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Anna, Teacher, writer, biologist
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Need advice: identify fire blight in apple tree

Resolved Question:

I need help with how to identify and trim out fire blight in an apple tree that I want to keep alive for aesthetic reasons. I don't see any category related to this question, but if there are any experts out there who can answer this question, I can send pictures of what I think is a pretty wide scale infection of my apple tree. (I have spoke with local nursery, but have received contradictory I'm asking here)
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: General
Expert:  Anna replied 5 years ago.

Pictures of the tree would be useful. You can upload them by clicking on REPLY, then click on the paper clip icon in the tool bar at the top of the space where you type. It's right next to the YouTube icon.

Also let me know how long this problem has been occurring. Did it come on gradually?

Thank you.

Customer: replied 5 years ago.
The problem came on in the Spring of 2011 here in Sacramento. It began it seemed, with the blossoms wilting and straying on the tree. Then, thru the spring and summer, the leaves looked kind of wilted, especially at the tips of the branches.

Now, in the midst of winter, the wilted blossom stems still are stuck to the branches. Also, on at least 1/2 of the fruit bearing spurs? (by this I mean the thinnest part of branch where buds appear--the last year of growth)---the wood seems dead, and there appear some cankers in the last year of growth.

As far as the pics...I do not see any tool bar at the top of the space I am typing. Maybe it is the CHROME browser I am on?? If there is some other way to send them, please let me know. I can also ask the justanswer folks how to do this.
Expert:  Anna replied 5 years ago.
You can post the photos on one of the free photo-sharing sites such as

Then come back here and post a link to the photos in a REPLY.

Customer: replied 5 years ago. that I have opened up justanswer using internet explorer browser...there are all the items in the mentioned including the paper clip...and instructions on the side for uploading a file. So I just need to go snap some pics and load them on the computer and upload them to you. Back in 10 min.
Expert:  Anna replied 5 years ago.
I'll check back in a little while.

Expert:  Anna replied 5 years ago.
Hello again,

I suspect you may have run into complications with the photos. It would be nice to see them, but with the additional information you provided in your reply, I think I can answer your question without the pictures. I can hardly believe a nursery told you the problem might be "just" root rot. That must not have been a very well-informed employee. Root rot is extremely serious and often fatal. But symptoms of root rot include yellowing leaves that fall prematurely, slowed growth, branch dieback, and thinning of the tree's crown. These symptoms occur because the rotted roots cannot transport nutrients and water up the trunk. If all the roots are affected, the tree will die. If parts of them are affected, the corresponding above ground sections will be sickly. Over a period of years, such a tree will continue to decline. From what you have describe, I don't believe your tree has root rot.

The symptoms you outlined are classic for fire blight: the wilting of the blossoms and the way they stayed on the tree, the canker, the wilted leaves, and the dead tips. There is no cure for fire blight. Fungicides can prevent it, but once it affects a tree the way it has yours, the fungicides won't help. Fire blight occurs most often in years with warm rainy springs. The fungicide sprays have to begin before any symptoms occur.

Sometimes a tree with fire blight can be saved. Pruning is the first step. You need to prune off all affected areas. It's best to go about 12 inches below where the visible damage has occurred. After each cut, you must sterilize your pruning tools by dipping in bleach or using a household disinfectant. Otherwise the blight can be spread by them. The pruning should be done in the winter.

Check in the spring to see if the tree appears alive. If it does, begin a spray program.
A copper fungicide can be applied before bud break (it can damage the buds if applied too late). Then the bactericide aluminum tris can be used during bloom. Blight Ban is a biological produce produced to control blight, but it is only available to commercial applicators. If you want the best chance of saving the tree, it would be best to consult a certified arborist. An arborist could also tell you the chances that the tree can be saved, and if so, the chances that its beauty could be preserved. This link will take you to a directory of arborists:

If you have more questions, let me know by clicking on REPLY. I hope you'll be able to save your tree.


(If you find my answer helpful, please click on the green ACCEPT button. Thank you.)
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Sorry Anna,

I did run into snags. Thought I could load pics on computer and browse for them, but wouldn't transfer. So I had to follow your advice and use photobucket, which was also my first time. There are 12 photos, but the order you will be seeing is first some summer pics, and then followed by some close ups of branch growth from previous year, showing that the latter part of some branches turned totally dead at the ends,and finally photos of different parts of tree, and a couple photos of a large dead branch that I wonder is part of the same problem, and makes me fear for the rest of the tree. I have not read or digested your latest reply...but I really want you to see these I brought recent branches to nursury master gardener who does all these pruning seminars...and he said that fire blight would look like the branches were burned, and these looked more like I had some kind of root rot going on, and he recommended and sold me a fertilizer (Masterbloom 0-10-10) to put around the tree during the winder to help the roots get healthier.

So please look at the summer and winter pics and let me know what you think, and I will now read what you wrote. Thanks for your patience..below is the link.
Customer: replied 5 years ago.

Thanks for your detailed response. I will have a few more questions if after you look at pics you still think it is fire blight. There are many websites talking of fire blight, but none of them look exactly like my tree.

When I was first told it might be fire blight by someone at the nursery, (because he had heard of several recent cases in the area, and our spring was really wet following a wet winter...) I was showing him the summer foliage. When I showed the branches from same tree in December...I was told it didn't look like fire blight but more like some kind of root rot.
Expert:  Anna replied 5 years ago.
I looked at your photos. They are not conclusive. Fire blight doesn't look the same in every case or even on the same parts of the tree. I'm attaching some photos of various types of fire blight damage on apple trees that were taken by horticulturists at universities.


As you can see, the bark doesn't necessarily look like it has been burned. However, the photo of your tree shows a large canker at the base, and that is typical of root rot.Here is a photo of a tree suffering from root rot:


Unfortunately, if this is root rot, fertilizer is not going to save the tree. Root rot is also caused by a fungus, and when symptoms are advanced, the roots are dead or nearly dead, and nothing can be done. To complicate matters, a tree could be affected by both root rot and fire blight at the same time. The conditions that are good for one are also good for the other.

To be honest, after looking at your photos, I will be surprised if the tree can be saved. I've grown fruit trees for many years, and once cankers such as these have developed and the bark is cracked and coming off, the trees have died regardless of what measures were taken. You can take out the soil near the base of the tree. Just go down several inches. If the roots or buried part of the trunk look reddish, that is a good sign of root rot. The withered blossoms are a classic fire blight symptom. That's why I said the photos are inconclusive. Regardless of what is wrong, the tree is in critical condition.

I'm going to give you one more step to take. If you go to the following site and click on your county, you'll be given contact information for the free help of a Master Gardener.

In some states, they will actually come to your home to evaluate a tree - you'll have to check to see if they'll do that in California. Being able to see the whole tree and the conditions it is in will be a much more accurate method than using photos or samples from the tree.

I wish I had better news for you. I can tell the tree is important to you, but it just doesn't look very promising. I hope I'm wrong. If you have more questions, let me know in a REPLY. I'll be hoping for a good outcome.


Expert:  Anna replied 5 years ago.
A couple of the fire blight photos didn't come through. I'll try again:


Anna and 49 other General Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Thanks for your ideas on this issue, and the leads.
Expert:  Anna replied 5 years ago.
You're welcome.