The Cruel Tease

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What's that song? Accentuate The Positive? Sung so brilliantly by Bing N' Bette in a 1977 television special?

I suppose I could talk about the show the roses are putting on in the backyard. The two giant artichokes we will harvest for dinner tonight? Maybe the monster garlic that is growing even more monstrous with every spring rainstorm or deep watering session on the weekends.

Nope. My "tale" this weekend is one of woe. It's one of those cruel jokes pulled by Mother Nature when I was least expecting it. There's no escaping this one. One of the fruit harvests that I most look forward to every spring and summer is no more -- stolen away -- by a dreaded disease called Brown Rot.

I just spent the better part of this afternoon pulling off every single diseased cherry from this Lapin Cherry tree located to your immediate right.

It wasn't easy -- but it had to be done. There will be no cherries from the Lapin this year -- which is the cruelest of hoaxes and "cherry jobs" that Mother Nature can deliver.

This was the ultimate tease. This tree produced its first crop during it's second year -- last spring. Yes -- it was a small crop. But it was a tasty one at that. The birds got a share. So did the bugs. But Venus and I got a nice taste of what was to come in Year 3. The Lapin -- also called a "self-fruitful Bing" -- is one sweet cherry.

So -- during the winter -- I dreamed of Lapin cherries. Not just one or two. But Lapin cherries by the bucket. Venus and I even planted a Royal Ranier Cherry tree nearby -- because we knew that one cherry tree just wasn't going to be enough.

Venus wanted enough cherries for cherry pies. I wanted to re-live the days of my Modesto youth -- where I could sit in a cherry tree and eat my fill. We took steps to baby the tree during the winter. I trimmed it for the first time. Venus mulched around the base of the tree. By the time spring rolled around -- we had those visions of cherries dancing in our heads.

Sadly -- something went terribly wrong.

Oh sure -- the first thing that took place this spring? The tree burst into a glory of white cherry blossoms. It is the moment I had been waiting for. Hundreds of blossoms covered every branch -- even the trunk of the tree got involved. Venus' two-year old Royal Ranier also got into the act with a few blossoms of its own.

But nothing was putting on a show quite like the Lapin. Venus and I began to make plans. I would need a mesh cover for the tree to fight off the birds. Venus -- meanwhile -- started researching cherry pie recipes.

But -- as time went by -- concern began to slip into that big cranium of mine. I wasn't sure what was wrong -- but something didn't seem right. Some of those white blossoms turned a light shade of brown before they could even fully open up.

This wasn't right -- was it? To be honest kids -- I really didn't know. I've never grown cherry trees before. This is a new experience for me. Perhaps this is normal? Perhaps not every blossom turns into a cherry? Perhaps it's fate that some die off before they can open?

As time went by -- my concern mounted. That light brown color turned darker. It covered entire sections of the tree. Worse yet -- some of that brown was beginning to move into the cherry blossoms that had already opened and developed a cherry husk.

I also noticed -- right about the same time -- that the leaves on Venus' cherry tree were developing at a much faster rate than the leaves on the Lapin. I reasoned -- at the time -- that this must be normal development since the Royal Ranier produces ripe cherries almost a full month before the Lapin. So -- it made sense that the leafsets would develop a little quicker.

Instead of taking action -- I waited. Two weeks later -- I knew that something was wrong. The young, still not quite developed leaves on the Lapin were turning brown. Some of the leafsets at the top of the tree had died back completely. That's when I knew something wasn't quite right in Dodge.

Where to turn? Facebook of course! The Social Media Pages are full of horticulturalists and nursery shop owners who could probably immediately diagnose the problem -- and better yet -- suggest a quick cure. So -- I snapped some photos -- the same photos that you see here -- posted them up on Facebook and asked for help.

It didn't take long. Redwood Barn Nursery Owner Don Shor diagnosed the problem less than eight hours later: Brown Rot. Farmer Fred Hoffman concurred. So did Sacramento Gardening's Angela Pratt. Brown Rot had taken hold of my Lapin Cherry tree -- and was delivering quite the knockout punch.

That's when I turned to the web for a little photo research. I started Googling phrases like "brown rot" and "Lapin Cherry brown rot" and some interesting and alarming photos popped up. Sure enough -- the infected brown rot branches that I found online were an exact match for what was taking place at home.

But even worse than that -- was a photo of a cherry tree that was exhibiting signs of Brown Rot in late summer. The fully developed leaves were turning a dark shade of brown and falling to the ground. It suddenly hit me that my Lapin Cherry had exhibited the exact same signs last fall. Although it should have raised red flags then -- I took the leaf die off and drop as the "sign of fall." The tree -- I reasoned -- would be back.

If only I had known.

The spores that cause Brown Rot overwintered and grew during the wet and cold rainy months. By the time spring hit? Every single branch was covered with disease. And I had no idea until it reared its ugly head with some early blossom die-off. By then? It was already too late. The entire tree was infected.

It didn't take long for the disease to progress. The green cherries that you see in the photos taken two weeks ago have since turned a shade of red and brown. Not a single cherry made it. And I just finished up today with picking the entire 2010 crop and dumping all of it -- every last cherry -- into the green waste bin.

The pie cherries? Gone. The eating cherries? Eaten by disease. The only cherries that Bill Bird will eat this year will come from the Farmer's Market.

Fortunately -- Brown Rot can be controlled. Unlike many diseases that force you to dig up a tree and start over -- regular applications of copper sulfate fungicides should be enough to knock out Brown Rot -- no matter how far it's progression. Other -- stronger -- fungicides are also available for home use. Those will be drafted into this battle at some point as well.

As for Venus' tree -- which is planted just 15 feet away -- so far so good. The tree isn't exhibiting any signs of disease yet. The few cherries on the tree will eventually ripen -- and hopefully Venus will get to one or two of them before our fine feathered friends start feasting away on them.

But if the leaves on this tree suddenly turn brown and begin to fall in late summer or early fall? Well -- at least I'll know what steps to take next.


dave said...

Bummer, dude!

NeCole said...

Wow, so sorry to heat that.

Anonymous said...

My cherry trees have same problem, i googled a lot and found your helpful information. Thank you so so so much!