes

By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer

Powdery mildew is a common disease of many plant species, including grapes. Though powdery mildew on grapes is generally considered less worrisome or damaging than black rot or downy mildew on grapes, when left uncontrolled powdery mildew can kill grape plants. Continue reading to learn more about grape powdery mildew symptoms, as well as tips on treating powdery mildew on grapes.

What Causes Grape Powdery Mildew?

Grape powdery mildew is caused by the fungal pathogen Uncinula necator. While it was previously believed that this fungal pathogen over wintered on buds, recent studies indicate that it actually overwinters in cracks and crevices on the grape’s bark. In spring, when temperatures range steadily above 50°F. (10°C.), the fungus becomes active and spores stick to plant tissues that are damp from spring rain or dew.

Usually, the first grape powdery mildew symptoms are light chlorotic spots on the foliage. This symptom often goes unnoticed. Shortly after, white to light gray, slightly fuzzy or woolly patches will appear on both the under and upper sides of the foliage. These patches will merge into much larger patches.

Powdery mildew can affect any green tissues of the plant. Infected foliage may be distorted, stunted and drop from the plant. When flower or fruit clusters are infected, the same white patches will develop and flowers or fruit will drop prematurely. White patches may even develop on the grapes.

Grape Powdery Mildew Control

When treating powdery mildew on grapes, prevention is always the best defense. Keep grapevines trimmed and trained to promote air circulation all around and throughout the plant.

Also, planting grapes in full sun rather than part shade can reduce a lot of fungal and issues. Keep the area around grape plants free of garden debris and weeds. Keeping your gardening tools clean and sanitized prevents the spread of many plant diseases too.

Powdery mildew can effectively be treated by fungicides if the timing and conditions of application are right. A regiment of preventative fungicides, labeled for powdery mildew on edibles, can be started in early spring and reapplied every 7-14 days until the grape plant begins to bloom. After blooms open, only light fungicidal summer oils may have any effectiveness against the disease, but usually fungicide application is a waste in mid to late summer.

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All green tissues of the grapevine are susceptible to powdery mildew (Erysiphe necator (Schw.) Burr.) infection. The disease appears as a whitish-gray powdery coating on the leaves or fruit caused by fungal mycelium and conidia on the surface of the plant. On leaves, initial symptoms appear as chlorotic spots on the upper leaf surface that soon become whitish lesions. Late in the season, small black round structures (chasmothecia) begin to appear on the white powdery lesions. On shoots, infected areas have the appearance of brown/black diffuse patches on dormant canes, these patches are reddish brown. Severe leaf infections can cause distortion, drying, and premature drop. Infected berries can become covered with the fungus, may turn dark brown, shrivel, and split, and/or may not ripen properly. Berry infection may lead to further infection by spoilage microorganisms that reduce the quality of wine, even if the powdery mildew infection is mild.

Powdery mildew lesions. Photos by Lorraine Berkett, University of Vermont.

Powdery Mildew of Grape

Powdery mildew is an important disease of grapes worldwide. The disease generally is considered less economically important in Ohio than black rot or downy mildew. However, uncontrolled, the disease can be devastating on susceptible varieties under the proper environmental conditions. Unlike black rot and downy mildew, the powdery mildew fungus does not require free water on the plant tissue surface to infect. Powdery mildew can result in reduced vine growth, yield, fruit quality, and winter hardiness. Varieties of Vitis vinifera and its hybrids generally are much more susceptible than American varieties.


Figure 1. Powdery mildew colonies on upper leaf surface of infected grape leaf.

The powdery mildew fungus can infect all green tissues of the vine. Small, white or grayish-white patches of fungal growth appear on the upper or lower leaf surface (Figure 1). These patches usually enlarge until the entire upper leaf surface has a powdery, white to gray coating (Figure 2). The patches may remain limited throughout most of the season. Severely affected leaves may curl upward during hot, dry weather. Expanding leaves that are infected may become distorted and stunted.

On young shoots, infections are more likely to be limited, and they appear as dark-brown to black patches that remain as dark patches on the surface of dormant canes.

If blossom clusters are affected, the flowers may wither and drop without setting fruit. Infections on cluster stems often go unnoticed, but can be very damaging. Infected cluster stems may wither and dry up, resulting in berry drop (shelling). Affected berries may have patches of fungal growth on the surface similar to those on the leaves, or the entire berry may be covered with the white, powdery growth. Infected berries often are misshapen or have rusty spots on the surface. Severely affected fruit often split open (Figure 3). When berries of purple or red cultivars are infected as they begin to ripen, they fail to color properly and have a blotchy appearance at harvest. Berries are susceptible to infection from early bloom through three to four weeks after bloom.

