Cherry Shot Hole Info: How To Manage Black Leaf Spot On Cherry Trees

By: Liz Baessler

Black leaf spot, also sometimes known as shot hole disease, is a problem that affects all stone fruit trees, including cherries. It isn’t as serious on cherries as it is on some other fruit trees, but it’s still best if it’s avoided. Keep reading to learn more about how to manage black leaf spot and shot hole disease on cherry trees.

What Causes Cherry Black Leaf Spot?

Cherry black leaf spot is a disease caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas arboricola var. pruni, also sometimes referred to as Xanthomonas pruni. It affects only stone fruits, and while it is most common on plums, nectarines, and peaches, it is also known to affect cherry trees.

Symptoms of Shot Hole Disease on Cherries

Cherry trees that fall victim to black leaf spot first exhibit symptoms as small, irregularly shaped spots of pale green or yellow on the undersides of leaves. These spots soon bleed through to the upper side and darken to brown, then black. Eventually, the diseased area falls out, earning the disease the name “shot hole.”

There may still be a ring of affected tissue around the hole. Often, these spots cluster around the leaf tip. If the symptoms become severe, the whole leaf will drop from the tree. Stems may also develop cankers. If the tree becomes infected early in the growing season, fruit may develop in strange, distorted shapes.

Preventing Black Leaf Spot on Cherry Trees

Though the symptoms may sound bad, cherry shot hole is not a very serious disease. This is good news, because there does not yet exist an effective chemical or antibacterial control.

The best method of prevention is to plant trees that are resistant to the bacterium. It’s also a good idea to keep your cherry trees well fertilized and watered, because a stressed tree is always more likely to succumb to a disease. Even if you do see signs of infection, however, it’s not the end of the world.

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Here are some of the most common problems with cherry laurels in the landscape and what you can do.

    Cherry shot hole disease – The leaves have a shot hole pattern that looks like it was caused by an insect. However, this is a foliar fungal disease favored by wet weather. The infected leaf tissue falls out and the holes are left behind. The damage is cosmetic and no chemical controls are recommended. Rake up any fallen foliage. The plant will recover.

Cherry Shot Hole Disease Symptoms. Photo: University of Maryland Extension / Ask an Expert

  • Peachtree borer – Feeding by this insect causes branch dieback and leaf browning. Look around the base of the stems for holes in the bark and frass (sawdust). This borer is attracted to excessive mulch and deep planting. Keep mulch no thicker than 2 inches and away from the base of the stems. When planting, set the shrub slightly higher than the existing soil grade in heavy clay soils. There are no chemical controls.
  • White prunicola scale – Feeding by heavy infestations of this insect can cause leaf yellowing and dieback. Look for white scale covers (white stuff) on the trunks and branches. This is an armored scale that sucks out cell contents. It is often found on weakened plants.

White Prunicola Scale on Cherry Laurel: Photo: University of Maryland / Ask an Expert

Prune out any dead or dying branches. If the infestation is not heavy, use a soft brush to brush away the white scale covers from the branches. During the growing season, wrap a piece of double-sided tape around one of the branches. This is a test to monitor the active crawler (juvenile) stage of these insects. They are more susceptible when they come out in May/June depending upon temperature and there may be several generations per year. When you see crawlers sticking to the tape, that is a good time to apply horticultural or insecticidal soap according to label directions.

Abiotic Problems

  • Poor drainage – Leaves may show yellowing, browning, and dieback. Cherry laurels do not like a heavy clay soil that drains poorly. Excess soil moisture reduces oxygen in the soil, damages fine root hairs, and the root system is unable to absorb water. Be sure to check the soil drainage and make sure there are no downspouts dumping water in the root zone. Plant in raised beds and/or divert downspouts to another location.
  • Winter damage – This shows up as leaf browning and scorch when temperatures warm up in the spring. Broad-leaved evergreens are susceptible to drying winter winds, low temperatures, late frosts or freezes. Water deeply so there is enough moisture available to the roots before the ground freezes.

Winter Injury of Cherry Laurel. Photo: Elizabeth Bush, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University,

Watch the video: Chemical control options for bacterial canker of sweet cherry

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