Fatal germination of weed seeds occurs when a weed seed germinates, but the seedling dies before reaching the soil surface. Controlled-environment bioassays of velvetleaf and giant foxtail seed fate in Michigan field soil (Kalamazoo silt loam, 1.1% soil organic matter) were used to determine the role of pathogenic fungi and seed burial depth in fatal germination of these species. Fatal germination at 2 cm seed depth was nonexistent for giant foxtail, and rare (< 10% of seeds studied) for velvetleaf. At greater depths, fatal germination remained close to zero for giant foxtail, whereas it increased to as high as 40% for velvetleaf at a 10-cm burial depth. Cultures taken from fatally germinated velvetleaf seedlings were found to contain Pythium ultimum, a soilborne pathogen known as the causal agent for pea root rot. When samples of infected media taken from these cultures were used to inoculate field soil in pots, fatal germination of velvetleaf from depths of 4 to 6 cm increased, compared with field soil inoculated with sterile media. At seed burial depths of 8 and 10 cm, fatal germination of velvetleaf increased to 20 and 40%, respectively, and was the same for unsterilized soil and P. ultimum–inoculated soil. Given that maximal fatal germination of velvetleaf occurred in the unsterilized soil treatment at the 10 cm depth, burial of newly shed velvetleaf seeds to a 10 cm, or possibly greater, depth with tillage equipment may be a practical way of reducing velvetleaf seed banks through fatal germination.
Nomenclature: Giant foxtail, Setaria faberi Herrm. SETFA; velvetleaf, Abutilon theophrasti Medik. ABUTH.