Cherry blackfly

Cherry blackfly can cause distorted foliage on cherries, this is unsightly but does not stop cherry trees from flowering or bearing fruit.

Cherry blackfly (Myzus cerasi) on Cherry (Prunus sp.). Credit: RHS/Entomology.

Quick facts

Common name: Cherry blackfly
Scientific name: Myzus cerasi
Plants affected: Fruiting cherries and ornamental forms of Prunus cerasus, P. avium and P. padus
Main symptoms: Curled and distorted leaves at tips, black aphids present in spring
Most active: May–July

What is cherry blackfly?

Cherry blackfly is an aphid that sucks sap from the foliage of fruiting cherries and ornamental forms of Prunus cerasus, P. avium and P. padus during late spring and early summer, causing tight leaf curling.

 

Symptoms

  • During late spring and early summer, the undersides of the leaves and the shoot tips are covered with shiny black aphids
  • Leaves become severely crumpled and curled
  • Later in summer the damaged leaves may dry up and turn brown, but the aphid leaves the plant
  • Foliage becomes sticky with the sugary honeydew that aphids excrete, and a black sooty mould may develop
  • Susceptible types of cherry will survive aphid damage, but they can suffer from curled leaves in most years

Control

Check susceptible plants frequently from spring onwards so action can be taken before a damaging population has developed. When choosing control options you can minimise harm to non-target animals by starting with the methods in the non-pesticide control section. If this is not sufficient to reduce damage to acceptable levels then you may choose to use pesticides. Within this group the shorter persistence pesticides (that are usually certified for organic growing) are likely to be less damaging to non-target wildlife than those with longer persistence and/or systemic action.

Non-pesticide control

  • Where possible tolerate populations of aphids
  • Where an ornamental, rather than a fruiting cherry is required, the problem can be avoided by growing the less-susceptible Japanese types of flowering cherries
  • Use finger and thumb to squash aphid colonies where practical
  • Encourage ‘aphid predators’ in the garden, such as ladybirds, ground beetles, hoverflies, parasitoid wasps and earwigs. Be aware that in spring aphid populations often build up before natural enemies are active in sufficient numbers and then give good control

Pesticide control

  • Organic sprays, such as natural pyrethrum (e.g. Bug Clear Gun for Fruit & Veg, Neudorff Bug Free Bug and Larvae Killer), fatty acids (e.g. Solabiol Bug Free, Doff Greenfly & Blackfly Killer) or plant oils (e.g. Vitax Plant Guard Pest & Disease Control, Bug Clear for Fruit and Veg) can give good control of aphids. These pesticides have a very short persistence and so may require reapplication to keep aphid numbers in check. Plant oil and fatty acid products are less likely to affect larger insects such as ladybird adults. These contact sprays will give poor results once the aphids have caused the leaves to curl. 
  • On cherry overwintering aphid eggs can be destroyed by using a plant oil winter wash (organic e.g. Vitax Winter Tree Wash). This can be used when the buds are fully dormant in November-early February on a dry frost-free day. Plant oil winter washes are less likely detrimental to natural enemies and can mean that spring sprays are unnecessary 
  • Plant invigorators combine nutrients to stimulate plant growth with surfactants or fatty acids that have a physical mode of action against aphids (e.g. Ecofective Bug Control, RHS Bug and Mildew Control, SB Plant Invigorator and Westland Resolva Natural Power Bug & Mildew). These products contain some synthetic ingredients and so are not considered organic. These contact sprays will give poor results once the aphids have caused the leaves to curl
  • More persistent contact-action insecticides include the synthetic pyrethroids lambda-cyhalothrin (e.g. Westland Resolva Bug Killer), deltamethrin (e.g. Provanto Ultimate Fruit & Vegetable Bug Killer, Provanto Sprayday Greenfly Killer) and cypermethrin (e.g. Py Bug Killer)
  • The systemic neonicotinoid insecticide acetamiprid (e.g. Bug Clear Ultra) is also available
Follow label instructions when using pesticides. On edible plants make sure the food plant is listed on the label and follow instructions on maximum number of applications, spray interval and harvest interval.
Plants in flower should not be sprayed due to the danger to bees and other pollinating insects
Inclusion of a pesticide product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by RHS Gardening Advice. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener

Download

Pesticides for gardeners (pdf document)

 

Biology

  • Cherry blackfly overwinters on the tree as eggs, from which wingless aphids hatch in spring as the foliage develops
  • Winged forms appear in June-July, and these migrate to wild flowers known as bedstraws, Galium species
  • Infestations on cherries gradually die out during July, but damaged leaves remain visible for the rest of the summer
  • There is a return migration from bedstraws in the autumn, when the winter eggs are laid


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