Leaf Aging in Cucurbits

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist; gcjohn@udel.edu

We are starting to see the oldest leaves (crown leaves) in watermelons, cantaloupes, squash, cucumbers, and pumpkins with large areas that are discolored (white, tan, or bronze). These leaves will be brittle to the touch and may start to tear or shred with high winds and storms. This condition is common in cucurbit crops and can be due to a number of leaf aging factors including mineral nutrient scavenging (export of mobile nutrients from oldest leaves to newer leaves), ozone air pollution damage, chemical phytotoxicity, repeated stress cycles, and wind injury. Leaf cells that die will leak their contents, releasing enzymes and oxidizing chemicals affecting nearby cells thus accelerating the “aging” process. This results in large patches of dead leaf cells that then dry, making the leaf feel brittle. If leaf veins are damaged, water and food transport will be compromised, accelerating leaf decline. This leaf aging is not to be confused with damage from mite feeding which is also concentrated on oldest leaves or any of a number of foliar diseases caused by plant pathogens.

Cucumber crown leaf showing leaf aging likely initiated by wind damage.

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