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Marco Banks
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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My neighbor down the hill informed me that he's had to cut his apple trees back aggressively due to fire blight, and he's lost a pear tree this past year.

I've got 5 pears and 6 apples.  All my trees look good thus far, but is there anything I can do on a preventative basis to protect my orchard from the disease that is ravaging his trees right next door?

For a larger context, my soil is a million times more healthy than his, as I've mulched aggressively for years and it has been transformed from heavy clay to amazing black and crumbly soil.  I'm hoping that that alone will give my trees an edge to fight it.  All my trees are planted with supportive guilds, comfrey being the mainstay for all of them.  I don't prune heavily, but do so judiciously with a snip here and there throughout the year.  I use no additional fertilizers—I understand that fire blight effects trees more readily if there is all sorts of new chemically added growth on them.

Any thoughts how I can keep the beast at bay?
 
Chris Floyd
Posts: 16
Location: Eastern Shore of Virginia, United States, zone 7b
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Marco,
In my past limited experience with fire blight, it is highly contagious for those plants most susceptible. In my observations synthetic fertilizers, excess moisture causing unnaturally fast growth seem to trigger fire blight outbreaks the most. I now practice mostly the S.T.U.N. method (sheer, total, utter, neglect) as far as my plantings and guilds go. I have found it far easier to let Mother Nature decide what will thrive or perish. I know this sounds a bit harsh, but planting fire blight resistant varieties was my ultimate option. Too much valuable time and energy is wasted trying to get ill plants to barely thrive unless constantly attended to, this was stealing my joy piece by piece! If you have managed to not be attacked yet, then I commend you and feel you are doing all the right moves! Trust in yourself and hold true to your path - good soil, good guilds, (I love comfrey) everything you are presently doing in my opinion will be your best defense. I wish I could suggest a magic bullet, but I believe a good rich living soil is the ultimate defensive weapon - best of luck my friend!
 
Marco Banks
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Cw Floyd wrote:Marco,
In my past limited experience with fire blight, it is highly contagious for those plants most susceptible. In my observations synthetic fertilizers, excess moisture causing unnaturally fast growth seem to trigger fire blight outbreaks the most. I now practice mostly the S.T.U.N. method (sheer, total, utter, neglect) as far as my plantings and guilds go. I have found it far easier to let Mother Nature decide what will thrive or perish. I know this sounds a bit harsh, but planting fire blight resistant varieties was my ultimate option. Too much valuable time and energy is wasted trying to get ill plants to barely thrive unless constantly attended to, this was stealing my joy piece by piece! If you have managed to not be attacked yet, then I commend you and feel you are doing all the right moves! Trust in yourself and hold true to your path - good soil, good guilds, (I love comfrey) everything you are presently doing in my opinion will be your best defense. I wish I could suggest a magic bullet, but I believe a good rich living soil is the ultimate defensive weapon - best of luck my friend!


Thanks.

I'd never grown apple trees before, and living as I do in zone 10, it's a much narrower pool of low chill varieties available, so the trees I planted are among the most vulnerable: Gala, Fuji, Pink Lady.  I hope my Anna and Dorsett Golden are more resistant  Had I known then what I'm reading about now, I would have looked for less blight-prone varieties. 

As things stand, apple trees grow SO MUCH SLOWER than other fruit trees --- like, a quarter as fast.  Apricot trees jump to 10 feet within 2 - 3 years.  My apples have been in the ground for 5 times that long, and yet they are always so slow to put up growth.  I'm told that eventually they'll reach 15 or taller, but they don't do so quickly.  So, in the end, maybe that'll be my saving grace. 

I'll continue to feed the soil and feed the guilds around the tree with good compost and an annual refresh of wood chip mulch.  I'll be uber vigilant to clean my tools and quickly snip off anything that might remotely resemble fire-blight.  Better to mis-prune something that isn't infected than to wait too long and have Typhoid Mary growing right in the center of my pom fruits.

Thanks for your encouragement. 

Anyone else have any insight?
 
Cd Greier
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As I understand it, there's nothing you can do to stop fireblight once it affects your trees but you can enjoy the last few seasons of fruit before they are totally dead. Of course, practice good garden hygiene by wearing only designated garden boots/shoes and not wearing them outside your own garden; dip or spray your pruning equipment with 1:10 bleach-water after every cut. Another thing: realize that several plants are susceptible to the same diseases. We learned this the hard way when our apple trees (one of the reasons we bought this place) went downhill with fireblight which is harboured by the lovely cotoneaster shrubs  fronting the property. Too late to cut them down now but, luckily, our rural place is large enough that any future plantings will be upwind 100 yds/m away!
 
Lee Kochel
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I had a completely different experience with fire blight on an asian pear tree (which I have since found out is a sucker for fire blight).  I lost my first one to it, and figuring it was just my watering etc. I planted another which promptly came down with the same malady.  So I did the following: I eliminated synthetic nitrogen fertilizer on the yard around it; sprayed the leaves and bark with a foliar solution several times which had a bacterial/fungal component plus a trace ocean element supplement plus molasses and an additive which brought the whole solution up to a level of 1.5 % CaCl2.  The infected branches eventually died, but the rest including all the new leaves and branches thrived and it is now my best producing fruit tree. That first year it even produced a single flower in mid-August in Illinois.  I believe the essential elements needed are the CaCl2 and the trace elements.  Next, I believe you also want to fungalize the soil around the trees of concern.  This can be done by sprinkling cut-up twigs around the trees for a radius of several feet (if you have grass there now not to worry as the twigs will just disappear into the grass); then also spray the ground with solutions of amino acids and fats such as diluted liquid fish or whole milk or egg whites which fungi love and then even solutions of blenderized mushrooms (store bought or wild) over the same area.
 
