Fire Blight

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Fire Blight

Fire Blight

Fire Blight

Fire blight, caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora, is a common and frequently destructive disease of pome fruit trees and related plants. Pear and quince are extremely susceptible. Apple, crabapple , and firethorns also are frequently damaged. Fire blight is less common on hawthorn , Spiraea, Cotoneaster, toyon , juneberry or serviceberry , loquat , mountain ash , and other related plants. The disease can destroy limbs and even entire shrubs or trees.


DISEASES CYCLE:Fire blight is caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora. The bacteria overwinter in blighted branches and at the edge of cankers (areas of bark killed by bacteria). In spring, when temperatures frequently reach 65 F, the bacteria multiply rapidly.


Masses of bacteria are forced through cracks and bark pores to the bark surface, where they form a sweet, gummy exudate called bacterial ooze. Insects such as aphids, ants, bees, beetles, and flies, are attracted to this ooze, pick up the bacteria on their bodies, and inadvertently carry the bacteria to opening blossoms. Bacterial ooze splashed by rain can also spread the pathogen.


Once in the blossom, bacteria multiply rapidly in the nectar and eventually enter the flower tissue. From the flower, the bacteria move into the branch. When the bacteria invade and kill the cambial tissue of the branch, all flowers, leaves and fruit above the girdled area die.


Infection also can take place through natural openings in leaves (stomata), branches (lenticels), pruning wounds, insect feeding and ovipositing, and hail. Droplets of bacterial ooze can form on twigs within three days after infection.


DIAGNOSIS:Symptoms of fire blight are first seen about the time of petal fall. Infected blossoms appear water-soaked and wilt rapidly before turning dark brown; this phase of the disease is referred to as blossom blight. As the bacterial invasion progresses, leaves wilt, darken and remain attached to the tree ; this gives the tree a fire-scorched appearance, thus the name “fire blight.” Infected twigs darken and branch tips may bend over forming a “shepherd’s crook.” During wet conditions infected tissue may exude creamy bacterial ooze in droplets or fine, hair-like strands. Infected fruits also exude bacterial ooze. Rather than dropping from the tree, infected fruits gradually dry and remain attached to the branch.


Fire blight cankers on branches or stems appear as dark discolored areas that are slightly sunken, with a narrow callus ridge along the outer edge . The narrow callus ridge is diagnostic for differentiating fire blight cankers from fungal cankers. Under the bark associated with a canker, the inner bark turns from green to brown, but the appearance varies depending on plant variety. Droplets of bacterial ooze may appear on the canker.


Fire Blight

Fire Blight

MANAGEMENT:

Biocontrol: Blight Ban is a formulation of the bacteria Pseudomonas fluorescens, and is effective in controlling the growth of the fire blight bacterium when applied before and during bloom. It is available only in quantities for commercial application. Effectiveness of control by Blight Ban is dependent on proper application timing.

Chemical Control:Chemical sprays are preventive treatments that must be applied prior to the onset of fire blight symptoms; sprays have little effect after the onset of symptoms. Expect blossom infections and plan to apply chemical sprays if: temperatures remain between 65 F and 86 F for a day or more during flower bloom, there is at least a trace of rainfall, the relative humidity remains above 60 percent for 24 hours, there is abundant succulent shoot growth, or there are fruit injuries from hail or other agents. For specific instruction on sprays and timing please use the Midwest Tree Fruit Spray Guide. The chemicals may be sold on various trade names.


Removing Diseased Wood:Successful removal of fire blight infections is done in summer or winter when the bacteria no longer are spreading through the tree. At these times infections have ceased enlarging, canker margins are clearly visible, and cleaning pruning shears is unnecessary. Rapidly advancing infections on very susceptible trees should be removed as soon as they appear in spring.


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Fire Blight