Crop Protection Featured

Clearing the Cobwebs on Copper

Bacterial brown spot on snap beans

By: Katie Goldenhar, Horticulture Pathologist, OMAFRA

Do you really know how copper fungicides work? With so many on the market, if you’re considering using a copper product in your disease management program, there are some important factors to consider.

Copper is one of the original fungicides and yet there are constantly new copper products coming to the market. Copper is an inorganic compound that does not breakdown like organic compounds and therefore too much copper fungicide use can lead to build up in the soil, negatively impacting soil health, so judicial use is required.

Copper is a general, non-selective biocide, meaning it works as a bactericide, fungicide and when used incorrectly, herbicide. When copper particles degrade in water, they release ions that inhibit critical enzymes in cells. Hence, the use of any copper product will come with cautions to avoid phytotoxicity. Copper products are the most effective on pathogens that need free water to infect the plant (like bacteria) and copper is one of the only crop protection materials that can help manage bacterial diseases (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Bacterial diseases on tomato, pepper and squash.

There are two main types of copper products: soluble and fixed. Soluble copper products have copper ions available in solution and are all available when sprayed. Residue is quicky removed from overhead irrigation or rain. Currently, there is only one type of copper (copper sulfate pentahydrate) that falls within the soluble category, and it is not registered on outdoor vegetables in Canada. In the US, Mastercop and Phyton are registered. Fixed or insoluble copper products contain copper that releases ions at slower rates that continue after application when there are wetting events. Particles can persist on the leaf after drying and continually release ions when there is moisture present. Not all fixed coppers are the same level of insolubility, for example copper hydroxide (ex. Parasol WG, Kocide 3000-O) is more soluble in water than basic copper sulfate (ex. Copper 53W).  Typically, there is longer residual control with fixed coppers. The challenge is that there needs to be enough ions present to kill the target pathogen without injuring the crop. Generally, fixed copper products reduce the chances of phytotoxicity since not all the ions are present at once.  Adding hydrated lime can make any copper product less soluble but some coppers are not compatible with lime, so always consult the product label.

An important factor to consider when using copper is that copper does not move within a plant – it stays where it lands and has no post-infection activity. Spray coverage and preventative applications are important when applying a copper product. Copper particle size is another factor influencing efficacy, primarily determined by how finely the product is ground. Large particles will easily be removed by wind or rain after application has dried whereas small particles will provide better coverage of the leaf, adhere to plant surface, and provide longer residual control.

In Canada, the metallic copper content is present on the label as the percent available elemental copper. Table 1 shows some copper products registered in Canada and their corresponding copper content. If you want to compare the amount of copper being applied in each product, multiply the metallic copper content by the rate per hectare. For example, in cucurbit crops the max rate of Copper 53W (53%) is 1.59 kg of metallic copper per hectare which is equivalent to Copper Spray (50%) which delivers the equivalent level of 1.6 kg metallic copper per hectare.

Table 1. Copper products registered in various vegetable crops and their corresponding metallic copper content. Always consult the product label before use.

ProductPCP#Active IngredientMetallic CopperBee Toxicity Rank1
Copper 53W9943basic copper sulphate53%III
Guardsman Copper Oxychloride 5013245copper oxychloride50%II
Copper Spray19146copper oxychloride50%II
Coppercide XLR33124copper hydroxide50%II
Kocide 3000-O33518copper hydroxide30%II
Parasol Flowable25901copper hydroxide24.4%II
Parasol WG29063copper hydroxide50%II
Nu-Cop 30 HB33329copper hydroxide30%II
Cueva Commercial31825copper octanoate1.8%not listed
1from University of California – Ranking of pesticides according to whether (I) the product should not be applied to flowers, (II) the product should not be applied to flowers except between sunset and midnight, or (III) no bee precaution except what is listed on label.

Copper fungicides belong to the FRAC group M1. The “M” stands for multi-site and is thought to be at low risk for resistance development. However, there are cases of copper resistance in bacterial pathogens of vegetable crops. Tomatoes and peppers are susceptible to bacteria within the Xanthomonas genus which cause leaf and fruit spot. Studies across the northeastern US and Ontario have shown that most Xanthomonas species in tomato and pepper crops are resistant to copper. Dr. Pervaiz Abbasi from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada reported that more than 70% of bacterial spot causing Xanthomonas spp. isolated from tomato in southern Ontario in 2012 were resistant to copper. Using copper in tomato and pepper for bacterial spot control is no longer recommended.

Other factors to consider include pH (generally, the lower the pH, the more soluble copper becomes which increases the chance of phytotoxicity), tank mixing (compatibility and phytotoxicity – it is well known that foliar fertilizers and phosphorous acid products cannot be used with copper), weather factors (slow drying will increase the chance of phytotoxicity, heavy rain may reduce residue), application rate and frequency.

The more questions you ask the better, so reach out to your OMAFRA specialist, agronomist, or copper fungicide supplier for more information on disease management using copper.


Peter, K. (2023). Optimizing copper and biologicals for bacterial spot in peach. Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention, February 23.

McGrath, M. (2020). Copper Fungicides for Organic and Conventional Disease Management in Vegetables.

Abbasi, Khabbaz, S. E., Weselowski, B., & Zhang, L. (2015). Occurrence of copper-resistant strains and a shift in Xanthomonas spp. causing tomato bacterial spot in Ontario. Canadian Journal of Microbiology, 61(10), 753–761.

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