Subtropical Fruit Crops Research & Education
University of California
Subtropical Fruit Crops Research & Education

Posts Tagged: root rot

Broken Trunk, Dead and Decaying Roots, but Green Canopy? What's the Problem?

I get a call.

He: My trees not doing well.

Me: What's the problem?

He: It's yellow?

Me: Have you looked at the roots? Are there roots?

He: NO

Me: I'll be out next week, but in the meantime, look at the root system.

This is a pretty common exchange and when I got out, you find out that the emitter is clogged, the ground is soggy, there's weed whack damage, there's gopher damage, there's…………………. All kinds of things that pop up and until you see the context that the poor tree is in, it's hard to diagnose the problem. Too much fertilizer, black drip tubing that had water heated in the sun and burned the roots, the trunk buried in mulch, it's hard to imagine all the possibilities. But start with the roots and then go where that leads you.

So, here's the scenario.

You get a call/email.

He: What's wrong with my young tree? It snapped off in the wind. Here's a picture of what's left. Corroded, bulbous graft union. Incompatibility? Extensive decay that indicates a problem of long standing. The leaves are green though, so it means it was hanging in there until the wind blew. Was the trunk buried at planting leading to asphyxiation and crown rot? Is it some sort of wound that started it off? Oh, and about 1% of the planting is like that.

Me: OK, I better take a look at it. I'll get some samples and send them into Akif Eskalen at UC Riverside and bring our plant pathologist Jim Downer out to look at it with me.


So tune in to find out what we diagnose as the problem. In the meantime, if you have an unknown avocado or citrus problem that looks of root origin. You can contact Akif and send him a sample after following the “Sample Submission Form” at:

avocado root rot 4
avocado root rot 4

Posted on Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 1:29 PM
Tags: avocado (287), Botryosphaeria (12), citrus (335), diagnosis (2), gopher (3), Phytophthora (23), root rot (21), weed whack (1)

Disease Pyramid

The disease pyramid describes how disease can eventually destroy a plant.

It is comprised of the presents of the pathogen that causes the disease, the plant or host, the environmental conditions that sets up the pathogen to go after the plant and time. It requires all four at the same time to have a disease. So in the case of avocado root rot, it's necessary to have Phytophthora cinnamomi there with a susceptible avocado root, in warm, moist conditions for a period of time for the disease to express itself. For a young tree, the disease may show up within a year but for older trees it may take several years to see the disease symptoms. For avocado crown rot, it may take several years for Phytophthora citricola to appear. In the case of Huanglongbing, not only is the pathogen required, but also the vector for spreading it, the Asian Citrus Psyllid. At this point in California, we have a rapidly spreading vector, but as yet, it appears the psyllid is not infected with the bacteria causing the citrus disease.

Not only time is important, but timing of sampling and point of sampling are important. In the case of avocado root rot, the best sample if from a recently infected root in the spring or summer. A thoroughly destroyed root taken in the winter will often give a negative response. The pathogen has done its ravages and is no longer active. If the wrong leaf or root is sampled for the Huanglongbing bacteria, the assay will show a negative response, even though it is in the plant. (This may have something to do with Einstein's Theory of Relativity in this 100th year of pronouncement, but I doubt it).

And then too, even if a disease is finally diagnosed, it doesn't mean the tree is going to die. If Phytophthora is caught soon enough, it can be treated with phosphites, but the environment needs to be changed at the same time. Meaning, the irrigation needs to be adjusted so that the treatment will work. If the irrigation is changed, the trunk canker will disappear.

