Black knot is a name used to describe a disease of woody stems with black, knotty, outgrowths. It is most widespread on plum and cherry trees, but also infects apricots and peaches. Infection occurs in the spring, but symptoms of the disease may not be obvious until the following spring or even in later seasons.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Initially, the bark of infected twigs and medium-sized branches will begin to crack in the springtime. Light yellow discoloration and cork-like swelling occur on infected areas. Knotted areas later turn an olive-green color and finally turn black and harden during the summer. The swelling weakens branches and may stunt or kill smaller branches due to decreased water and nutrient flow.

Life Cycle

Dibotryon morbosum is the fungus responsible for causing black knot disease in cherries and plums. Spores overwinter in the blackened "knots" of infected branches. Disease spores are spread to new hosts by wind during warm spring weather when temperatures are between 55–75 degrees F and there is rain or high humidity. Trees are weakened because the knots disrupt the normal flow of water and nutrients throughout the branches. Twig dieback is common.

Integrated Pest Management Strategies

1. Plant resistant varieties. Plums such as ‘President’, ‘Santa Rosa’, 'Shiro', or ‘Formosa’.

2. Prune and destroy all knotted branches in the winter or before March 1. Prune 3–4 inches below the knot to remove all fungal material. Dip tools in a solution of 1–part bleach and 9–parts water between cuts.

3. Remove any wild cherry and plum trees surrounding your property. These trees may be harboring black knot and it spreads easily to cultivated varieties. Pruned material should be disposed of or burned.

4. Apply a fungicide cover spray at bud break. Pesticides registered for use include copper, chlorothalonil (Daconil), mancozeb, and thiophanate methyl (Cleary 3336).

Organic Strategies

Strategies 1, 2, and 3 are strictly organic approaches. Of the fungicides listed in Strategy 4, consult the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI™) for appropriate organic copper products.