downy mildew: trouble in paradise

Right or wrong, it’s not always easy for gardeners to talk about the things that aren’t growing well. But sometimes those very things teach the most indelible lessons.

From the beginning my cucumber plants have had a rough go this year. The rains came and stayed for a month. Now the plants are positively sickly.


Since there are so many similar diseases that can kill cucumber plants, I decided to submit a question and some images to Ask an Expert, a service run by the Extension Agency.

A prompt and thorough answer came the next day; Downy Mildew. Arg.

“There are few management practices that can be used to control downy mildew in the home garden.”

“The early appearance of downy mildew in Michigan, along with the wet and humid weather, may make cucumber growing especially challenging this year.”

Uh, yeah.

Well, suck it up and learn, mister.

The first change I’ll make in next year’s cucumber plantings are the varieties. I planted open pollinated heirloom varieties this year in hopes of saving seed. I’d rather have a harvest than no seeds and dead plants. So it’s Downy Mildew resistant hybrids all the way next time.

I may have aggravated the problem by spacing the plants too closely along the trellis. I planted 9 plants on a trellis that might have done better with 3 or 4.


2015 wall of fungus

Gardens aren’t always easy to figure though. Last year my cukes were amazing, planted using the same spacing. They eventually succumbed to disease, but not until I had cucumbers coming out my ears.

wall of pickling cakes

2014 wall of cucumbers

That leads me to believe that timing may have more to do with the problem than spacing. Last year’s cukes went in early; for various reasons this year’s crop was planted almost a full month later than last year’s. An early start means a greater likelihood of getting the cukes harvested before disease hits.

So much to learn, so little time.


20 thoughts on “downy mildew: trouble in paradise

  1. Nothing ever goes wrong in my garden (except for the meadow mice, frost, cutworms, early and late blight, potato scab, mushy onion rot but those don’t count). And the mid-summer drought. But so far so good this year except for the deer that have been breaking in. Last year I lost a good amount of my garlic crop to a bulb rot. It started from the roots and spread upward. What a mess.

    With our short season almost every tender plant (cukes, squash) thing gets planted within the same week, That doesn’t avoid all downy mildew problems as there are plenty adapted to this environment. The mildew seems more a problem on phlox, sunflowers, and other flowers than vegetables.

    Looking at your trellis (2015 wall of fungus) it seems there is plenty of space for air circulation.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Looking at my own squash and cukes they are packed on the trellises but no mildew problems. Not that it couldn’t happen and considering how humid the weather has been for the last 30 days it still could.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s good to hear. The extension agent mentioned crowding, but I don’t think that had as much to do with the mildew as the early rains.


  2. I feel for you. I’ve set out what may be my last cucumber plant. Between the bugs and diseases I think I’d rather grow something more reliable and get the eerily perfect organic dukes from the farmers market.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve heard the milk thing too, and tried it early on. Almost all of the fungal treatments are preventative, according to the extension agent. Once it takes hold though those remedies are out the window. Next year.


  3. It is all about timing, weather and general conditions. I have learnt some nasty lessons this season with my brassicas – I planted them way too late. I suspect at this pathetic rate, I’ll be eating them on Christmas day. I seem to have a good year Dan, then a bad year. In saying that, I haven’t had a good year with my toms for ages! LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m sure you’ll agree that failures and successes are equally important in the backyard garden. The successes keep us motivated, and the failures keep us engaged! Either way, the next season is always a brand new one, no matter how many you’ve done before. Great post, Dan.


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