By: Jackie Carroll
Fig trees add character to the landscape and produce a bounty of tasty fruit. Read on to find out how to detect and treat this destructive disease.
Pink blight in figs is fairly common in the Eastern U.S. where summers are hot and humid. It is caused by the fungus Erythricium salmonicolor, also known as Corticum salmonicolor. There is no fungicide approved by the EPA for use on edible figs, so growers must rely on proper pruning to prevent and treat pink blight fig disease.
Fungal diseases of fig trees thrive in unpruned trees where air can’t circulate freely. You’ll often see the first signs of the pink blight fig disease in the center of the crown where the branches are thickest, and moisture accumulates. Look for limbs and twigs with a dirty-white or pale pink, velvety growth.
The only treatment is to remove affected stems and branches. Prune figs carefully, making your cuts at least 4 to 6 inches below the fungal growth. If there are no side shoots between what is left of the branch and the trunk, remove the entire branch.
It’s a good idea to disinfect pruning equipment between cuts to avoid spreading blight diseases of fig trees as you prune. Use a full-strength household disinfectant or a solution of nine parts water and one part bleach. Dip the pruners in the solution after every cut. You may not want to use your best pruners for this job since household bleach causes pitting on metal blades. Wash and dry the tools thoroughly when the job is complete.
Fig tree blight doesn’t stand a chance in a properly pruned tree. Begin pruning while the tree is young, and keep it up as long as the tree continues to grow. Remove enough of the branches to prevent overcrowding and allow air to circulate. Make cuts as close as possible to the trunk of the tree. Unproductive stubs that you leave on the trunk are entry points for disease.
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Read more about Fig Trees
Fig trees (Ficus carica L.) are relatively small trees at only 10 to 30 feet tall, but they have such a broad spread, often as wide as the tree is tall, that they need plenty of room to grow. The plants can be pruned to a smaller, bushier shape for yards with less space, or grown in containers. The sun-loving fig grows best in Mediterranean climates, but do require some protection from heavy winds. More figs are grown in California than anywhere else in the country.
Cercospora leaf spot initially causes reddish brown spots on leaves. Over time, the angular spots become brown in the center with yellow borders around their edges. This fungus can eventually cause leaf drop. The FDA has not approved any fungicides to treat cercospora leaf spot, so the best way to manage the disease is to remove fallen diseased leaves and prune ficus to allow plenty of air circulation. Wet foliage bolsters the cercospora fungus, so water ficus plants at their bases rather than by spraying water overhead. Another leaf spot disease of ficus, bacterial leaf spot, primarily infects weeping fig trees (Ficus benjamina). Weeping fig trees grow up to 60 feet tall and are hardy in USDA zones 10 and 11. The disease causes angular yellow leaf spots, which eventually become brown. Infected leaves fall off as the disease progresses. To manage the problem, experts at Penn State Extension recommend avoiding overhead watering and purchasing only disease-free seedlings.
Anthracnose (fungus – Glomerella cingulata): The fungus which causes anthracnose attacks both the fruit and the foliage. Infected fruit are characterized by a soft rot and premature dropping of the fruit. Immature fruit are dried up and may remain on the tree. Infection results in a small, sunken, discolored area. The areas enlarge with age and become covered with a pink mass of spores. Affected leaves will have a dark brown margin. Defoliation occurs with increased infection. Sanitation is extremely important in the fig planting. Diseased fruit as well as infected leaves should be removed.
Cotton Root Rot: (See Section on Cotton Root Rot)
Crown Gall: (See Section on Crown Gall)
Dieback (physiological – cold injury): Fig trees are often injured by early or late frosts that kill younger twigs. Although their death is not related directly to loss in production, they may serve as a site for secondary fungi to get started. All dead twigs and limbs should be pruned from the trees.
Fig Mosaic (virus): Affected figs show large yellow areas in the leaves, oak leaf pattern, ring spot area, or a mild mottled pattern. Leaves may be smaller than normal and deformed. Premature defoliation and fruit drop often occur. The virus is spread by vegetative cuttings and Aceria ficus (eriophyid mite). Control is by selection of clean propagating stock and insect control.
Fig Rust (fungus – Physopella fici): The disease is first evident as small, angular, yellow-green flecks on the leaf. The spots do not become extremely large but do become more yellow and finally a yellowish-brown. The margin of the spot is reddish in color. On the upper surface the spots are smooth, while on the lower surface the spots appear as small blisters. Brown spores are released from the blisters at maturity. As infection continues, the leaves become more yellow, and finally they begin to die around the leaf margins. Eventually death and defoliation occur. Complete defoliation can occur in two or three weeks. Fig rust generally becomes a problem as the fruit reaches maturity. Therefore, fungicide applications should be started in the early spring when the first leaves are completely grown. Make additional applications as new growth is formed. Do not spray when the fruit is one-fourth inch in diameter as the spray residue will make the fruit unattractive. Resume spraying after the fruit has been harvested.
