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The Reason Apple Trees Aren’t In Our Future

Cedars full of cedar apple rust galls is a bad sign for farmers dreaming of apple trees.

by Rachael DupreeFebruary 10, 2017
PHOTO: Judy Gallagher/Flickr

It’s a February miracle! The rain finally gave us a break, meaning Mr. B and I had a chance to put the planning and scheming we’ve been doing for our great outdoors into action.

While I’d like to say we’ve gotten outside to till up our garden space and start our seeds, we’re not quite there yet—we will be soon. Instead, we focused on the pastures we’ll soon need to bush-hog, clearing out some areas we’d like to open up a bit more. which meant that we suited up in full lumberjack and lumberjane style—plaid shirts and Carhartts—and cut down some trees.

Clearing The Cedars

Cedars were our trees of focus. When an area of land has been left undisturbed for awhile, these are the first trees to emerge after shrubby plants, like wild raspberries. When not in an area intended to be woodlands, you can think of cedars as giant weeds. The areas we’re clearing out are already pastures full of bee and butterfly candy—the wildflowers that we came to adore our first seasons here—so we took down a few of the smaller trees to allow more room for a bush hog to move its way through. With these annual or biannual mowings, we’ll ensure that the pastures stay pastures while the woodlands continue to transform into hardwood sanctuaries.

Aside from cutting down the trees—the logs of which will either be used for firewood or for fence posts depending on their size—we had to haul off all the limbs into the woods. We were taught to pile them into clumps to give the deer and other wildlife shelters to hide.

Name That Gall

As I was gathering limbs, I noticed one of the trees had these odd-looking galls on them. They’re about the size of a golf ball with small divots across the surface, just like a golf ball would have. Although rather hard, I was able to crack one open, and it was dense but textured somewhat like a mushroom. After a quick internet search, I learned that because of these galls, we might as well kiss any dreams of apple growing goodbye.

The galls are the bearers of Cedar Apple Rust, one of the most common diseases to affect apple trees in our area. I’ve talked to many a farmer whose orchards have been affected by this disease and who have warned me against attempting to grow the fruit, particularly if I’m adamant about growing strictly without chemicals.

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What Is Cedar Apple Rust?

Cedar Apple Rust
Mike Lewinski/Flickr

The Cedar Apple Rust galls overwinter in cedars and junipers. After rainy weather, they develop these crazy orange tentacles, called telia, and after two years, release their spores. Apple trees victimized by the spores will begin to get small, pale yellow spots on the leaves at first, and then eventually the fruit can be affected and production can stop altogether. In addition to apples, crabapples, pears, hawthorns and serviceberries could also be at risk.

Getting It Under Control

The best way to get the disease under control, according to what I’ve read, is to destroy the hosts, aka the cedars. Given that our land is full of cedars, and because they add beautiful texture to our landscape, that’s not a practical solution. However, identifying which trees have galls and pruning them out could be, though it could still be a time-consuming and tedious task.

Should we decide our farm really needs some apple trees, the most logical solution would be to select cultivars resistant to Cedar Apple Rust—though taking a trip up the street to the local apple orchard may be the best solution yet.

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