Apple canker

Apple canker is a fungal disease causing disfiguring and sunken patches of dead bark on the branches of apple and some other trees. Infections often begin at wounds or buds.

Apple canker.

Quick facts

Common name Apple canker
Scientific name Neonectria ditissima (syn. Neonectria galligena, Nectria galligena)
Plants affected Mainly apples
Main symptoms Round or oval areas of dead, sunken bark
Caused by Fungus
Timing New cankers form from mid-spring

What is apple canker?

Apple canker is a disease caused by a fungus, Neonectria ditissima, which attacks the bark of apples and some other trees, causing a sunken area of dead bark and, eventually, death of the branch. New cankers form from mid-spring, and once formed are present all year. Cankers can also develop on the trunk.

Apples are the most important hosts, although pears and Sorbus species are also attacked and, less frequently, ash, beech and some other trees.


Cankers are round or oval areas of dead, sunken bark, often starting at a wound or a bud.

You may see the following symptoms:

  • On small branches and fruiting spurs: The infection may girdle the stem and kill it in a single season. The bark often flakes off infected smaller twigs
  • On larger branches and/or the trunk: Cankers are perennial, with the affected area covered with dead bark that sometimes shows concentric rings indicating periods of active spread. Older cankers lose the bark, exposing dead wood in the centre. Perennial cankers develop raised edges as the tree’s bark attempts to grow back over the exposed area. Eventually the branch will die above the canker, being progressively weakened as the bark is killed
  • On fruit: Developing fruits are sometimes attacked, and will rot and fall


Non chemical control

Canker is said to be more serious on wet, heavy and/or acid soils, so pay attention to drainage and raise the soil pH by liming if needed.

Completely cut out all affected smaller branches and spurs. With the larger branches, try to cut out all infected material. All such pruning should remove all brown, infected bark and wood, cutting back to fresh green tissues. Paint immediately with a protective wound paint such as Medo, Growing Success Prune & Seal or Provanto Arbrex Seal and Heal, to prevent the wounds becoming reinfected.

Inclusion of a product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener.

No variety is completely resistant under all conditions, but the following all show some resistance:  ‘Alfriston’, ‘Annie Elizabeth’, ‘Brownlees Russet’, ‘Cockle Pippin’, ‘Crawley Beauty’, ‘D’Arcy Spice’, ‘Emneth Early’, ‘Grenadier’, ‘John Standish’, ‘Katy’ (‘Katya’), ‘Lane’s Prince Albert’, ‘Lord Derby’, ‘Merton Russet’, ‘Newton Wonder’, ‘Orleans Reinette’, ‘Reverend W. Wilkes’, ‘Rosemary Russet’, ‘Winston’.

Some varieties are particularly susceptible to canker and these include ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’, ‘Lord Suffield’, ‘James Grieve’, ‘Ribston Pippin’, ‘Worcester Pearmain’, ‘Ellison’s Orange’ and ‘Spartan’.

Chemical control

Apart from the wound paints described above, no products are available to gardeners for the control of apple canker.


Fungicides for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document giving further details of wound paints available to gardeners)


Chemicals: using safely and effectively
Chemicals: storing and disposing safely


The fungus produces white pustules of water-dispersed spores from the edges of the lesions in summer, and airborne spores from small red structures in the winter and spring. Both can initiate infections, usually through wounds including pruning cuts. Damage left by falling leaves (leaf scars), frost, scab disease, and woolly aphid are also routes for infection.

In perennial cankers there is an interaction between fungus and tree. At some periods the canker spreads whilst at others the bark grows back over infected tissues. Sometimes the canker stabilises or heals but, more usually, it spreads gradually until the branch is girdled, or so weakened that it breaks.

Join the RHS

Become an RHS Member today and save 25% on your first year

Join now

Gardeners' calendar

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

Advice from the RHS

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.