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Past Articles Library | Trees | Plant Diseases of Black Cherries

Wild or black cherry trees are a wonderful site to see growing in the woods.  This tree brings back many fond memories of my pony.  While it is a wild favorite in many forests and fields, it does have a dark side when the plant is around animals.  The vegetation of the black cherry tree is toxic.  In doing so, care should be taken if you choose to plant this tree in your landscaping.

The black cherry tree really does not have that many problems.  Below is a description of each disease and techniques by which one can follow to prevent and/or control the disease. 

Black Knot

Plowrightia morbosa is the fungus that causes black knot.  This disease starts off in the spring.  Wherever there is black knot, wind and water will carry spores to other plant material.  Once it lands on young stems, the fungus takes off.  First, a light brown area will appear and will continue to grow into a gall.  The next spring, this gall will turn olive-brown in color and will release its own spores.  These spores will repeat the natural process described above.

The remaining gall will continue to grow until it completely kills the stem or branch that it is located on.  In some situations, the whole tree will be killed by this fungus.

There are several techniques by which one can control this fungus.  First, you can just remove all the wild cherry trees in your area and forget about growing this wonderful tree.  While some may choose this approach, I do have some other suggestions.  One is to monitor your plant material.  What do I mean by that?  Well, keep tabs on what our wild cherry trees look like.  As soon as you see the light brown area begin to appear, remove it.  Having said that, the time of year your remove the gall will determine how you cut it off.  If the gall is noticed in the fall or winter, prune the gall off right at the gall.  Once that is done, destroy the branch as soon as possible.  If the gall is noticed in the spring, cut the gall off 6 to 8 inches down the branch.  Again, destroy the branch.

Cherry Leaf Spot

Cherry leaf spot is very easy to identify.  The identification process is two-fold.  First, you will need to look at the top of the leaf.  If you see spots with red borders then you may have cherry leaf spot.  The second part of this identification is to look underneath the leaf.  If you see a white, waxy substance then you have cherry leaf spot. 

If you do not address the issue, the leaves of the wild cherry tree will turn yellow and drop.  But believe it or not, the treatment is easy and consists of opening up the tree.  What do I mean by this?  Well, what I mean is to prune back some of the branches so that sun light can go through the tree canopy easily.  Also, thinning out the branches will allow the air to move more freely around and in the branches of the black cherry tree.

But before you run to the garden shed to get your pruners, let me give you some guidance.  While the pruning process is easy, please take care and plan your pruning session.  You cannot glue back the branch if you do not like what you have done.  Also, make sure that your tools are as clean as possible.  What this means is you sterilize your tools before you begin.  Yes, I know you cleaned your tools before you stored them away but you will need to clean them again.  This extra step will save you from problems later. 

How do you sterilize your pruners?  The first step is to give them a good cleaning.  You will need to place them if possible in a bucket of water with a capful of bleach.  Scrub your tools and allow them to sit for awhile in the bleach water.  Once that is done, remove the tools and rinse them in clear water.  Next, allow them to dry in the sun. 

Ok, now you have your tools sterilized, what is next?  The next step in this process is to wipe down the cutting edge of your tools every time you go to make a new cut.  Following this process will keep you from spreading plant disease from one branch to another.

Chicken in the Woods Fungus

Laetiporus sulphureus or Chicken in the Woods fungus is a yellow colored fungus that grows huge on wild cherry trees.  If discovered when it is small, it can be removed and the tree can be saved.  On the other hand, if the Chicken in the Woods fungus is allowed to grow, it will eat away at the tree and eventually cause brown rot.  This brown rot, in turn, will kill the tree.

If you are lucky enough to catch this fungus when it is young and remove it, you may be able to save the tree but……..if it comes back to the same tree the future of that is death.  In doing so, remove the tree as soon as possible and destroy the wood.  This fungus has many different hosts and the immediate removal of diseased plant material is the only way to control it. 

While the diseases of the wild cherry tree are few and you may be tempted to start planting black cherries in your landscaping immediately.  I mean, few diseases and problems, what more could you ask for.  Well, this is true but this tree has its own problems.  If you decide that you really want a wild cherry tree in your landscape, plan, plan, and then plan.  This tree produces fruit, which humans can utilize in jellies and jams.  As much as we love the fruit so does wildlife.  In doing so, we need to place them in our landscaping carefully.  Avoid planting them near doorways, sidewalks or driveways.  Why would you do this?  To answer this question, I need to tell you a funny story.  An aunt of mine had fixed her hair and was walking out to go to church.  At the same time, a bird was sitting on a branch of a wild cherry tree eating some fruit.  As my aunt walked underneath the branch, the bird went to the bathroom.  Well, you know the rest of the story. 

Finally, do not plant near roofs or utility lines.  Now that you know where not to plant, what is really left?  A nice open space in the landscape or as a specimen plant in the backyard will make the best home for the wild cherry tree.

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Keep Some Birds Away

When you have worked very hard to grow your grapes, fruits and vegetables, it's hard to not be bothered when birds come in and take the best of everything!

A few tricks that work well are: netting over grapes, mylar strips tied to branches of your fruit trees, even blow up owls work.

If you use a blow up owl, or scarecrow, keep in mind to move them every few days so they appear to "move." Othewise the birds get wise fast and they are no good.

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