‘Unsightly’ fruit tree diseases which could ‘mummify’ your summer crop – expert guide

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Monty Don shares tips for pruning fruit trees

Growing fruit trees is often easier than you may think and can be highly rewarding when it is done successfully. While planting and pruning trees is relatively straightforward, protecting trees from destructive diseases can be more complicated – especially in the summer months. Here’s your expert guide to growing ripe, healthy fruits for years to come and exactly how to treat common tree diseases which could threaten your crop.

If you are lucky enough to have an established fruit tree in your garden, you have probably been enjoying the produce for weeks already, or are preparing to tuck into the autumn harvest.

Whether you’re growing apples for the late summer or are picking the last of your homegrown peaches, all fruit trees are at risk of unpleasant diseases during the warmer months.

While it’s not always easy to tell if your tree is unwell, some diseases show signs in the fruit itself and can appear spoiled or rotten.

So what exactly could you be dealing with, and how can you solve the problem?

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Man picking fruit from tree/ rotten apples

‘Unsightly’ fruit tree diseases which could ‘mummify’ your summer crop – expert guide (Image: GETTY)

Fruit tree growing in garden

Fruit trees are relatively easy to grow and can be very rewarding with the right care (Image: GETTY)

Brown rot

Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, John Dempsey, a gardening expert at Housetastic said: “If the fruit on a tree is rotten, this doesn’t mean that the tree itself is diseased.

“However, the tree may carry some of the diseases sometimes, such as brown rot.”

This is a very common fungal disease that causes brown patches and spreads rot in fruits such as apples, pears, cherries, and plums.

According to John, the disease starts when fruits become infected through wounds, often caused by birds.

He said: “The infected fruits then mummify and continue to hang onto the tree.

“They may infect nearby fruits so it is best to remove any rotten fruits from the tree as soon as you notice them.”

Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk

rotten fruit on tree

Rotten fruit doesn’t always mean your tree has a disease though it can indicate something is wrong (Image: GETTY)

If the fruit touches the bark of the tree, it can cause small infections known as cankers.

Without removing the fruits, the fungus will remain in the dead fruits and cankers over the winter months and release spores in the springtime.

John explained that this then leads to the blossom wilt phase of the disease, where the spores are released into wounded fruits.

When it comes to disposing of rotten fruit, Lawrence Wright, head gardener at award-winning Newby Hall and Gardens in North Yorkshire explained that a quick clean of the tree and surrounding area will suffice.

He said: “It’s not the most glamorous job in the garden but a good pair of gloves and a bucket are all you need to deal with rotten fruit.

“Where possible they should be collected from beneath the trees as they not only look unsightly, can cause a slip/ trip hazard but also have the potential to harbour Brown Rot, particularly in apples.”

Once the fruit has been removed from the tree, floor, and cracks of the bark on branches, it can be disposed of on your compost heap.

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Woman picking apples from a tree

Bitter pit is just one disorder which can affect fruit trees in the summer (Image: GETTY)

Honey Fungus

Honey fungus is a common name for several species of fungi which spreads

underground and attacks the roots before decaying the dead wood.

This is the most destructive fungal disease found in the UK, though it is easy to spot.

According to John, this could cause the upper part of the plant to suddenly die, or you may notice smaller than average leaves that are pale instead of green.

Other common signs of honey fungus include over or under flowering, cracking or

bleeding of the bark at the base, or mushrooms appearing around the base of the tree in autumn.

John warned that there are no chemical treatments for honey fungus and the only thing you can do to treat is excavate the area and destroy everything, including the stump materials, by taking it to landfill or burning it.

When to prune outdoor trees

Pruning is essential to limit diseases and keep trees healthy (Image: THE EXPRESS)

Bitter Pit

Bitter pit is not necessarily a disease, but rather a calcium deficiency that is usually caused by a lack of water that transports the calcium around the tree to your fruits.

John said: “This is a problem during the summer months, especially when there is a drought. Excess use of fertiliser can also make this problem worse, though the symptoms are easy to spot.”

Bitter pit causes small sunken pits on the surface of fruits, creating a discoloured brown flesh.

These may appear when the fruit is still growing on the tree or when the fruits are in storage and can give the plants a very bitter taste.

Keeping trees well-watered is usually enough to keep bitter pit from affecting your fruit trees.

How to prevent diseases in autumn fruiting trees

While treatment is the best course of action for summer fruiting trees that experience disease, prevention is always best if your trees are yet to be harvested.

Apple and pear trees are coming into harvest as well as many stone fruits, all of which should be pruned to prevent infection.

Lawrence said: “Final summer pruning of trained apple and pear trees, including Step over, Cordon or Espalier varieties should be done now.

“Cut back new growth to around three or four leaves above the basal cluster.

“Continue to harvest fruit as it ripens or in the case of pears when the fruit is lifted to 90 degrees from its resting position and breaks off cleanly.”

Any pruning of any stone fruit trees, including plums and cherries need to be completed before the end of summer, whether they’re standard or trained.

Lawrence explained that is because they cannot be pruned in winter as the risk of Silver leaf infection is too high.

He said: “On standard trees only prune stems that are congested, dead, damaged or diseased or have grown too high to safely harvest.

“Trained trees should have new growth to three or four leaves above the basal cluster.”



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