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Fort Collins Tree Care Fort Collins Tree Care
Click for a FREE estimate
or call 970.484.3084
Dedicated to Tree Preservation in the Urban Forest
Fort Collins Tree Care Fort Collins Tree Care
Click for a free Estimate or call 970.484.3084
Dedicated to Tree Preservation in the Urban Forest
Fort Collins Tree Care
or call 970.484.3084

What is fire blight?

Fire blight is caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora. It was named because damaged areas are blackened, shrunken and cracked as if burned by a fire. Fire blight is especially damaging to apples, pears and crabapples and can kill an entire apple orchard in one season. It also attacks quince, mountain ash, serviceberries, cotoneasters, hawthorns, pyracanthas, blackberries and raspberries. Fire blight kills branches and sometimes entire trees by attacking the inner bark and girdling the infected area.

Fire Blight Mary Ann Hansen, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Bugwood.org

How to identify fire blight

The first symptom of fire blight is a light brown to dark brown bacterial ooze forming on the surface of cankers on branches, twigs and trunk. Blossom blight, when the flower petals turn brown and mushy and wilt about the time of petal fall is much more noticeable. Shepard's crooking occurs when shoots are infected, curling and turning black. Infected leaves turn yellow, then brown and then black. Fruit shrivels, cracks and turns black. Affected shoots, leaves and fruit remain connected to the branches even when shrivelled and black. Where the fire blight kills the inner bark of a trunk or branch, a canker is formed. The bark turns dark and sunken is surrounded by a callus. Small drops of creamy white to amber bacterial ooze form on the surface of infected tissue.

Fire blight on fruit University of Georgia Plant Pathology Archive, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

Life cycle of fire blight

The bacteria that cause fire blight overwinter in cankers on the trunk and branches of infected trees. The bacteria multiply rapidly when temperature warms in the spring to about 65'F. They start oozing through cracks in the bark, leaving a sweet, gummy bacterial ooze on the surface of the bark. This bacterial ooze attracts insects, and the insects and rain carry the bacteria to blossoms. The fire blight bacteria multiply rapidly in the nectar in the blossom, causing blossom blight, when the flower petals turn brown and mushy and wilt about the time of petal fall. Blossoms wilt and die 1-2 weeks after infection. The bacteria are carried by pollinating insects and rain drops to other blossoms and branches, leaves and shoots of the infected tree. Fire blight attacks the inner bark of branches and trunk creating a canker, sometimes girdling a branch, killing everything beyond the infection point. Fire blight attacks leaves and shoots turning them yellow, then brown and finally black, creating a shepard's crook. Damage from hail, wind, insects and pruning allow the bacteria to infect the trees. Cankers expand as the fire blight damage continues through the summer until the temperature gets too hot and the damage stops.

Fire blight University of Georgia Plant Pathology Archive, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

How to control fire blight

Plant fire blight resistant varieties. Prune infected branches as soon as possible, and remove or destroy them. Sanitize tools between cuts, by dipping tool in chlorine bleach or alcohol or disinfectant, because fire blight bacteria can be spread by your pruning tools. Completely remove fire blight damaged areas by cutting 6" to 12" below the visible signs of infection. Pruning in winter when trees are dormant will minimize risk of spreading infection. Prevent damage to trees so the bacteria don't have an easy way to infect them. Don't splash irrigation water on trees during bloom, drops of irrigation water will spread the bacteria just as rain drops will.

Chemicals are not very effective at killing existing infections, but they can prevent infection if they are applied in the early spring.

Fire blight shepard's hook Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Archive, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Bugwood.org

Fire blight shepard's hook Robert Lambe, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Bugwood.org

 
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301 E. Douglas Road
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970.484.3084
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301 E. Douglas Road
Fort Collins, CO 80524
970.484.3084
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