Pyracantha scab

One of my favorite features in my yard is in danger…my pyracantha is sick. It has pyracantha scab and I am determined to save it this Spring.  I noticed symptoms last fall – some of the leaves looked a little weird and when winter came and the berries should have been beautiful and brilliant (like they are in the picture above, taken last September), instead they were dull, ashen, and even black.  So I have done a little research and here is what I have learned about pyracantha and their diseases…

Pyracatha are prone to two common illnesses: Fireblight (a bacterial disease that may kill the plant) and Scab (a fungal disease).  Symptoms of scab include the spotting, yellowing, and browning of leaves before defoliation, and dark sooty colored fruit which can turn black when severe.  Here are some pictures of my infected plant (please forgive how terribly out of focus they are, I have no idea what I was looking at when I took them):

infected leaves

spotted backs of leaves

darkened berries

Pretty ugly huh.  When I started to notice symptoms last year I sprayed the plant with Neem Oil – thinking it might just solve the problem in an eco-friendly way.  Neem oil can be successful in treating insects and some fungal infections.  Since I also had a ton of aphids in my yard last summer, I thought perhaps it would solve both problems without making Blue, Me or my bees sick.  It didn’t work.  Then I thought perhaps the rough winter would solve my problem – but no.  Scab overwinters and will spread its spores in spring and early summer. Damn.

So, I am being more aggressive this Spring.  Yesterday was my first day of battle.  Since new growth is starting to peek out happy and healthy, I pruned the plant WAY back, getting rid of as many of the infected branches as I could without just chopping the whole thing down.  I pulled leaves off by hand as well where they shared branches with healthy new growth.  All the bad berries came off.  I dutifully bagged all of the infected cuttings and then raked and removed all of the fallen leaves and berries as well.  Cleaning up the surrounding areas is apparently really important since it overwinters.  Some websites advised putting all of the debris in an incinerator.  I don’t have one handy so I am bagging it and putting it on the curb!

Then I took a deep breath and bought a serious fungicide.  I read the instructions obsessively and tried to be very careful and responsible.  But lets face it – I have declared war on scab and I can’t afford to be Mr. Nice-guy anymore. Sorry beneficial insects – you are welcome to find homes in the rest of my yard.  I covered the few plants (parsley, sage) I had growing nearby in plastic before spraying and locked the dog inside.  I used a commercial product called Bayer Advanced 3-in-1 insect, disease, and mite control. I decided if I was going to spray the plant with something I might as well get rid of all of the issues plaguing my poor plant.

And now I wait for a couple of weeks before spraying again. According to the Pest Management folks at Illinois University you should spray once as the spring buds break open and then every 7-10 days until about two weeks after the petals fall.  The instructions on my fungicide said at the beginning of Spring growth and then repeating twice, each application 1-2 weeks apart.  Apparently the spores are spread in light rain, so it is particularly important to spray before the spring rains set in.

Here are a few websites I found useful in my research.  Wish me and my plant luck!

The University of Illinois

The University of Kentucky School of Agriculture


My pyracantha in happier days...





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