Phytophthora Root Rot and its Control on Established Woody Ornamentals

R. K. Jones, Extension Plant Pathologist
D. M. Benson, Research Plant Pathologist

Phytophthora root rot is a serious, widespread and difficult to control fungus disease affecting a wide range of plants in North Carolina. Plants susceptible to Phytophthora cinnamomi root rot include azalea, rhododendron, dogwood, Camellia japonica, Pieris, Taxus (yew), deodar cedar, mountain laurel, heather, juniper, high-bush blueberries, Fraser fir, white pine, shortleaf pine, leucothoe, aucuba, and others. Boxwood is attached by Phytophthora parasitica, a similar fungus.


On azalea the symptoms vary with the cultivar. On Kurume hybrid types, such as Coral Bells, Hinodegiri, and Hino Crimson, new leaves are smaller than normal with interveinal chlorosis, possibly some purple coloration and defoliation. This chlorosis is often confused with a deficiency of iron or other nutrients. At times light applications of iron and complete fertilizer can improve the green color of leaves but only for a short time. Excessive yellowing and loss of older leaves are the predominant symptoms on Snow azalea. Usually, large plants slowly decline in vigor and die branch by branch over a period of several months to years, but sometimes they can die rapidly. Roots are reddish-brown, brittle and often limited to the upper part of a container or soil. The reddish-brown discoloration advances to the larger roots and eventually to the main stem. On rhododendron the primary symptoms are a rapid wilting and death of leaves. Leaves droop but remain attached to the limb. Watering does not restore leaf turger. Usually several to many shoots are affected. Root symptoms are similar to those on azalea.

On Camellia japonica the main symptoms are a gradual decline in vigor, loss of dark green color, curling of leaves and excessive loss of older leaves. Root symptoms are similar to those on azalea. Camellia sasanqua is tolerant to Phytophthora root rot and this species is often used as a root stock for Camellia japonica. Taxus dies rather suddenly with the foliage turning reddish-brown. Roots are also reddish-brown in color and the discoloration may extend into the main stem. White pines in the landscape often die suddenly during dry periods.

Factors Favoring Disease Occurrence

Phytophthora root rot is favored by high soil moisture and warm soil temperatures. The disease does not occur as frequently and may not be as severe on well-drained sandy soils as in heavy clays or poorly drained soils, etc. The disease is common and severe in areas where run-off water, rain water from roofs, etc. collects around plant roots. Shallow soils with underlying rock or compacted hard pans, setting woody plants deeper than the soil level in the nursery or container, over-watering plants, or long periods of heavy rain also favor disease development.


Phytophthora root rot must be prevented as chemicals are often ineffective in controlling this disease after above-ground symptoms become obvious. The following suggestions may aid in the prevention of root rot:

1. Purchase disease-free plants from a reputable nursery. Avoid plants that lack normal green color, appear wilted in the morning, evergreen plants that have excessive winter defoliation or dark discolored roots.

2. Plant root rot susceptible plants in well drain areas. If excess water from any source collects in the planting site, avoid planting root rot susceptible plants. If soil is heavy clay or does not have good internal drainage, set root-rot susceptible plants in raised beds and thoroughly mix a porous material such as bark (not sawdust or peat) into the bed. The material should be incorporated to a depth of 8-12 inches. In some areas drain tile and gravel placed 6-12 inches below the surface may also help reduce excess soil moisture.

3. Do not set the new plant any deeper than the soil level in the container or the soil line in the nursery. Firm the soil beneath the soil ball so that the plant will not settle into the bed.

4. In areas where root rot susceptible plants have died, replant with plants that are not susceptible to root rot.

5. For trained applicators, methyl bromide (sold under various trade names) used at the rate of two pounds per 100 square feet and released under an air-tight cover such as plastic, will reduce the fungus population. The soil should be well prepared for planting and the soil temperature should be 50oF or above. Leave the plastic cover in place for 48 hours. Plants can be set one week after removing plastic.

6. Resistance. Within cultivars of various types of plants, some cultivars are highly susceptible (very likely to be killed by the fungus) and others are resistant. The rhododendron hybrids: Caroline, Martha Isaacson, Professor Hugo de Vries and Red Head are considered resistant. Resistant azalea cultivars include Rhododendron poukhanese, Formosa, Fakir and Corrine Murrah. Camellia sasanqua is resistant to root rot while C. japonica is highly susceptible.

7. Fungicides. The spread of Phytophthora into or among plants also can be reduced through the use of metalaxyl (Subdue) or fosetyl-Al (Aliette), but these chemicals may not kill the fungus in infected plants (see Table 1).

For individual plants in the landscape, approximately 10 square feet of soil around the plant should be treated. For large shrubs, 20-30 square feet of soil should be treated.

For long-term control of root rot, the following control measures should be utilized in this order:

1. avoid very poorly drained areas

2. in all other areas except deep sandy soils, plant in raised beds

3. use highly resistant or resistant cultivars

4. use chemical control.

Table 1. Fungicides for control of Phytophthora root rot.

Frequency of Application

Subdue 2E

Subdue 2G

1-2.4 oz/100 gal water to 400-800 sq ft

35-75 oz/1000 sq ft

2-4 month intervals April through November

Aucuba; Andromeda; Arborvitae; Boxwood; Cotoneaster; Dogwood; Ivy; Ilex; Juniper; Pieris; Pine; Pittosporium; Rhododendron; Yew

Subdue 2E

Subdue 2G

1-2.4 oz/100 gal water to 400-800 sq ft

62-125 oz/1000 sq ft

2-3 month intervals April through November
Azalea; Boxwood; Juniper; Pieris; Pine Pittosporium; Rhododendron; Taxus

Aliette 80WP

1-2 lb/1000 sq ft

2.5-5.0 lb/100 gal

Drench monthly during the growing season. Spray monthly to wet foliage using no more than 400 gal/acre


Recommendations for the use of chemicals are included in this publication as a convenience to the reader. The use of brand names and any mention or listing of commercial products or services in this publication does not imply endorsement by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service nor discrimination against similar products or services not mentioned. Individuals who use chemicals are responsible for ensuring that the intended use complies with current regulations and conforms to the product label. Be sure to obtain current information about usage and examine a current product label before applying any chemical. For assistance, contact your county North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service agent. _10/90/1000

Published by
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.


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Reformatted September 2000 by Plant Disease and Insect Clinic