Cedar-Apple Rust on Pixie Crunch Apple Trees

Circular, yellow-orange diseased areas typical of cedar-apple rust on apple tree leaf.
Cedar-apple rust on apple tree leaf (UW-Madison Cooperative Extension)

Over the last two weeks I’ve observed two young Pixie Crunch apple trees in our orchard succumbing to cedar-apple rust. Or so I suspect.

I’m no plant pathology expert. And I’m an eager but admittedly amateur pomologist. So my hypothesis that dread cedar-apple rust has infiltrated Rosslyn’s orchard may be premature and far off target. (Do you detect my optimism?) Perhaps one of my astute readers will be able to help sort this one out.

July delivered the heaviest pressure from Japanese beetles that we have experienced since arriving in Essex, and some of the fruit trees have been largely defoliated by the hungry visitors. (The iridescent buggers are especially fond of stone fruit.) But they don’t seem to be the culprits in the case of the colorfully mottled apple trees.

It’s worth noting that the Pixie Crunch are the only apple trees affected. I plant a diverse mix of fruit trees with usually no more than a couple of each individual variety. This seems to be a blessing because none of the other orchard trees appear to be affected. So far.

Cedar-apple rust spots on leaves. <br>Photo by M. Grabowski, UMN Extension.
Cedar apple rust, photo by M. Grabowski (University of Minnesota Extension)

It’s also worth noting that the affliction doesn’t seem to kill the trees. It damages the lower leaves but allows new growth higher on the trees. While it is possible that the blight is slowly advancing upward, it does not appear to have spread further up the trees, only to have become more pronounced on the lower portions.

I’m hoping that the condition is not terminal, that it will not spread to other trees in the orchard, and – this is my my most ambitious pipe dream – that I’ve misdiagnosed the affliction as cedar-apple rust. After all, it is actually quite a beautiful coloring. Multicolored polka-dots, yellows and oranges against summer green. A new fashion trend?

But Pollyanna fancies aside, I’d like to identify it as soon as possible so that I can attempt to treat it so that the apple trees can recover and focus their energy on new growth instead of combating the disease. Or, worst case scenario, if it turns out to be something that is slowly killing the trees (and may infect other apple trees,) I’m inclined to remove the Pixie Crunch trees now and replace them this fall.

Is this cedar-apple rust on Rosslyn's apple trees?
Is this cedar-apple rust on Rosslyn’s apple trees?

I welcome your feedback, and I will do my best to keep you posted as I learn more and try to resolve the problem.

So what do you think? Cedar-apple rust? Something else? Although I dread admitting it, I’m fairly convinced that we’re battling a light invasion of cedar-apple rust which has undoubtedly evolved quite happily, unimpeded in the old meadows, volleying back and forth between the native cedars and old abandoned apple trees.

To brace myself, I’m digging into the nitty-gritty details. Anticipate a more in-depth look at cedar-apple rust soon as it appears the most likely suspect, especially since we have several Eastern Red Cedars (Juniperus virginiana) nearby upon which I’ve frequently witnessed (and photographed) the telltale galls…

About virtualDavis

A writer, storyteller and unabashed flâneur, George Davis (aka virtualDavis or G.G. Davis, Jr.) is the author of Rosslyn Redux: Reawakening a home, a dream and ourselves, a transmedia chronicle about rehabilitating an historic property in the Adirondacks with his bride. He blogs about storytelling, poetry, doodling, marginalia, flânerie, publishing, and other creativity-inspired esoterica at virtualDavis.com; posts sometimes exhilarating, often unnerving, occasionally euphoric, and always pollyanna "midlife mashups" at 40x41.com; chronicles his sailing adventures (and misadventures) at Sailing Errant; and delves into matters of parenting, babylandia, and childfreedom at Why No Kids? George formerly taught and coached at Santa Fe Preparatory School and The American School of Paris, and he co-founded and launched Maison Margaux: "Paris à la parisienne" in Faubourg Saint-Germain. He currently owns and operates Adobe Oasis in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his bride. George meanders on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube and Flickr.
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2 Responses to Cedar-Apple Rust on Pixie Crunch Apple Trees

  1. Laura Smith says:

    I’m very interested in knowing what you found out George as I have two dwarf apple trees I planted last year that have something similar. There is a red cedar & a white cedar fairly close by. I too am consumed w/the daily task of picking Japanese Beetles off my plum trees & grape vines. http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/prevent-japanese-beetle-damage-zw0z1304zkin.aspx?PageId=2#ArticleContent One thing to be aware of is that the traps are not a good control as they will attract beetles fromas far away as two miles, exacerbating the problem. My Dad has had good results w/treating the area w/Milky Spore which is what I am going to do this year!http://www1.extension.umn.edu/garden/insects/find/japanese-beetles/ Good luck!

    • virtualDavis says:

      Laura, I’m almost 100% certain that the apple trees were afflicted with cedar-apple rust, so I’ve proceeded by removing red cedars that had grown up in an adjacent, abandoned meadow. Both Pixie Crunch apple trees have now put on enough new, healthy growth that I’ll strip and dispose of the infected leaves so that they don’t perpetuate the cycle back to other cedars. I will continue to monitor cedars in further meadows for galls and remove if evident. And I will keep my fingers crossed that these “cultural control” steps will be adequate.

      I posted a Cedar-Apple Rust Facts follow-up post yesterday if you’re interested.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Laura, and especially for passing along those helpful links. I’ve taken notes from both and will try to squeeze in a future post on the topic of Japanese beetles since this is a challenge that many readers doubtlessly endure. I’m familiar with the risks of using the traps, but short of endless thumb-against-forefinger crunching I hadn’t yet come up with an effective means of Japanese beetle control. Onward! :-)

Your thoughts?