Apple Leaves Dying - Knowledgebase Question

Spencer, ME
Avatar for Mber4554
Question by Mber4554
June 16, 2000
Why are leaves on my apple trees turning black, curling and falling off?

Answer from NGA
June 16, 2000
It sounds like your apple may have fireblight. I found the following information from the Ohio State Extension Service. Their website, may be of some help you you also.

Fire blight is a common and very destructive bacterial disease of apples and pears. The disease is so named because infected leaves on very susceptible trees will suddenly turn brown, appearing as though they had been scorched by fire. As a result of this disease, blight susceptible pear cultivars are no longer grown in many parts in the Midwest. Damage and losses from fire blight on apple result from: death or severe damage to trees in the nursery; death of young trees in the orchard; delay of bearing in young trees due to frequent blighting of shoots and limbs; loss of limbs or entire trees in older plantings as the result of girdling by fire blight cankers; and direct loss of fruit due to blighting of blossoms and young fruit. Fire blight may cause severe damage to many other members of the Rosaceae family. Quince, crabapple, mountain ash, spirea, hawthorn, pyracantha, and cotoneaster are
all susceptible. Cultivars within some of these species are resistant.


Blossom and twig blight symptoms appear in the spring. Diseased blossoms become water-soaked and turn brown. The bacteria may then grow down into the blossom bearing twigs (spurs). Leaves on the spur become blighted, turning brown on apple and black on pear. Droplets of milky tan-colored bacterial ooze may be visible on the surface of diseased tissue. These droplets contain millions of bacteria which can cause new infections.

Twig blight starts at the growing tips of shoots and moves down into older portions of the twig. Blighted twigs first appear water-soaked, then turn dark brown or black. Blighted leaves remain attached to the dead branches through the summer. The end of the branch may bend or by hail. Fire blight bacteria multiply rapidly within an infected shoot. Droplets of ooze can form on the shoots within 3 days. Shoots remain highly susceptible to infection until vegetative growth ceases and the terminal bud is formed.


Fireblight is one of the most difficult diseases of apple to control, and there is no one procedure that will give complete control.Though control is not an easy task, the use of several practices in an integrated manner should result in minimal damage from fireblight.

1.Plant apple, crabapple, and pear varieties that are less susceptible to fire blight.

2.Prune out fire blight cankers and blighted twigs. To decrease the inoculum level for the following season, prune out blighted twigs and cankers during the dormant season. During the dormant season (winter) there is much less chance of spreading bacteria. Branches that are more than half-girdled by cankers should be removed. Cut off blighted twigs by making cuts at least 4 inches below the visible dead wood. Cankers can be cut out of trunks or large branches by removing dead tissue down to wood that appears healthy. If blighted twigs are pruned out during summer, cuts should be made l2 to l5 inches below diseased wood and pruning tools should be disinfested by dipping in a 2:10 solution of household bleach in water after each cut. We recommend that commercial growers do a thorough job of pruning out blighted wood in the dormant season and not in summer.

3.Follow proper pruning and fertilization practices. Excessive nitrogen fertilizer and heavy pruning will promote vigorous growth of succulent tissue which is more susceptible to fire blight. Adjust management practices on susceptible varieties to promote moderate growth. Make fertilizer applications in early spring or late fall after growth has ceased.

4.Sucking insects create wounds through which over, resembling a shepherd's crook or an upside down "J". As the fire blight bacteria move through blighted twigs into main branches, the bark sometimes cracks along the margin of the infected area on the main branch causing a distinct canker.

Both apple and pear fruit may be blighted. Rotted areas turn brown to black and become covered with droplets of ooze. The fruit remains firm but later dries out and shrivels into mummies.

Fire blight is caused by the bacterium, Erwinia amylovora. The fire blight bacteria overwinter in living tissue at the margins of cankers on the trunk and main branches. The bacteria become active in the spring when temperatures get above 65 degrees F. Their growth is favored by rain, heavy dews, and high humidity. By the time trees are blossoming, droplets of ooze containing the bacteria are present on the surface of cankers. Relatively few overwintering cankers become active and produce bacteria in the spring, but a single active canker may produce millions of bacteria, enough to infect an entire orchard. The bacteria in droplets of ooze are spread by splashing rain or insects (mostly bees, flies, and ants) to open blossoms. The bacteria multiply rapidly in the blossom nectar, and invade the blossom tissue through natural openings called nectaries. The optimum temperature range for blossom blight infection is 65 to 86 degrees F. The bacteria are spread from blossom to blossom by rain or pollinating insects.

Actively growing shoot tips are infected by bacteria that have been spread by rain or insects from both cankers and infected blossoms. Invasion can occur directly through natural openings, such as lenticels and stomata, under conditions of prolonged rain and high humidity. However, shoot infection more commonly occurs through wounds created by sucking insects, such as aphids, leafhoppers, and tarnished plant bugs; by wind whipping; fire blight bacteria can enter. These pests should be controlled throughout the growing season. To protect bees, do not apply insecticides during bloom.

5.Sprays for fire blight control are generally not recommended for backyard growers. Instead, backyard growers are encouraged to plant less susceptible varieties and use other nonchemical control measures.

Good luck!

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