Growing fruit trees in Augusta can be challenging

Many Augusta gardeners like to grow fruit trees. There is nothing like picking fresh fruit off your own tree. But with our Augusta climate, growing certain fruit trees can really be a challenge. Insects and diseases can wreak havoc on them.


Today I will address some of the most common diseases that affect apple and pear trees.

Let’s start with apples. There are three rots that can affect them: black, bitter and white rots. They vary in appearance, so I’ll describe each rot, what it looks like and how to control it.

Black rot infections develop very early in the growing season, during what we call silver tip (when the swollen buds first break and develop a silver tip). This infection causes a late-season rot that begins in the core and emerges at the calyx end as the fruit ripens. Secondary infections can occur on the fruit in late June, July and August. Black rot decay typically shows alternating rings of brown and black.

Black rot overwinters on the bark of dead wood in the trees and on the ground. From December to March, spores are produced and spread to fruit buds by rain from dead wood. Spores wash into the buds and remain there, inactive, until the buds start to swell at the silver tip stage. The fungus is dormant until the fruit starts to ripen, then it becomes active and rots the fruit.

Black rot control requires good sanitation. This means virtual elimination of all dead wood from the tree and on the ground. Make sure you also remove wood that falls to the ground after pruning.

Year-round attention to sanitation greatly reduces the amount of black rot fungus present in an orchard and might give adequate control. Spraying with a fungicide such as captan (Ortho Home Orchard Spray, Bonide Captan, Hi-Yield Captan, etc.) or thiophanate methyl (Fertilome Halt Systemic Rose and Flower Fungicide, Green Light Systemic Fungicide, etc.) one time at silver tip is usually sufficient for season-long black rot suppression.

Bitter rot infections typically develop more than a month after petal fall. Lesions begin as small, sunken brown spots that grow up to 1 inch in diameter and are sometimes surrounded by a red halo. The halo is especially visible on green or yellow fruit. Con­centric circles of pinhead-sized black, round fruiting bodies often form within lesions. In wet weather, masses of cream to salmon to pink spores are produced. Bitter rot progresses to the fruit’s core in a V-shape pattern. This differs from white rot, which forms a cylindrical rot pattern going to the core.

Like black rot, bitter rot survives the winter on dead bark, and on mummified fruit, particularly those that hang on the tree. So dispose of all dead wood and any mummified fruit for control. Begin your spray program for bitter rot after petal fall every 14 days and continue up to six weeks before harvest. Captan and thiophanate methyl are also good for bitter rot.

White rot is a very serious late-season rot. White rot lesions begin as small, circular brown or tan spots. A red halo sometimes surrounds spots on green or yellow fruit. The halo can be purple to black on red apples. As the lesions enlarge, a cylindrical-shaped rot progresses to the core. This can be used to separate it from bitter rot, which forms a V-shape rot.

Under warm conditions, which often prevail before harvest, white rot progresses rapidly. When the weather is warm, white rot lesions are brown to tan, watery and soft. Rot could consume entire fruits in a few days.

Under cooler conditions, white rot is firm and a darker brown color. During cooler harvest seasons, black rot and white rot lesions are difficult to separate.

The white rot fungus also overwinters in the bark of dead wood, on the ground and in the tree. Once again, sanitation is very important.

Spraying for white rot should begin six, four and two weeks before harvest. Captan and sulfur based fungicides are best.

NOW LET’S TALK about pears. Pears are also susceptible to black rot and bitter rot. Another common disease is scab. This is a fungal disease that overwinters in fallen leaves and twig blisters, releasing spores in the spring. The disease is most active in cool spring weather.

With scab, as the pears form, they develop olive brown spots that turn corky and dark brown. Affected fruits also crack and fall before they mature. There might be blisters or cankers on some of the twigs.

For control of scab, the sanitation is the same as with the apples. Also, prune twigs that might have the blisters or cankers. You begin the spray program for this disease during bud break, again during the white bud stage, then two more times after the petals fall. Use captan or sulfur based fungicides.

As I tell gardeners in our area, growing some fruits can be challenging. In many cases you need to follow a spray program if you are going to be successful.

Many sprays you can buy at garden centers have a combination of insecticide and fungicide so you can also help take care of any insects that might cause problems.