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8/18/17- Fire Blight

By Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist

There’s nothing quite as tasty as a pear right off the limb. Sure, you can add chocolate sauces or bake them in the oven with a little butter and wine, but a good ol’ natural pear tastes the best! Unfortunately, I have noticed this year that pear trees are experiencing a setback. Most pear trees are not producing as much fruit as they usually do and all the branches and leaves are turning black and dying back. After diving into some literature, I found that these pear trees are experiencing fire blight.

Fire blight is a disease that attacks the Rosaceae family (Pears, Plums, Apples, etc.…) and is brought on by a bacterium called Erwinia amylovora. The blight is first recognized as a slight brown liquid that oozes out of openings in the bark or branches. Once the liquid is exposed to oxygen, it becomes very dark and looks like streaks on the branches and twigs. Not all trees experience this liquid. Some trees only show infection through the blossoms which quickly die after blooming. So how does the infection start? The bacteria is spread easily by insects (from blossom to blossom) or by rain and wind (tree to tree). Once planted on the tree, the bacteria will move its way from blossoms to branches to twigs and leaves. The bacterium usually overwinters, or lays dormant, inside the bark of a tree until temperatures reach 60-80 degrees and the humidity begins to rise. Once conditions are prime, the bacteria moves into the blossoms where it is picked up by insects and transported to other blossoms. Sometimes it even makes its way into the “heart” of the tree through cankers and openings in the bark or branches from previous growing seasons or even scars. New growth is the most susceptible part of the tree and that is why it is highly affected during spring time. So how do you know if a tree is experiencing fire blight? Well, the tree will look like it caught on fire. Whole branches will be black as well as the all the leaves on that branch. The tree will also produce significantly less fruit than previous years. Chances are, if you live in Alabama, the drought last year contributed to the success rate of fire blight this year. The fruit trees were highly stressed and temperatures were very mild during winter time, creating a very short wintering period for the bacteria! The best way to control fire blight is to cut out the infected branches and limbs and burn them to prevent the bacteria from spreading in the wind. It is also recommended to treat trees (especially new growth) with a low nitrogen fertilizer during the growing season, if your soil is lacking nitrogen. You can also purchase fire blight chemicals and treat according to package directions as well. Fire blight is best combatted if multiple management methods are used!

If you suspect a pear tree or apple tree or any other member of the Rosaceae family is being attacked by fire blight, it is best to take control of the situation now. Remember to remove all infected branches and burn them to prevent the bacteria from spreading. Fruit trees are highly susceptible to fire blight, especially in areas that are humid and wet!


By: Red Clay

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