For nearly 17 years, my garden flew under the radar of disease until last year when it was obvious something was wrong with my redbud tree (Cercis canadensis). One of the main branches didn’t flower or leaf out. While I remained hopeful, the reality was that I sort of knew what was happening but didn’t want to admit it to myself. It was kind of like saying Beetlejuice! three times. Only this was even harder, this was real and attacking my favorite tree.
I sawed out the affected branch and waited for another spring, hoping it might bounce back but it didn’t. It got worse. Verticillium wilt has consumed two-thirds of the tree and right now, only the branch closest to the gate has flowers. The rest is dead. So I’m enjoying that last branch while at the same time lamenting the loss of the very first tree I planted in my garden.
Verticillium wilt is a soilborne fungus that attacks over 300 plant species (here’s a list). Redbuds are one of its favorites. I don’t know how it arrived, perhaps in the soil of another perennial I planted in the bed. Or maybe it was always there, waiting. But once you’ve got it, it’s there for the long haul and there’s very little to be done about it. Aside from solarizing the area, which takes far too long and would require the removal of a lot of plants, options are limited.
Fortunately, there are plenty of options that are resistant to verticillium wilt, none of which is as lovely as the redbud. I’ve tried to be conscious of disease transmission and clean my pruners and loppers regularly, but probably not as often as I should. Hopefully, it wasn’t gardener negligence that introduced this nastiness to my garden.
Whatever the cause, it’s here and I’m concerned for the rest of my garden, especially since my daughter noticed several dead branches on the Little Twist cherry tree (Prunus incisa) planted along the front walk. Plants in the prunus family are on the list of susceptible plants and my heart sank again. It didn’t flower last spring and I attributed that to a late and harsh cold snap. It leafed out just fine and I didn’t think about it again since it flowered beautifully a few weeks ago. It’s nowhere near the redbud so I remained positive until last week.
With clean pruners, I cut out the dead branches to see if they had the dreaded darkened center typical of plants infected with verticillium. Sure enough, they did. I compared a dead branch with a healthy one and the only difference was this circular discoloration. I’m not going to take it down, but instead wait it out to be certain that it’s curtains for Little Twist too.
And now I’m concerned for the rest of my garden, particularly the west border along the fence. Our home is on a sloped lot. Directly down hill from the redbud tree is a serviceberry, then two Beijing Gold Peking Lilacs and finally a Black Lace elderberry whose buds are swelling. Every single one of these beautiful specimens is on the list of plants susceptible to verticillium wilt. How devastating that would be to lose this border. While others may see it as an opportunity to try a new tree, for me it would be a crushing blow.
The thought of it just makes me so sad.
Bummer. Sorry to hear it made it to your garden. I love all the flowering trees and hope they don’t catch it.
Heather Blackmore says
Thank you! I hope for the same, but time will tell and I’ll just enjoy them while they’re here. Hope you have a wonderful day!
Alison Jetmar says
This disease is treatable with alternating applications of 2 fungicides. Check out YouTube. Garden on a Hill (Red Tip Photinia Leaf Spot Treatment Rejuvenation. This guy shows what he did and shares his insight. Good luck. Beautiful trees you have.
Heather Blackmore says
Hello and thank you! Unfortunately, verticillium wilt is a soil borne fungal disease that travels through a plants vascular system. There’s no way to control it unfortunately. Garden on a Hill had a different fungal problem, leaf spot disease, that’s easier to manage.
You have a beautiful garden! I am going through the same concern with a previously beautiful edge around my backyard of alternating Japanese maples and cedars. Two Japanese maples are now gone due to the verticillium wilt and am concerned about 2 of the cedars. Even though on the list of resistant trees, they appear really unwell this winter.
How did your situation evolve? Were you able to save the rest of your trees? Any further useful tips to protect the remaining garden? I have at least 13 mature cedars on my lot and am very worried.
Heather Blackmore says
That’s such a painful loss and I’m sorry verticillium wilt has found your garden. Fortunately I’ve lost just the redbud and painful as it was, I’ve since rethought that area and it’s become a sun garden at least until the new serviceberry fills in.
As for tips, be very careful about disinfecting tools. Also, plants that are stressed are even more susceptible to disease so be mindful of that too. Verticillium fungi are present in soil and will enter the roots of struggling and or susceptible plants. Good luck and thanks for reading!
Thank you for responding, this is reassuring to hear!