Laughing Owl Sweet Peas

Specialist cut flower Sweet Pea seed

Diseases of Sweet Peas

American visitors to the site will find information on the main diseases of sweet peas, and their control at

Anthracnose (USA)

A seed borne fungal disease reported from the southern USA, but not recorded in the UK. Small white spots on the leaves, flowers and shoots which spread rapidly, causing affected parts to wilt and die. Attacks the younger growth initially, and then spreads downwards. Young shoots become pale and brittle.


A common leaf spot which can be difficult to control. Damp dull conditions encourage the disease to spread. Systemic MBC fungicides with added wetting agent may give some control. This disease is seed borne, so seed should not be collected from infected plants.

Black Root Rot

A very widespread soil borne fungus attacking a wide range of plants. Symptoms vary, but in sweet peas it shows as a black discolouration of the roots. Although development of the disease is most rapid in the temperature range 20c - 25c it seems to establish itself when a plant is under stress and is favoured by cold wet soils and poor hygiene. Excessively high air temperatures can also render a plant liable to infection. Discouraged by acid soils - it cannot survive in soils with a pH below 5.6. Strongly growing plants can carry a moderate level of infection without showing symptoms.

Botrytis (Grey Mould)

Most obvious in dank weather when it causes flower spotting. Mid and deep blue varieties are particularly susceptible being disfigured by white spots. Certain white varieties readily show brown spots, but others are more resistant. This very common and widespread disease is often a secondary infection on Fusarium or on physical damage and then appears in the form of a grey fluffy mould which can spread to kill the plant. Difficult to control chemically, but fortunately the most aggressive strains are not the most resistant to treatment. Generally speaking, an improvement in ambient conditions will produce the most favourable results. The disease likes mild damp conditions with stagnant air, and consequently is discouraged by air movement, a buoyant atmosphere, and high or low temperatures.

Downy Mildew

Less common than powdery mildew, this can be serious and difficult to diagnose in its early stages. Seedlings showing weak thin growth with small leaves tending to curl upwards and inwards and showing a 'blistered' surface on plants with good roots and a clean neck should be suspected of carrying this infection. A faint greyish deposit on the underside of the leaves offers confirmation as the disease progresses. Subsequently irregular pale patches develop on the upper leaf surface, with a pale brownish or greyish 'felt' on the corresponding areas of the underside of the leaf. Favoured by cold damp conditions and poor air circulation.

MLO disease of sweet peas

"Mycoplasma-like organism" Similar to a virus, this little known problem causes colour breaking in the flowers for a few days, but none of the other symptoms associated with virus infection. The picture on the left is of the variety 'Anniversary'. A more detailed account is on the MLO page.

powdery mildew of sweet peas
Powdery Mildew

This appears as irregular powdery white spots on the upper surface of the lower leaves. Can be destructive in dank weather and on older plants. Best controlled by fungicides containing Pyrifenox. Cutting off old lower leaves of sweet peas may help by improving air circulation, and reducing the source of further infection.

Ramularia Leaf Spot

This disease is specific to sweet peas. Large tan spots without definite margins appearing initially on the lower leaves. Infected leaves often fall. The disease survives in sweet pea refuse and is favoured by wet conditions. Uncommon.


Known as 'Cottony Rot' in the USA. Several related disease organisms, more often affecting field crops, notably oilseed rape. Spores can lodge in the junction of the two leaflets on a sweet pea leaf, usually in late spring, causing an innocuous looking rot which will rapidly spread back up the petiole and into the main stem, killing the plant. Cutting off the infected leaf solves the problem if carried out promptly before the disease starts to spread.


Reddish streaks appearing on the haulm. Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus can produce similar symptoms. Formerly common on sweet peas but becoming rare.

sweet pea viroid

Graze has been provisionally identified as a viroid, which, in practical terms, is a type of virus. Symptoms start as a change in texture and colour of the surface of a leaf, often only one leaflet of the pair being affected. Subsequent leaves may be much reduced in size and distorted, although many leaves show no symptoms. Ultimately the flowers show slight distortion, by which stage the vase life is so reduced as to make the flowers worthless.


pea mosaic virus

There are several types of virus which affect sweet peas, all incurable. Some are spread only by insect vectors, others by handling or on knives, secateurs etc; a few types of virus can be seed borne, but this is uncommon. Typical symptoms include stunting, distorted or mottled flowers, and a twisted distorted appearance of the head of the plant. Such plants should be pulled up and destroyed. Bud drop and blindness are not signs of virus attack. For greater detail see our Virus page.

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© 2006 Mark Rowland