Powdery mildew (Erysiphe cruciferarum) is an important disease in oilseed rape crops worldwide, but of sporadic importance in most southern Australian crops. Six Brassica napus cultivars were exposed to E. cruciferarum simultaneously in four plant age cohorts. First symptoms of powdery mildew appeared 9 days after inoculation (dai) on the oldest plants [42 days after seeding (das)], but 44 dai in the youngest plants that were exposed to inoculum from sowing, although final disease severity did not differ with the plant age at exposure. The maximum level of pod peduncle infestation was unaffected by plant age (P = 0.37) or cultivar (P = 0.28). The effect of temperature was also investigated. The development of disease on plants was slower and final severity reduced at a day/night temperature 14/10 °C compared with 22/17 °C. In vitro, maximum growth of germ tubes from conidia of E. cruciferarum was at 15–20 °C and survival of conidia reduced by temperatures >30 °C. The results explain the sporadic nature of powdery mildew outbreaks in winter-grown oilseed rape in Australia, where slow rates of infection occur when seasonal colder prevailing winter conditions coincide with the presence of younger plants, together curtailing rapid disease development until temperatures increase in late winter/early spring. These results explain why epidemics are most severe in the two warmer cropping regions, viz. the northern agricultural region of Western Australia and New South Wales. This study suggests that with increases in winter temperatures under future climate scenarios, earlier and more severe powdery mildew outbreaks in Australia will be favoured.