Alex Riddles
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Location: Columbia Missouri
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Here in Missouri fireblight is just part of having an Orchard.  What I have learned is it's a bacterial infection that most often effects blossoms and sensitive new growth.  It grows actively when the temperature is between 60 and 80 degrees fahrenheit and it needs a significant amount of moisture.  It is easily spread by insects such as bees.  Locally, Bradford pears are a vector and are used as ornamental trees all over town.

I don't have any pear trees in my plantings. As for apples I have found cultivars that are resistant to fireblight grow much faster given they are constantly exposed.  When a tree shows signs of fireblight I immediately cut off the infected part at least 12 inches below any visible signs of infection.  It is vitally important to disinfect your pruners after each cut to avoid spreading the infection.  The wood cut off must not be used for mulch as the bacteria will survive to infect your trees again.

As for prevention, not allowing lush rapid growth is a priority.  I only use compost as a fertilizer never chemical nitrogen.  I also find those trees that bloom early, before we have temperatures in the 60 to 80 degree range tend to fare better.  Spraying the tree with well aerated compost tea also helps.  The thinking here is that filling the ecological niche with beneficial bacteria leaves no room for fireblight.
 
Chris Floyd
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Location: Eastern Shore of Virginia, United States, zone 7b
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I have been doing an experiment here on the shore with a cutting I took off of the hardy oriental pear that I have growing in Chesapeake, Virginia that had 3 years of fire blight every spring thanks to my neighbor's love of synthetic fertilizer and lawn. We had 3 excessively wet springs in a row that caused run-off from the neighbor's yard to flood my poor tree which I had planted in very heavy clay soil. I lost a bit over a third of the tree each year to fire blight, and since I was still in the process of large-scale sheet mulching, the growing conditions were less than optimal. The tree is now around 24-26 feet tall, soil has gone from wet and sticky to rich, black, and loamy. I have not had any more issues with fire blight on the oriental pear, only issue is it bears fruit on alternate years. As for my experiment here on Virginia's Eastern Shore, I initially mulched around my property with a foot of wood chips two years in row, planting melons in small hills just to cover the chips. Then I planted the oriental pear cutting in a spot of well-rotted wood chips and let it go. I was initially concerned about the high moisture levels and more than ample rainfall, but so far I have had no signs of fire blight, and this is now going on the 3rd year and the cutting is around 6 feet in height. I also planted a Fuji apple cutting that is 2 years old and just a bit over 3 feet tall. I still need to wait a few more years before they start to fruit. Last month I laid down another 6 inches of wood chips that were over a year old that I have stored in my overflow pile on the property. Lots of white fibers in the partially rotted wood chips and all sorts of tiny wild mushroom fruits that randomly pop-up in the mulch leave me feeling very pleased with my experiment. Since this pear cutting was from a known susceptible cultivar, and I have the same damp soil conditions, I must conclude that the beneficial microbes are out-competing the bad ones. As a control, I had another oriental pear growing in another part of the yard growing with no amendments or wood chips - tree was 6 years of age and fruited wonderful the first year. The very next year it showed signs of fire blight, for the next two years it progressively got worse, now it is totally dead. The only difference was lack of wood chip mulching. I leave this to all to draw your own conclusions. I NEVER use synthetic fertilizer and I believe in a holistic approach as the best option, even if I practice S.T.U.N. (sheer total utter neglect). I have only used severe pruning 10-12 inches below the infected tissue and burning of pruned parts plus bleach solution sterilization of all tools in contact with my infected patients. My only treatment has been heavy mulching of soil. In ending, I am curious if anyone else has tried similar experiments dealing with fire blight and any thoughts or opinions.
 
Ken W Wilson
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Location: Nevada, Mo 64772
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I mostly agree with the previous responses but want to add that organic fertilizer is a problem too. New growth is more susceptible, so the slower the tree grows the better. I lost a pear and several apples.  The chicken tractor was not directly under them, but too close.

I think standard sized trees can stand more infection.
 
Chris Floyd
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Location: Eastern Shore of Virginia, United States, zone 7b
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Ken W Wilson wrote:I mostly agree with the previous responses but want to add that organic fertilizer is a problem too. New growth is more susceptible, so the slower the tree grows the better. I lost a pear and several apples.  The chicken tractor was not directly under them, but too close.

I think standard sized trees can stand more infection.


I do agree that even organic fertilizer can be a problem if it causes too fast/too much new growth. I try not to fertilize the first 2 years so as to give my new trees a chance to establish a good root system. I accidentally caused a flush of new growth on a young tree from a too vigorous application of urine before the poor plant had a chance to establish itself - my mistake! I prefer standard trees myself, but I have plenty of room - others might not have this option. I have not done any experiments with dwarfing root stock yet so I cannot give an opinion on standard verses dwarf resistance.
 
Marco Banks
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Well . . .

I've got it and that totally sucks.  One of my better Asian Pear trees is showing signs of it.

I need to get out there and cut the blight out.  This totally sucks, but what can you do?  I just hope it doesn't spread to my other trees.

So, what I understand:

1.  Cut it aggressively back -- at least 5 inches or more below any visual signs of the disease.
2.  Dip your loppers in something to sanitize them after every single cut.
3.  Burn the branches.

Anything I'm missing?
 
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