Fruit Drop (physiological – flower development): The fig produces four types of flowers (male, female, Gall, and Mule): The male and female flowers are most often associated with the Capri type fig. This fig requires a wasp for pollination. The wasp does not occur in this part of the United States, thus it is impossible to grow Capri figs in Texas. Gall flowers are imperfect female flowers. They are found only on Capri and Cordelia figs. Mule flowers need no pollination and produce no seeds. The common fig grown in Texas produces primarily mule flowers. Since no seed are formed, the mule flowers are more subject to dropping than than those flowers which require pollination. The presence of the seed and the growth hormones produced by the seed help prevent fruit drop. The figs grown in Texas due to absence of seed are more subject to premature fruit drop as a result of adverse growing conditions.
Leaf Blight (fungus – Pellicularia kolerga): In early stages of infection, small areas in the leaves become yellow and appear watersoaked. With continual development, the upper surface becomes silvery white, and the lower surface becomes light brown and covered with a thin fungal web. In most cases, the leaves will turn brown and shrivel. It affects primarily the leaves but may develop on some fruit if it is new and a severely affected leaf or stem tip. Sanitation is the only recommendation to reduce losses from this disease.
Limb Blight (fungus – Corticum salmonicolor): Affected limbs wilt rapidly. The fungus enters at a spot along the main or secondary limbs, and all leaves die beyond that point. The fungus enters at a dead fruiting spore or at some other injured spot. All dead twigs and limbs should be removed by pruning so that they will not serve as infection sites.
Mushroom Root Rot: (See Section on Mushroom Root Rot)
Root Knot Nematodes (nematode – Meloidogyne spp.): Root knot is one of the most common disease problems occurring on figs. Infected roots are characterized by small galls or swellings on the roots. The presence of the galls on the roots interferes with the normal uptake of nutrients by the roots. Plants infested with root knot are stunted and have a general unhealthy appearance. Infested planting sites should be treated with Vapam prior to planting. This will reduce the nematodes in the soil to a low level. Do not use around living plants as it will result in severe root pruning, and in many cases death will occur. Make sure the fig plant is free of root knot. Once planted, the only practice left is to keep the plant in good health with regular fertilizer applications and maintain adequate moisture around the plant. If nematodes were initially present, the fig will eventually become infested, but the root system should be well established by then. (See Section on Root Knot Nematodes)
Sclerotium Blight (fungus – Sclerotium rolfsii): A yellowish-white mat of fungal growth is formed at the base of the plant. Round, hard, yellowish to brown bodies (sclerotia) are found scattered in the fungal growth. To prevent the occurrence of this disease, it is important to carry out a thorough sanitation program. Old leaves or grass around the base of tree will encourage fungal development.
Souring (several fungi and bacteria): Organisms are carried into the fruit by the dried fruit beetle. Figs which have open “eyes” or ostioles should not be planted. Only those with closed “eyes” should be planted. Some examples of closed eye figs are Celest, Texas Everbearing, and Alma. No chemical control has been found to be totally effective. Maneb fungicide will help to some extent. Insects should be controlled to eliminate them as carriers for the disease causing organisms.
Fig trees are also susceptible to fig mosaic, a viral disease that causes large, yellowish spots to form on the leaves. These spots contrast sharply with the normal green foliage, creating a mottled effect. As the mosaic disease progresses, the spots become surrounded by a rust-colored ring, which is caused by the subepidermal or epidermal cells dying. Some fig tree varieties also develop mosaic lesions on the fruits. The fig mosaic virus also causes some tree species to suffer from premature fruit drop.
Clean the fruit tree roots. Place them under running water to remove any soil. Spread on a table to dry takes approximately one hour.
Label trees with the species and variety. Use labels with strings attached and write in permanent marker.
Line a 2-gallon bucket with burlap. Place the fruit tree seedling in the bucket.
Fill the bucket with sterile soil. The soil should cover the roots and 8 inches of the trunk.
Wrap the burlap around the soil and roots. Secure with wire ties.
Place the trees into the shipping box. Fill empty spaces with pack peanuts to secure the trees in place.
Tape box closed. Properly address a priority mail label and affix to the box.
Obtain a certificate of health from your local extension office before shipping to Hawaii or California.