Crown gall

Crown gall is a bacterial disease of the stems and roots of many woody and herbaceous plants, including fruit, vegetables and ornamental plants. Infection with this disease causes knobbly swellings (galls) on stems, roots, trunks and branches.

Crown gall on apple

Quick facts

Common name Crown gall
Scientific name Agrobacterium tumefaciens (synonym Rhizobium radiobacter)
Plants affected Many plants
Main symptoms Knobbly swollen galls on stems, roots, trunks and branches
Caused by Bacterium
Timing Galls present all year

What is crown gall?

Crown gall is a disease caused by the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens (synonym Rhizobium radiobacter), which enters the plant through wounds in roots or stems and stimulates the plant tissues to grow in a disorganised way, producing swollen galls. Galls are present all year.

Crown gall affects many plants, both woody and herbaceous. These are some of the plants on which it is most commonly found:

  • Fruit: Apples, cherries, currants, gooseberries, grapevines, blackberries, peaches, pears, plums and quince
  • Vegetables: Beetroot, courgettes, runner beans and swedes
  • Herbaceous plants: Alcea (hollyhock), Argyranthemum (marguerites), Begonia, Dahlia, Lathyrus (sweet peas), Lupinus (lupins) and Phlox
  • Woody plants: Crataegus (hawthorn), Euonymus, Populus (poplar), Salix (willow), Rosa and Ulmus (elm)

Note: swellings caused by crown gall should not be confused with the harmless nitrogen-fixing nodules produced on the roots of many members of the pea family.

Symptoms

You may see the following:

  • Swellings (galls) on the plant stems or roots. In severe cases almost all the root system may be replaced by massive, swollen tissues
  • Galls on herbaceous plants decay and soon disintegrate, but those on woody plants may be hard and perennial
  • Plant growth may be affected, but often there is little apparent damage and root galls may go unnoticed for long periods

Control

Non-chemical control

If crown gall is detected, lift and destroy affected plants. Grow crops of potatoes or other vegetables (except beetroot, which are also susceptible) over the next one or two years to help eliminate the bacteria from the soil, or grass the area over for one or more years.

Chemical control

There are no chemicals available for the control of crown gall.

Biology

The crown gall pathogen Agrobacterium tumefaciens inhabits the soil where it can survive for long periods. Not all strains of this bacterium are pathogenic (capable of causing disease) and there are several different pathogenic strains with differing host ranges.

The bacteria enter stems or roots through wounds. The bacterial DNA combines with the DNA of the plant host cell where it ‘transforms’ the cell, causing it to become tumour-forming (galls) and also to produce specific new materials on which the bacteria feed. As the gall grows, the plant tissues become disorganised and normal transport processes are disrupted.

In herbaceous plants, the gall rots and the bacterial cells return to the soil. On woody plants, the galls are woody and perennial and do not rot away.

Advertise here

Gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Find out what to do this month with our gardeners' calendar

Advice from the RHS

Did you find the advice you needed?

RHS members can get exclusive individual advice from the RHS Gardening Advice team.

Join the RHS now

Discuss this

for the site or to share your experiences on this topic and seek advice from our community of gardeners.