What you need to know about Pythium (Root Rot)

Pythium (also called root rot, damping off, or water mould) can be absolutely devastating in a hydroponic application because the pathogens’ spores are well-adapted to survive in water. These fungus-like organisms threaten hydroponic crops worldwide and even pose problems for botanical experiments in space vehicles orbiting the Earth. Extraordinary sanitation measures are not always sufficient to exclude contagion, and once a pythium epidemic gets underway in a greenhouse, it’s difficult to entirely get rid of it. Here’s some basic information to arm yourself with in the battle against this microscopic invader, as well as two excellent treatment solutions from Green’s Hydroponics.

General Symptoms of Pythium

Within a few days of becoming infected with one of the pythium species, healthy white roots will become grey or brown. Soon afterward, the root structures will lose their firm texture and become mushy and slimy, eventually sloughing off entirely. The plant itself will begin to lose vitality, as its ability to absorb nutrients has been impaired. Seedlings will appear stunted and may show signs of brown rot on the stems. 

Pythium in Hydroponic Environments

While root rot can pose problems for plants in traditional soil, dry ground doesn’t give the pathogens a medium in which to easily spread. In hydroponic growing environments, however, infected roots disintegrate into the liquid solution and rapidly contaminate the entire system. Furthermore, some types of pythium actually reproduce by means of zoospores, which are plant spores with the ability to independently move through water. These aquatic zoospores can hide out and remain viable underwater for a very long time, waiting until the environment is perfect for them to emerge.

Pythium has the ability to consume any type of dead organic matter, so once it succeeds in killing off the root system, it is able to nourish itself with the decaying material. Furthermore, pythium requires the same kinds of environment that plants do, making it complicated for the grower to create an environment that nurtures only the plants. While rigorous anti-contamination practises are crucial in managing a hydroponic growing system, you also need to have some specific allies at your side in order to gain the upper hand over pythium.

Biological Treatment

VitaLink BioPac brings an army of microscopic living organisms to overwhelm and crowd out the pythium colonies in your growing medium. BioPac includes a scientifically assembled collection of beneficial microbes and fungi, including Trichoderma, Bacillus bacteria and Mycorrhizal fungi. With the extra boost they get from BioPac’s enzymes and special nutrients, these organisms immediately circulate and establish large colonies in the root zones, out-competing the pythium organism and increasing the roots’ ability to absorb nutrients. Furthermore, this complex treatment also includes cytokinins and gibberellins, which are plant hormones that promote cell division and growth throughout the entire plant structure.

Chemical Treatment

Pythoff offers a different approach to pythium and other contaminants in your hydroponic growing system. This nutrient conditioner complies with organic farming guidelines while eliminating all fungi, bacteria and pathogens in water. It is a safe, non-toxic sterilising agent that can be used throughout the entire growing cycle, from seed all the way to harvest. Pythoff is easy to add to your system, since you only need to pre-dilute it with water according to instructions and add it in to your working nutrient. The nutrient pump will distribute Pythoff throughout your system, eliminating pythium and ensuring good flow through all pumps and fittings. Flairform, the manufacturer of Pythoff, has been in the business of developing water treatment solutions since 1966, and we are pleased to add their product to our line of hydroponics supplies.

Mechanical Treatment

As water becomes warmer, it contains less dissolved oxygen. Furthermore, if your hydroponic solution rises above 20 degrees Celsius, the warmth will nurture bacterial growth in the rhizosphere (root zone) – and these bacteria will then consume what little oxygen is available. Unlike bacteria, Pythium thrives in anaerobic (oxygen-depleted) environments. A hydroponic system which is kept too warm, therefore, becomes a perfect environment within which Pythium can multiply. By utilising a mechanical water chiller, you can keep your entire system well-oxygenated and discourage the growth of both Pythium and warmth-loving bacteria. Maintaining your system at a temperature below 20 degrees is one of the most natural, straightforward methods of ensuring its health.

You work hard at setting up and maintaining your hydroponic system. Even with the cleanest possible management, however, pythium pathogens may find their way into your pipes, tubing and tanks. BioPac and Pythoff give you the effective pythium control you need in order to see the full fruition of all your efforts - using a water chiller in combination with either of these products (you don't want to use Pythoff and Biopack together) really gives your system the best possible chance of staying pathogen free.