I recently planted a cherry tree sapling about two weeks ago. It's about a handspan high, and has four leaves. I noticed that it had orange spots on one of the leaves when I planted it.

The entire seedling Close-up of a butchered leaf Click on the images for larger size

Today, I noticed tons more orange spots on the same leaf, and spreading on a couple other leaves. The tip of one of the leaves is turning brown and looks wilty and it looks like part of another leaf is missing (presumably eaten by insects).

In the two weeks that I've had it, I've watered it three times daily for one minute each (I know, my bad) and once today for about ten to fifteen minutes.

What, if anything, is wrong with the sapling? Is it underwatered?

  • 1
    Where did the seedling come from? A nursery or a neighbors yard? If it was transplanted from a neighbor, it is probably experiencing transplant shock. Hardwood seedlings, generally, and black cherries, in particular, first send down a taproot. Cutting off the taproot combined with summer transplanting would make most seedlings unhappy. Commented Sep 10, 2011 at 14:31
  • @Eric Nitardy it came from a neighbour; the spots were there when I first planted it.
    – ashes999
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 10:25

3 Answers 3


Based on the information you have given, the most likely cause of the leaf problems is transplant shock compounded by overwatering. A photo and some information about where the seedling came from would be helpful for refining this assessment.

When a plant is transplanted, it loses a portion of its root system. Similarly, overwatering also damages the roots. In either case, the plant is trying to support itself on a much reduced root system. This accounts for the wilting. Note that this wilting does not indicate that the plant is dry, but, instead that the root's ability to take up moisture is inadequate. Providing a little temporary shade might help the roots catch up.

The stress induced by transplanting often causes plants to give up some of its leaves, usually the older ones. Leaves will yellow or exhibit typical autumn coloring, and then fall off. Often such leaves are affected by an opportunistic leaf spot disease. Identifying which fungus or bacteria is causing spots on an already dying leaf is probably not useful. Helping the plant overcome the shock of transplanting will be however.

So my suggestions are:

Water accurately. Do not use the plant's general demeanor as a guide for watering. Use your finger instead. Poke it into the soil to the depth of the plant's root zone. If it is dry, water. Otherwise, don't. Check often, watering only when needed.

Fertilize lightly. Use a soluble fertilizer at half strength in one of your waterings.

Provide some protection from heat, sun, and wind. Cherries like full sun, but, until it has adjusted, you may need to provide some temporary light shade. An occasional light misting during the heat of the day may be helpful. If it is exposed to a lot of wind, you may need to build something nearby to protect it as well.

Edit based on the newly provided photo:

On the positive side, the seedling has not yet given up on any of its leaves. The yellowing is from leaf spot disease. If it is a bacterial leaf spot, there is no treatment. If fungal, there may be. (I'm guessing bacterial.) In either case, keep the foliage dry, so ignore my previous misting suggestion, and try to increase air circulation. Otherwise, follow my water and fertilization suggestions.

The holes are caused by small caterpillars or maggots which are undoubtedly on the plant now. Look for them. When you find them, feed them to your local spider.

Overall, relax — autumn is coming soon. If the seedling has been growing happily in a pot for several weeks and only now after transplanting the leaf spots are starting win, it will likely be fine next spring.

  • I have uploaded images. It's planted in an area that's usually shaded by other houses. I will try the plant-poking as a measure of water level, thanks for that.
    – ashes999
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 10:26
  • If this thing winters, how do I get rid of it? The document only mentions leaf disposal.
    – ashes999
    Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 11:09

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

To determine if the sapling is diseased or not, you could try speaking with a local gardening expert at Gardening Information Service via Royal Botanical Gardens Canada and/or send a sample for testing at Diagnostic Services via Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

If it was me, I would:

Honestly to begin with, I would have planted such a (small) sapling in a (decent sized) pot, got it established, allowed it to develop a good root system, before planting it out in bare ground...

  • It was originally in a pot (which my neighbour brought over). It got established and developed a good root system, as far as I can tell. And those wood chips are mulch, they're required on the topsoil ring to prevent excessive evapouration of water during the daytime.
    – ashes999
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 18:32
  • @ashes999 How long was it in the pot (generally speaking a tree sapling can safely be kept in a good sized pot for at least a year before being planted)? I understand the wood chips are mulch, but as I said, if it was me I would remove them (they are breeding ground for all kinds of problems). Also refer to your question, How much mulch must my cherry tree get so that it's not too much mulch to munch?
    – Mike Perry
    Commented Sep 13, 2011 at 2:22
  • Okay, I've removed them... Not sure how long it was in-pot.
    – ashes999
    Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 11:10
  • @ashes999 Did you replace them with some other mulch material? Mulching is "generally" a good thing, I've just learnt my lessons not to use wood chips as mulch. I now only use compost or finely shredded fall leaves as mulch in my garden...
    – Mike Perry
    Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 13:56
  • nope, I only removed them from the flare area and put them into the topsoil. I thought mulching the flare was a no-no. Doesn't compost mulch attract bugs/raccoons/critters/etc.? (Assuming you mean raw organic materials, and not actual "mature" compost)
    – ashes999
    Commented Sep 14, 2011 at 14:16

It is possible that the orange spots are a rust like cedar apple rust. The alternate host is cedars or junipers. However as a new sapling it should not have had time to come into contact with unless where you got it from had an existing source.

This article was informative about dealing with it but I can't be sure if it is rust.

Now that there is a picture I can say that this is not a rust and Eric's answer is correct.

  • It is my understanding that cedar-apple rust type fungi (Gymnosporangium) can only affect pome fruits. Are you sure that disease can infect cherries? Or are you assuming the tree is mis-identified? In any event, more information would be helpful. Commented Sep 11, 2011 at 15:42
  • Please excuse me I did not mean to suggest it was cedar apple rust. A rust like this would give symptoms like the op suggested. A cherry rust does exist but seems to be uncommon. More details are necessary..
    – kevinskio
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 0:03
  • Check out the picture and see how you feel. They're more brown now than orange.
    – ashes999
    Commented Sep 12, 2011 at 10:27

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