Monday, October 10, 2011

Highbush Blueberry Scorch Blues; a Disease Profile

Was your blueberry harvest less than it should be?  Do the leaves of your blueberry plants get burnt looking edges and look unhealthy?  This is something to be concerned about as it is not regular fall color.

Symptomatic leaves of Vaccinium 'Berkley Blue'

Last year when all the blossoms blasted I blamed the birds for eating them off the plant...though I had no proof and it literally seemed to happen over night.  Actually it looks now like it is more than likely a viral infection called "Blueberry Scorch" a serious disease.  So it looks like I will be sending in plant samples for verification.  Experts suspect the virus is spread by aphids that carry the disease from plant to plant when they feed on the plants using their piercing sucking mouth parts.  This virus affects cranberries which will not show symptoms of the disease.

No this is not the leaves turning color with the onset of fall.

The first year my plants showed no sign of the disease (typical for the virus), though the harvest was slim and some branches died back.  I just figured the moles that run under all my favorite plants had found them and that is why they didn't thrive.  The second year almost no harvest at all.  That was the year I thought it was birds picking off the blooms.   This year, some flowers and a handful of fruit, but yowzer...the leaves are suffering an all out onslaught of the disease and the poor thing just looks horrid making me sing the blues over my blueberries.

Blueberry Scorch takes 1 to 2 years to show up on plants and it is my belief that one of the plants I purchased a couple years ago was infected with the disease.  Both plants looked wonderful when I purchased them and that is how these things work sometimes. Oh well...I learned something new again this year.  Not exactly what I was looking to learn but its something new anyway.

One of my plants, a 'Blue Crop', still shows no sign of the disease on the leaf but has suffered poor fruit production and branch die-back for three seasons now.  So it looks like both of them are heading for the burn pile with samples going in for testing.  Quite honestly really fries me because blueberries grow so well here where I live and they are one of my most favorite fruits.

Sad little leaf

The lesson learned here is to purchase blueberries that are certified disease free.  That will mean asking the local garden centers if their plants are certified (most don't advertise that information) and even asking for proof.  I would rather ask and be sure than not and spend years waiting to find out they are sick.

Well I hope this will help you avoid the pit I fell into with my blueberries.  Hmmm...I wonder if there is a song in there somewhere.  "I got the blu-ueberry sco-o-orch blu---ues!"  Maybe.

Happy gardening!

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