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Pythium AKA Root Rot

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Pythium also known as root rot is a very nasty pest indeed. One of the worst in fact, if left untreated; it can cause major damage to your entire crop in a very short space of time. It was formerly classified as a fungus, but scientists since have learned more about the varying “strains” of pythium and changed its classification to a pathogen. These pathogens directly attack your plants root zone, causing healthy white roots to change colour to a brown or grey colour. This typically happens within just a few days of the initial infection. This is then followed by a “sliming off” of the roots. Opposed to feeling strong, intact and appearing white, they develop the look and feel of gooey mush. This presents multiple problems, in circulating hydroponic systems, as pythium infests your entire grow system and fast!

Ultimately large losses will definitely occur to your harvest. Root tips, are very important in taking up nutrients and water for your plants, unfortunately your roots and your plants entire root zone are attacked and killed first. Pythium can also rot the base of cuttings. So if your roots can’t take up nutrients it would be the same as us humans being unable to use our mouths to eat.

There is no doubt that pythium is much more devastating in hydroponic systems when compared to a soil applications. This is due in large part to the fact that pythium has adapted very well to live in water. Certain varieties of pythium will produce what are known as zoospores (small, flagellated spores) that are extremely small, motile spores able to move in water. These spores are able to travel from plant to plant via the water in the system, colonising and infecting along the way worse than a barbarian pillaging. They even have the ability to remain viable for long periods of time in soil and in the little nooks and crannies of a hydroponic system. But that’s not to say that soil pot/container gardeners should leave pythium untreated.

Regardless of media used, the pathogen will eventually find its way to the root system and begin to wreak destruction. But soil gardeners get a distinct advantage in the fight against pythium. The root zone of the plant (along with any mycorrhizal networks present) creates a web-like barrier that can slow down the spread of the pythium. The symbiotic relationship between the mycorrhizal fungi and the roots of your plant not only helps to create a greater uptake of nutrients and minerals, but also provides additional benefits such as increased resistance to diseases and drought. Mycorrhizae products are excellent to add to your root zone and to amplify this. I can recommend you these mycorrhizal products; Great White, Plant Magic Granules and Mykos to name but a few.

Soil growers have more access in creating this Mycorrihzal web around the roots. Soil not only acts as a buffer for your root zone but also provides a place for your fungal bacteria to grow and develop. This is the 100% natural way to ward off pythium and other negative bacteria.

So how do we successfully destroy and ultimately rid our grow rooms of pythium, and how do we keep it from coming back?

First and foremost, I seriously cannot stress enough as it is one of the most overlooked means of prevention, Cleanliness, Cleanliness, Cleanliness.

Then maybe the inclusion of an enzyme product in your feeding programme is an excellent way to prevent the build-up of dead organic matter. This robs any pythium pathogens of a potentially rich food source, which also helps to keep the water CLEAN. Hygrozyme, when used does an amazing job of keeping that organic waste from becoming a home to your unwanted pythium. Also Hygrozyme is a superior natural cleaner for all your growing media, well Hygrozyme is a medical grade enzymatic formula you can trust and is OMRI certified and is completely safe for any types of plants whether in soil or hydroponics.

Keeping the system clean is just part of it; we also need to make sure the water is clean too. Water that contains any amount of chlorine (nearly all tap water in London is treated with it to reduce and prevent diseases) will typically be free of most of the harmful pathogens. Growers that use rainwater, run-off water, or even well-water are at a higher risk of having contaminated water.

Keeping the media over-saturated or improperly oxygenated can also lead to pythium problems. Too much water will not allow sufficient oxygen into the media, creating an anaerobic environment. This leads to rotting material, and subsequently an excellent place for pythium to take hold. The addition of air to any hydroponic environment is a must. This keeps the nutrient solution richly oxygenated, further preventing any material from rotting. Allowing oxygen to the media is an important step in preventing any possible root zone problems. A simple air pump and air stone added to your reservoir system will work extremely well.

Also water temperature is another vital factor in preventing pythium. The ideal water temperature in a hydroponic environment is 68-70 degrees F or between 19-21 C. To maintain a level water temperature especially during the hot summer months I do strongly recommend a water chiller, for all hydroponic reservoir systems.

Many indoor hydroponic growers actually overlook this factor regarding their reservoir temperatures. A common mistake is leaving the reservoir’s air pump in the actual grow room itself. Remember that your grow room’s temperature is hot and your reservoir can do without hot air being pumped into it. So I’d advise you place your air pump somewhere not hot, and preferably not in your growing room.

There are also fungicides to aid your defense available commercially to you over the counter. They will work to suppress and control pythium. Look for products containing the trichoderma genus of fungi; the product from Plant Success that I’ve already mentioned named Great White contains trichoderma.

There is also evidence that the Bacillus Subtilis bacterial strain can play an important and useful role in preventing and controlling certain root zone problems. An excellent preventative I would recommend to use would be Rot Stop for healthy roots made by Guard N Aid. The main ingredient is Bacillus Subtilis.

Remember pathogens don’t just magically appear in our grow rooms, they are brought in. Fungus gnat larvae and shore fly adult activity may also be involved in moving pythium from grow room to grow rooms. You should also be using a good product called Gnat Off. If you suffer from Fungus gnats or are not too sure, please see my previous article as this illustrates who needs to use it. Personally most insect repellents can be used whilst your plants are in their vegetative cycle. There are natural repellents that are less risky than synthetic and dangerous pesticides. For example Neem Repel is a favourite of mine or SB Innvigorator or if you’re as loving as me towards your plants, then I’d honestly use BOTH!

The fact of the matter is that pythium can be a real bug bear to get rid of, especially if we want to save the plants that are infected. Any failure to rid your system completely of pythium will just result in the new roots of your next crop to yet again succumb to the same infection. They too will also die as did your previous plants. This is how serious and thorough you have to be to rid your system completely of pythium. It is not unheard of that some hydroponic gardeners, overwhelmed with the effort involved in ridding their system of pythium, resort to simply throwing away thousands of pounds worth of equipment and simply starting again.problems

We can only ensure and help our plants to remain as healthy and as vigorous as possible. Only through proper preventative measures including a clean grow environment and very thorough sterilisation between cycles and of course a cautious yet careful eye throughout.