Verticillium Wilt In Your Fruit Trees? Bugger.

Jun 26, 2023

Over the past few years I’ve been trying to figure out what’s wrong with my two apricot trees as they’ve never really thrived. Symptoms included not fruiting well, sparse leaf and dead wood starting to appear in the canopy branches. Finally this year while we were doing some pruning (after the leaves had dropped) we noticed some internal rot on the lower branches. After a bit of research and a few tears, we realised it was Verticillium wilt, aka Blackheart. This soil-borne fungal disease impacts all stone fruit and nut trees, but really loves hanging out in apricots trees and sadly there is no known cure. So I had to chop them down and dig out as much root as possible to prevent it to spreading to other fruit trees.

But what causes this fungus to come? One of the main things is waterlogged soil which is what I suspect has happened here. Over the past three years, we’ve had usually wet and cool springs/summers and, combined with our heavy clay soils, our trees have had a whole lot of fungus move in previously unseen. Bugger.

You can see a little reel on it here and read more below.

And how does one move forward from such a tragedy? Well, you plant more trees of course. But importantly, don’t plant any more stone fruit in this location as the fungal disease is likely to come back again. Instead you can plant apples or pears in the same location. I planted two Nashi pears (a 20th century and Kosui varieties that’ll pollinate one another beautifully), If possible, you can also solarise the soil for a while (I suspect a good few months, but couldn’t find a clear reference to exact time) to help get rid of the fungus.

When you’re digging out the tree, it’s critical that you try and get as many roots out as possible and remove all the timber from your property. This last point is important as there’s a risk of spreading the fungus in your compost or mulching systems, so you can send it to your local Council’s green waste system, use it as firewood, make biochar or carve some spoons out of.

Now digging out the root ball was pretty hard in our heavy clay soils and took me a few hours of chipping away to get the main root ball out. I also removed all that soil and replaced it with a fresh, free-draining mix of compost, coarse horticultural sand and some spent mushroom substrate, gifted from Tunnel Hill Mushroom Farm.

And then we filmed the whole thing for Gardening Australia to teach others how to approach such a sad situation. Fun fact about Gardening Australia: Regardless of what the weather is doing, we *never* cancel a film shoot. Sometimes this means filming in huge downpours, with raincoats covering cameras, umbrellas hanging off every arm and me chainsawing in the brief clear windows – it’s hilarious and quite fun.

Gardening is full of ups and downs and it’s rare that everything goes “right”. So I reckon it’s important that we share our good and not-so-good experiences like this one so we can learn and grow together. I’m sad my apricot trees had to go, but I’m already excited for my two new Nashis that are now growing in the ground. Onwards and upwards!

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