Cherry leaf scorch and leaf spot

Both ornamental and edible cherry trees can suffer from the foliar diseases known as leaf scorch and leaf spot. These lead to unsightly yellow or brown leaves.

cherry leaf scorch

Quick facts

Common name Cherry leaf scorch and leaf spot
Scientific name Apiognomonia erythrostoma and Blumeriella jaapii
Plants affected Cherry, Prunus species
Main symptoms Leaf scorch: leaves shrivel and fail to drop in autumn. Leaf spot: leaves yellow and drop prematurely
Caused by Fungi
Timing Spores active in spring

What is cherry leaf scorch and leaf spot?

Cherry leaf scorch and leaf spot are diseases of Prunus spp. caused by the pathogenic fungi Apiognomonia erythrostoma and Blumeriella jaapii. The leaves either shrivel, turn brown and remain hanging on the tree throughout winter in the case of leaf scorch, or become yellowed, mottled and drop prematurely in the case of leaf spot.

Symptoms

Leaf scorch:

  • Leaves become blotchy and brown in summer, then completely brown and shrivelled
  • Hard spots may develop in fruit 
  • Affected leaves are not shed, but remain hanging on the tree during the winter

Leaf spot:

  • Leaves develop purple spots, sometimes small holes ('shotholes'), or bright orange colouration and drop prematurely
  • Alternatively, leaves develop a blotchy, yellow appearance and drop prematurely
  • Under wet conditions, flecks of white fungus may be seen on the underside of affected leaves

Control

Non-chemical control:

  • For leaf spot, collection and destruction of fallen leaves will reduce the amount of fungus available for infection the following year. Removal of shrivelled leaves affected by leaf scorch would have the same effect, but is not usually feasible

Resistance: Ornamental cherries, Prunus 'Kanzan' and P. 'Shirofugen' are reputedly resistant to leaf spot

Chemical control:

No chemical controls are specifically available for these diseases.

Biology

Leaf scorch was an uncommon disease in the UK for many years, but since the early 1990's it has become more common, especially in the south east, and appears to be spreading. It principally attacks Prunus avium (wild cherry and its cultivars) with unconfirmed reports from P. padus (bird cherry); it is recorded attacking P. armeniaca (apricot) in mainland Europe.

The fungus overwinters in the dead hanging leaves, releasing spores to infect the new leaves in the spring and summer next year. Infected leaves develop brown blotches, then become completely brown and shrivelled. In the autumn they are not shed, but remain hanging on the tree. Only leaves are affected and despite being striking and unsightly it does little damage to the tree.

Leaf spot has been known in the USA and mainland Europe since the 19th century, but only became common in the UK in the 1990's. It attacks sweet and acid cherries and many ornamental varieties. The causal fungus produces spores on the white patches of fungal growth on the underside of the leaves. It also produces resting structures in fallen leaves, which carry the fungus over the winter and release airborne spores in the spring. The disease is very variable in severity from year to year.

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.

  • Abigail

    By Abigail on 15/08/2014

    I have two cherry trees and the small one exhibited a lot of 'bleeding' of the bark areas early summer and now the leaves are looking very sad and yellow with the odd black spot. I had some gardening work done recently and the gardener dug up a massive root with lots of shoots and I am wondering if this has affected the growth of my tree. Good sized yellow/red cherries. The larger cherry tree is still very green and healthy looking and I am very concerned I have damaged the smaller one. Any advice?


    0 replies

    Report

Get involved

We're a UK charity established to share the best in gardening. We want to enrich everyone's life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.