Late in the season, many black specks may develop on the surface of infected areas. These are the sexual fruiting bodies (cleistothecia) of the fungus.

Causal Organism and Disease Cycle

Figure 2. Grape leaf severely infected with powdery mildew. Note the white, powdery layer of fungal growth on upper leaf surface.
Figure 3. Berry cluster infected with powdery mildew.

Powdery mildew is caused by the fungus Uncinula necator. It was previously thought that the powdery mildew fungus overwintered inside dormant buds of the grapevine. Recent research in New York has shown that almost all overwintering inoculum in the northeastern United States (Ohio) comes from cleistothecia, which are fungal fruiting bodies that overwinter primarily in bark crevices on the grapevine. In the spring, airborne spores (ascospores) released from the cleistothecia are the primary inoculum for powdery mildew infections. Ascospore discharge from cleistothecia is initiated if 0.1 inch of rain occurs with an average temperature of 50 degrees F. Most mature ascospores are discharged within four to eight hours. Ascospores are carried by wind. They germinate on any green surface on the developing vine, and enter the plant resulting in primary infections. The fungus produces another type of spore (conidia) over the infected area after six to eight days. The conidia and fungus mycelia on which they are formed give the powdery or dusty appearance to infected plant parts. The conidia serve as “secondary inoculum” for powdery mildew infection throughout the remainder of the growing season. It is important to note that a primary infection caused by one ascospore can result in the production of hundreds of thousands of conidia, each of which is capable of causing secondary infections that spread the disease.

Temperatures of 68 to 77 degrees F are optimal for infection and disease development, although infection can occur from 59 to 90 degrees F. Temperatures above 95 degrees F inhibit germination of conidia and above 104 degrees F they are killed. High relative humidity is conducive to production of conidia. Atmospheric moisture in the 40 to 100 percent relative humidity range is sufficient for germination of conidia and infection. Free moisture, especially rainfall, is detrimental to survival of conidia. This is in direct contrast to most other grape diseases such as black rot and downy mildew that require free water on the plant surface before the fungus spores can germinate and infect. Low, diffuse light seems to favor powdery mildew development. Under optimal conditions, the time from infection to production of conidia is about seven days. It is important to remember that powdery mildew can be a serious problem in drier growing seasons when it is too dry for other diseases such as black rot or downy mildew to develop.

Cleistothecia are formed on the surface of infected plant parts in late fall. Many of them are washed into bark crevices on the vine trunk


Select an open planting site with direct sunlight. Plant rows in the direction of the prevailing wind in order to promote good air circulation and faster drying of foliage and fruit. Prune and train vines properly in such as way as to reduce shading and increase air circulation.

Varieties differ greatly in their susceptibility to powdery mildew. Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvigon, Chancellor, Chardonnay, Chelois, Gewurztraminer, Merlot, Pinot blanc, Pinot noir, Riesling, Rosette, Rougeon, Sauvignon blanc, Seyval, Vidal 256 and Vignoles are all highly susceptible.

On susceptible varieties, control is based on the use of properly timed applications of effective fungicides. Early season (prebloom through bloom) control of primary infections caused by ascospores must be emphasized. For the most current fungicide recommendations and spray schedules, commercial growers are referred to Bulletin 506, Midwest Fruit Pest Management Guide, and backyard growers are referred to Bulletin 780, Controlling Diseases and Insects in Home Fruit Plantings. These publications can be obtained from your county Extension office or the CFAES Publications online bookstore at

Figure 4. Disease cycle of grape powdery mildew. We wish to thank the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station for use of this figure. It was taken from Grape IPM Disease Identification Sheet No. 2.

This fact sheet was originally published in 2008.

Homemade Spray for Powdery Mildew

You can apply a homemade spray to control the spread of the powdery mildew fungus. It won't get rid of the fungus on leaves that already have it, but it can help prevent it from spreading to the rest of the plant.


Mix the ingredients thoroughly in a gallon-size container or an empty milk jug, then pour some of the mixture into a spray bottle. You can also mix and spray directly from a pressure sprayer. Spray your plants weekly, preferably on overcast days to prevent it from burning the foliage. Coat all sides of the leaves and stems, and let them dry. Save leftover spray mixture in your container, giving it a quick shake before using it again. Reapply after rain.

Watch the video: Identifying and Treating Grape Vine Diseases: powdery mildew of grapes. powdery mildew treatment