How to Manage Pests

UC Pest Management Guidelines

Almond

Ceratocystis Canker

Pathogens: Ceratocystis fimbriata

(Reviewed 3/09, updated 3/09)

In this Guideline:


SYMPTOMS AND SIGNS

Ceratocystis cankers first appear as elongated water-soaked areas with amber-colored gum at the canker margins. Infected tissue turns dark brown, and eventually the affected area becomes sunken. Dark stains may permeate the heartwood and extend longitudinally 20 inches or more past the margin of the canker on the bark. Cankers can girdle and kill infected branches, scaffold limbs, or entire trees. A limb 4 to 6 inches in diameter can be girdled in 3 to 4 years. However, some cankers become inactive and heal after two or three growing seasons. Trees consistently damaged by harvesters year after year are most severely affected by this canker.

Cankers caused by Ceratocystis fimbriata may be confused with branch cankers caused by Phytophthora spp. Gumming occurs with both types of cankers but usually in a different pattern. Gum balls generally occur at the margins of a Ceratocystis canker, whereas in Phytophthora cankers, they generally occur throughout the diseased area. Ceratocystis cankers grow slowly from year to year, whereas those caused by Phytophthora advance rapidly but stop when the pathogen dies out in hot weather and do not resume. Unlike Phytophthora cankers, which can develop on uninjured portions of the tree or around pruning wounds, cankers caused by Ceratocystis are always associated with bark injuries.

COMMENTS ON THE DISEASE

Ceratocystis or mallet-wound canker is a widespread disease of almond. Cankers develop in areas of the trunk or branches that have been damaged by cultural equipment or by rubber-covered mallets or mechanical shakers during harvesting. Cultivars most susceptible to the disease are Mission, NePlus Ultra, and Nonpareil.

Obvious wounds, such as those caused by harvesting equipment or pruning, are the most common entry sites for Ceratocystis, but inconspicuous wounds on small twigs or branches are also susceptible. When pruned branches are pulled from the tree, small twigs are broken. If these or minor bark abrasions are infected by Ceratocystis, small cankers form. A branch with several such cankers may be girdled and die.

Ceratocystis is spread by several species of sap-feeding beetles and a fruit fly. These insects feed on the fungi in diseased trees, including other stone fruit trees, and either ingest fungal spores and later excrete them or come into contact with the spores and transport them on their bodies to new locations. Insects that have fed on spores as larvae can retain the fungus through pupation and emerge with it as adults. Adult insects can also be contaminated by the fungus in winter months if they inhabit old bark wounds.

Following a bark injury, most almond trees are susceptible to Ceratocystis infections for 8 to 14 days. Once it infects cambium, the fungus can invade healthy bark tissue and young xylem tissues. Dark stains permeate the sapwood and heartwood, but the fungus seldom penetrates further than the xylem of the previous year's growth. The fungus grows more rapidly in smaller branches, and they are killed sooner.

MANAGEMENT

The most effective way to prevent Ceratocystis canker is to avoid shaker injury to trunks and scaffolds. If the bark is injured, shave the rough portions to promote callus formation.

To control established cankers, you can perform tree surgery. Cankers are not easy to remove, however, and if you miss some of the infected tissue, the fungus can continue to grow and the canker will return. More often than not, tree surgery must be done year after year until you finally remove all infected tissue, and it may not be economically feasible. The best time to carry out tree surgery is from December to February; both the pathogen and the insect vectors are less active at this time. (However, surgery at this time of year may provide an opening for infection by aerial Phytophthora fungi.) Remove infected bark and 0.25 to 0.5 inch of the woody tissue underneath the bark. Extend the cut at least 1 inch beyond the visible canker margin. Recheck the area the following year. If the canker has returned, repeat the process.

If surgery is done in the winter months when few insects are active, leave the wound undressed. The value of putting dressings on tree wounds following surgery has not been established, and it slows the healing process. Avoid clamping the shaker head on areas of the tree that have had surgery, as this can reopen wounds on healing callus.

PUBLICATION

[UC Peer Reviewed]

UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines: Almond
UC ANR Publication 3431

Diseases

J. E. Adaskaveg, Plant Pathology, UC Riverside
W. D. Gubler, Plant Pathology, UC Davis
Roger Duncan, UC Cooperative Extension, Stanislaus County
J. J. Stapleton, UC IPM Program, Kearney Agricultural Center, Parlier
B. A. Holtz, UC Cooperative Extension, San Joaquin County

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