It also means that all those terrible disease out there that threatened our trees in other countries won't hurt ours. We have a different environment from Thailand, India, Brazil, etc. and so even though there may be devastating disease there, since we don't have the environment, we wont get those diseases. Yeah, we are going to get huanglongbing and polyphagous shot hole borer fusarium, but we should be happy we aren't getting all the other problems other countries have. This is a way of saying, happy New Year. It could be a whole lot worse and we are doing pretty well.

disease pyramid
disease pyramid

Posted on Tuesday, December 29, 2015 at 5:48 PM
Tags: botryoshpaeria (1), crown rot (2), disease (57), dothiorella (13), phytophthora (23), pyramid (1), root rot (21)

Avocado Root Rot in the Home Garden

The canopy is thinning. The leaves are small and yellow. There is dieback in the canopy, with leafless tips on the branches. You dig around under the canopy in the wetted area of the sprinkler and you can't find roots within 6 inches of the soil surface or if you do find them they are black. There is little mulch under the tree. There are weeds growing under the tree. All these are signs of root rot disease. But it is also a sign of lack of water, because that is what is happening – there are no roots to take up water. And one of the things a gardener will often do, is start watering the diseased tree more, thinking it is lack of water, which if it is diseased only makes the condition worse. Adding more water to a tree that can not easily take it up only creates an asphyxiation that makes matters worse. Irrigation and mulch are the two most important factors for avoiding the disease.

So what do you do if you have disease? There are fungicides that are available from the nursery, but there are a number of things that you can do before applying something like that. First of all get a handle on the irrigation. Make sure you are irrigating to the tree's needs. Check soil moisture before irrigating. Make sure the tree is not getting supplemental water from another area such as a lawn sprinkler. Make sure there is a good thick, woody mulch under the canopy. Adding gypsum (15-20 pounds per tree) evenly spread under the canopy can also help, but reviewing and modifying the irrigation practice is the most important thing that you can do.

avocado fruits
avocado fruits

Posted on Wednesday, August 6, 2014 at 3:59 PM
Tags: avocado (287), Phytophthora (23), root rot (21)

Avocados Looking Grim this Time of Year

I've been getting calls and have gone out to see several avocado orchards in the Ventura/Santa Barbara area and the comments are that the trees look worse this year than they normally do. When I see the trees, it's clear that they don't look in the best shape. This time of year, when there are old leaves that have accumulated salt all through the irrigation period and the trees are getting ready to flower, the leaves just don't have much energy. Also, two years of drought with no rain, means that salts have probably accumulated more by this time of year, than in a year when we do have “normal” rain to leach the soil. The accumulated salts can lead to water stress which also brings on stem and leaf blight, along with salt burn. With the bicarbonates in the water, the pH may have rise as well, inducing some iron chlorosis. Compounding the leaf damage is some frost burn, which was not cold enough to kill the leaves. Any dead tissue, also makes the leaves look more ratty, because with Santa Ana winds earlier, those dead areas have often blown out, making them look like they have been nibbled on by insects. Further adding to the stress was a huge crop year that put a lot of stress on the tress. When clearing the leaves to look at roots, it has often been hard to find viable roots. All these stresses are going to make the trees more susceptible to root rot. So it's going to be necessary for growers to keep their eyes out for further disease symptoms and to be ready to treat with phosphites when the soil warms up enough for the roots to start growing again.

avocado leaf necrosis
avocado leaf necrosis

Posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 7:24 AM
Tags: avocado (287), drought (41), pH (6), Phytophthora (23), root rot (21), root rot (21), salt (8), Santa Anas (2), tip burn (8)

Avocado Pruning

A general rule of thumb about pruning trees is that only healthy trees should be pruned.  Pruning is a devitalizing practice that comes at the expense of the roots.  If an avocado has root rot, make sure the tree has been treated with one of the phosphite products to get the root system healthy.  A common pruning method is stumping to 3 feet and allowing regrowth to occur.  A common phenomenon after  stumping is that the tree puts on vigorous growth for two or three years and then collapses.  All that canopy regrowth was coming from a large root system that was brought into balance with a smaller canopy.  Energy is diverted from the root to fight off disease.  Gradually the root system gets out of balance with a larger canopy that it can no longer support.  Often when a severely impaired root system tree is pruned, it often does not have energy to push a new canopy and the tree dies.  Make sure you only prune healthy trees.

avocado pruning
avocado pruning

Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014 at 6:51 AM
Tags: avocado (287), disease (57), prune (1), pruning (15), root rot (21)

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