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I've posted earlier about my diseased cherry seedling.

Since then, all the leaves have wilted and curled to some amount and the trunk of the seedling itself looks like a dried stick.

The dried-up looking seedling Wilted leaves. They look much browner now than in this picture yesterday.

Is this tree living its final days out? And if it is, is there anything I can do about it?

My location is Ontario in Canada.

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3 Answers

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There is no cause to throw this plant away. None.

As you noted in a previous question, it came into your garden with a leaf-spot problem which got much worse in the weeks following transplanting. Given that you transplanted at the end of the growing season, this is not unusual nor is it particularly worrisome.

Cherries grown from seed often have tap roots and so was likely a bit unhappy in a pot. Being transplanted late in the season, added to the plant's stress. Leaf spot diseases (both fungal and bacterial) are opportunistic. They primarily affect the older leaves of plants under stress. Given the date, all the leaves on your cherry qualify as older leaves. Hence the seriousness of this infection is not surprising.

Since the defoliation the leaf spot is causing is happening only a couple weeks before normal autumn leaf drop, it is doing the plant no harm. Really. Serious leaf spot infections are a big deal when they occur earlier in the season. They can affect the new growth, they can ruin the fruit, and, most importantly, if they defoliate the tree, the tree will be forced to push out a new set of leaves. This can seriously deplete the tree stored food supply. However, a leaf spot problem this late is just encouraging early dormancy — not a serious cause for concern.

The cherry's stem appears healthy. The bud at the tip looks fat and healthy. So I see no reason the plant will not do fine next spring. Leaf spot diseases generally do not winter over in the plant. Therefore, if you remove the leaves and dispose of them, the leaf spot problems may not reappear.

If you have a serious leaf spot problem next year, then, maybe, you will have a good reason to get rid of the the plant. Even then, I would look first at cultural issues that may make the plant more susceptible to problems. Is it in too much shade? Does the soil drain well? Does the air circulate well where it is growing? If this area is a bad place to grow a cherry seedling, it will not be much better for growing second year cherry stock from a nursery.

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+1 because there's always hope :) can you explain what you mean about the bud? I'm a n00b to gardening. Which part exactly is the bud? What's your take on the dryish-looking trunk/stem? –  ashes999 Sep 28 '11 at 1:18
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@ashes999: The terminal bud is on the top of the plant's stem between the petioles of the three top leaves. Inside it are the starts of next year's stem and leaves all ready to grow next spring. I am not sure what you mean by "the dryish-looking trunk/stem". From your photo, I see the upper greenish part of the stem, which is this year's growth, and the lower gray brown part, which is last year's growth. Both look normal. –  Eric Nitardy Sep 28 '11 at 3:47
    
I checked today and all the leaves have fallen off. What could it mean? –  ashes999 Oct 1 '11 at 17:37
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The plant has gone dormant for the winter. Pick up the leaves and dispose of them so that the leaf spot disease does not winter over. –  Eric Nitardy Oct 3 '11 at 5:37
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I still stand by my initial statement given here:

I'm no tree, plant disease expert, but that to me looks like some kind of disease, not something brought on by over or under watering, especially as you say the spots were there before planting.

It came from a neighbour; the spots were there when I first planted it

Q. Have you tried contacting someone at Gardening Information Service via Royal Botanical Gardens Canada and/or Diagnostic Services via Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA)?

Today (2011-10-01) I heard back from the Royal Botanical Gardens Canada, if you wish to bring in or send in a plant sample for diagnosis you can do so via:

Please call us at: 905.527.1158 and ask for Natalie at ext: 238. She should be able to get you answers.

If no, it may well be worth your time to-do-so...

Seeing as it's such a young sapling and I believe infected with some kind of disease, I'd strongly be inclined to remove it from my landscape (bag it up and put it in the rubbish bin).

  • I would get myself a new sapling (start again), doing my best to ensure it was "healthy" ie It looked good, had no visible "unwanted" markings, etc.

  • Then instead of planting it directly in the ground, I would plant it in a decent sized pot filled with appropriate growing medium -- get it established, allow it to develop a good root system, before transplanting it out in bare ground.

    • Basically I would care for the sapling in a pot for at least a year before planting it directly in the ground.
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+1 for the rubbish bin. You're going to put more effort into rescuing this tree that's already off to a poor start than it would take to either get one started in a pot, or (if you're willing to spend $20 or so) get a healthy 2 year old bare root tree from a mail order nursery. I've had good luck with Fedco Trees; I'm not sure if they ship to Canada, but they do carry hardy varieties that would be appropriate for Ontario. If you want to plant such a tree next spring, now is a good time to prep your planting site. –  bstpierre Sep 27 '11 at 13:50
    
@bstpierre what will I potentially loose by trying to save a tree off to a poor start, other than effort? If there's no other fallout, I may well do it for the experience of it. –  ashes999 Sep 27 '11 at 16:20
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@ashes999: It's mainly an opportunity cost. Your efforts will likely be more effective if applied to a healthier tree. That said, there's nothing wrong with trying to rescue this tree if that's what you want to do. The worst that can happen is the tree survives but does not thrive and in 15 years you have a larger but still scraggly, sick looking tree. People have wasted time and money on far worse things. –  bstpierre Sep 27 '11 at 16:29
    
@ashes999 If you find out the sapling isn't diseased I agree with "bstpierre" above comment, but if it's diseased you could possibly be risking a lot by keeping it within your environment (depending on the exact disease)... –  Mike Perry Sep 27 '11 at 17:01
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Fruit trees in general are notorious for not growing well from a seed. They often take long to establish, require longer to start fruiting and are easily prone to diseases/wilting before they can establish themselves. For these reasons (and others), almost always, they're propagated by grafting a scion from an established tree with desired qualities onto a hardier rootstock, which eventually fuses with the rest of the tree. The rootstock is chosen from trees that are very hardy to the local conditions.

I fully agree with Mike Perry and bstpierre in bagging it up and getting a 2 yr old tree from the nursery. But if you're determined to give it a shot, for starters, you could try a regular watering schedule and cut back on the amount of water (if you're over watering it). Perhaps, removing the worst affected leaves might help (don't leave it bare though... from the picture, removing the two worst ones should be a good start).

Another alternative is to transplant it to a pot (or start a new sapling in a pot, as Mike suggested). This is very critical for young saplings, especially in parts of the world like yours, where the winters can easily snuff the life out of it. There is no way that little scrawny thing is going to survive an Ontario winter. If you had these in pots, you could move it inside your garage or in the house and place it next to a window, where it would get adequate sunlight and protection from the cold. Once it establishes itself, you can move it back to the ground.


Cherrys do fine in pots and here in Southern California, quite a lot of folks have cherry trees in pots. The reason is that it never gets cold enough for the tree to produce fruit, so people load them up in trucks and drive an hour north to the mountain regions and drop it off at a friend's place for the winter. Come spring, they bring it back for a beautiful blossom display and plenty of fruits.

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I'm going to go out on a limb hear and trust that my neighbour knew what he was doing. I'll consult him again and see if maybe bagging is the best option. It's native to Ontario (so he told me), so I have a feeling it may still survive. –  ashes999 Sep 27 '11 at 20:48
    
@ashes999 I'm not saying it won't, but you could greatly improve its chances by transplanting it to a pot and moving it indoors when the cold hits. At least until it can get a firm footing. –  Lorem Ipsum Sep 27 '11 at 20:59
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