Cornus species are riddled with leaf diseases. After the discovery of dogwood anthracnose that devastated the dogwood population in the northeastern U.S., it has been increasingly significant to be on alert for disease outbreaks.  Three leaf spot diseases that show themselves in varying degrees are dogwood anthracnose, spot anthracnose, and powdery mildew. Dogwood anthracnose and powdery mildew are of particular concern. Dogwood anthracnose was confirmed in St. Louis in 2012 and again in 2015. Powdery mildew can occur yearly.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of Dogwood Anthracnose: Dogwood anthracnose is a disease caused by the fungus, Discula destructiva. Since its discovery in the 1970s, the spread has been swift and the results are disastrous to the native Cornus florida. Symptoms include leaf spots that are soft and very wet with purple borders, twig blight, dead leaves that cling to the tree, epicormic shoots (water sprouts with many shoots occurring near the base of the tree), lower branch dieback, and eventually death. Conditions that favor disease include low light levels, high humidity, and temperatures of 60oF. In the St. Louis area it was found in the Kirkwood/Ladue area in 2012 and the Brentwood area in 2015. It is considered established in St. Louis.

Symptoms of Spot Anthracnose: Spot anthracnose is caused by the fungus, Elsinoe corni. Symptoms include small, dark, pinprick lesions with purple borders on leaf surfaces. The lesions are numerous and usually occur on dry leaves. The disease is unsightly, but typically not very harmful.

Symptoms of Powdery Mildew: Powdery mildew is caused by the fungus, Microsphaera pulchra. Early symptoms include round, white or gray powder-like spots that appear on upper leaf surfaces. These spots form a dry white layer on leaves. As young leaves become infected, they appear twisted, dry, and leathery. Older leaves look bronzed. Moderate temperatures, low light, and high humidity accelerate this disease. High nitrogen levels cause the disease to flourish.

Integrated Pest Management Strategies

1. Choose disease-resistant varieties. A cultivar for dogwood anthracnose resistance is called ‘Appalachian Spring’. Cultivars less susceptible to spot anthracnose include ‘Cherokee Princess’, ‘Cherokee Sunset’, and ‘Springtime’. ‘Cherokee Brave’, C. kousa, and C. kousa x C. florida crosses are resistant to powdery mildew.

2. Water the roots of the tree. Avoid using overhead irrigation to reduce the incidence of leaf spots.

3. Practice good sanitation. Promptly remove and dispose of any dead or dying twigs or branches found in trees as well as leaves that show the symptoms of dogwood anthracnose. Leaves with spot anthracnose and powdery mildew can remain but rake and remove them in the fall when they drop.

4. Remove plants confirmed with dogwood anthracnose. Removing an infected tree confirmed with dogwood anthracnose is strongly recommended. The infected trees should NOT be converted to mulch to avoid spreading the disease.

5. Apply fungicides. If you suspect dogwood anthracnose, get it diagnosed by a professional before a fungicide application. Powdery mildew should also be controlled, especially if the disease has occurred previously.

Organic Strategies

Strategies 1, 2, 3, and 4 are strictly organic approaches.

Pesticide Disclaimer: 

Always follow the product's label and ensure the product is effective against the specific leaf spot. Not following the pesticide label before usage is a violation of federal law.