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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Fire blight claiming local fruit trees
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Courtesy Photo: Fire blight disease is attacking fruit trees in Franklin County. Above are the leaves of an infected apple tree.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A fruit tree appearing sickly or burnt looking could be the victim of fire blight, according to Sean Duff, Franklin County Cooperative Extension agent.

"With the overly wet and relatively cool spring our area has experienced, and as these weather patterns continue into the summer months, fire blight disease has been thriving and claiming the fruit trees of homeowners and orchards alike."

Fire blight is a disease of ornamental tree species caused by a bacterium that infects blossoms, young fruits, small twigs and water sprouts, Duff said.

Fruit bearing species, such as apple and pear trees, are highly susceptible to this disease and have comprised the vast majority of samples brought into the Franklin County extension office to date.

Duff said the bacterium is disseminated in early to mid-spring by windblown rain, certain insects and pruning tools.

Symptoms of fire blight include leaf and blossom wilt, sudden change of leaf color from green to dark brown or black and the blackening of the leaf petiole.

The remaining fruit from late season will show a leathery appearance.

"Probably the most tell-tale symptom of fire blight is 'shepherds crook,' which is the bending of the terminal end of infected branches," said Duff.

Duff said chemical control is not recommended for the treatment of already infected trees. Rather, sanitation practices and planting of less susceptible varieties provides the best control and prevention.

Sanitation practices include the cleaning of pruning equipment after use and the removal of clippings away from pruned trees.

"For future reference, when weather patterns like those we have experienced this year are expected, fungicide applications during budding can help alleviate the amount of disease spread," said Duff.

For a list of resistant varieties, comments or questions, contact Duff at the Franklin County Virginia Cooperative Extension office at (540) 483-5161.

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