Gray Leaf Spot in Corn
Corn Disease Information Note 3
Steve Koenning – Plant Pathology Extension Corn Specialist

[General Information] [Symptoms] [Management] [Action Steps] [Before You Apply Fungicide]
[Back to Corn Disease Notes] [Other Resources]

General Information

Gray leaf spot is caused by the fungus Cercospora zeae-maydis. The fungus survives overwinter in corn debris and may be especially damaging in reduced tillage systems where corn follows corn. Typically, disease is most severe in the mountains and piedmont of North Carolina, but also has caused yield losses in the coastal plain and tidewater regions. High humidity is required for the fungus to infect leaves.


The symptoms of gray leaf spot are rectangular lesions on the leaf surface 1 to 5 mm in width by as much as 6 cm long, that are usually restricted by small leaf veins (Fig. 1). Lesions are yellow to gray, and as they mature the gray lesions remain opaque. The fungus generally produces spores on the underside of the leaf and the spore bearing structures may appear as small black specks. As disease progresses the lesions may coalesce and the entire leaf may turn brown.


Resistance to gray leaf spot is controlled by many genes (polygenic resistance) Hybrids with high levels of resistance to gray leaf spot are available and should be considered in systems using minimal tillage with limited rotation. Because corn hybrids change so frequently, it best to consult with seedsmen for information on hybrid resistance to this and other diseases in high yield environments.

Action Steps to Minimize Gray Leaf Spot

  1. Tillage can reduce the initial amount of disease, but windblown spores for other areas may still infect the crop.
  2. Rotation can also aid in management of this disease, but susceptible hybrids may still be infected from spores from other areas.
  3. Selection of resistant hybrids can minimize disease and yield losses.
The fungicides TILT® and QUADRIS® (Syngenta) are registered for use on corn to control gray leaf spot. Fungicide sprays on corn are not generally recommended for North Carolina. Applications of TILT or QUADRIS may prove beneficial on high yielding hybrids or in sweet corn, and if there is prospect of continued high humidity and rainfall. TILT sprayed field corn should not be harvested within 30 days after the last application, and should not be sprayed after silking. QUADRIS may be sprayed within 7 days of harvest. Only limited data on the efficacy of fungicides on corn is available. Higher rates of fungicide is generally needed to control gray leaf spot than southern rust.

Before You Apply Fungicide

  1. Field corn within two weeks of black layer is unlikely to benefit.
  2. Estimate yield potential – spraying corn with a yield potential of less than 150 bushels/ acre is unlikely to provide a profitable return.
  3. If more than 10% of the leaf area is affected, spraying may increase yields.
  4. Continued warm humid weather may cause disease to accelerate in susceptible hybrids.
  5. Cost of fungicide and application is likely to be $15.00 to $20.00/acre including application costs, thus a 10 bushel increase is needed to pay for treatment costs.

Other Resources

Corn Disease Notes
Plant Disease Information Notes Home Page

For assistance with a specific problem, contact your local North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service Office. Outside North Carolina, look for your state extension service partners.

[Top of Page]

Recommendations of specific chemicals are based upon information on the manufacturer's label and performance in a limited number of trials. Because environmental conditions and methods of application by growers may vary widely, performance of the chemical will not always conform to the safety and pest control standards indicated by experimental data. All recommendations for pesticide use were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by actions of state and federal regulatory agencies

Published by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Employment and program opportunities are offered to all people regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. North Carolina State University at Raleigh, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.

Last update to information: July 2005
Last checked by author: July 2005
Web page last updated on July 2005