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Management of Trunk Canker

Management of Trunk Canker (Phytophthora cinnamomi) following major wet weather events

Article by Jim Patch – Agricultural Liaison Officer

Orchard soils throughout the harvest period of 2009 have been saturated for extended periods. This warm and wet soil environment has been ideal for the growth and development of phytophthora cinnamomi, a plant disease that is regularly seen in macadamia and avocado orchards in Australia ( Greek: Phyto – tophthora; meaning plant- destroyer).

The real cost to the Australian macadamia industry is not fully understood at present. This disease needs careful monitoring and management prior to the next warm dry spring period when excessive nut/leaf drop may be encountered from water/nutrient stressed trees.

What is Phytophthora cinnamomi?

P. cinnamomi is a water mould. It thrives in warm moist soil conditions. The mould growth consumes the host plant tissue (mainly plant roots) causing areas in the host plant that appear to be rotten e.g. root rot.

What does Phytophthera do to macadamia trees?

P. cinnamomi causes damage to the roots and collar area of macadamia trees. This damage weakens or kills the tree. Phytophthora produces many different types of spores throughout it’s lifecycle. Figure 1 shows the lifecycle of phytophthora. Wet, moist soils with low levels of oxygen favour the growth and reproduction of phytophthora and this is when the greatest level of infection can occur.

The symptoms of phytophthora are rarely seen in wet weather. This is because the damage to tree roots is not evident as there is plenty of soil moisture available and the tree is not suffering stress. Once the weather turns warm, the tree is actively trying to take up soil moisture but there is a small amount of a healthy root system left and so cannot take up enough water or nutrients for its needs. This causes the tree to stress and the symptoms become evident.

After a long period of wet weather and as we head into spring, the potential for phytophthora affected trees to be seen is very high.

Visible Symptoms

Trees of all ages will have leaves that become yellow and chlorotic to brown in appearance (figure 1) and there may be excessive leaf shedding and bare canopy. Lesions may appear in the bark of the root and trunk area and may extend into the limbs. A common symptom is heavy suckering from the rootstock of a tree. Mature trees may become heavily stressed when soil moisture levels are reduced and excessive nut shedding may occur in warm/hot dry periods in spring and summer.

How does the mould spread throughout the orchard?

Phytophthora moves about by producing different types of spores. Depending on the spore type, spores have the ability to live for periods of between a few weeks to years. Spores may enter a tree through damage to the trunk, damage to exposed surface roots or through healthy roots in water logged soils. When P. cinnamomi has entered a host plant, it grows by producing microscopic filaments called mycelium. The mycelium may grow from one macadamia tree to the next through the intertwined roots of neighbouring trees. Movement may also come about by the movement of spores in runoff water. Spores may be transported on machinery or by other similar means throughout the orchard, or in surface water during rainfall events.

Figure 1. A phytophthora affected tree.

Figure 1. A phytophthora affected tree.


Figure 1. Lifecycle of Phyotphthora cinnamomi. (source Griffith-Jones, 2001)

Figure 1. Lifecycle of Phyotphthora cinnamomi. (source Griffith-Jones, 2001)

How can phytophthora be controlled in a macadamia orchard?

It is best to use multiple options for the control and protection of trees from phytophthora. A mix of the following will give you the best results.

Cultural Practices.

Exclusion and sanitisation. Prevention is the best possible control strategy, although it can be difficult as very few macadamia orchard sites are now free from the disease. However grower due diligence may assist in protection of young macadamia trees, e.g. Only plant trees from a nursery that uses soilless potting mixes. Avoid potting mixes with a soil component which may harbour phytophthora. All potting mixes should be heat treated to kill pathogen spores. Divert surface water from neighbouring sites away from the orchard.

Orchard Design. Areas of the orchard site that may become water logged for extended periods should not be planted. Areas that may be marginal should be mounded to avoid the risk of tree roots being waterlogged. Ensure that water is not trapped within the planted tree rows by the mounds. Irrigation systems should be designed to avoid overwatering. This can be achieved by watering blocks together that have similar water requirements and water infiltration rates.

Organic Amendments and Mulching. The best method to protect established macadamia trees is to concentrate on creating a healthy soil environment in the orchard. A healthy orchard soil will have soil properties that favour good tree growth and do not favour the development of phytophthora. A healthy soil may protect the macadamia trees by suppressing P. cinnamomi through the activity of soil borne micro organisms such as fungi and bacteria.

P. cinnamomi appears to be suppressed in rainforests by high levels of organic material which can also be replicated in part in macadamia orchard soil. Organic amendments and mulching is recommended as mulching stimulates plant root development, increases nutrient uptake and decreases evaporation from the soil. Mulching also increases soil – water holding capacity, reduces water runoff, reduces rain drop splash, facilitates drainage, regulates soil temperature, and provides a high level of nutrients for soil microbes. The avocado industry struggles with the same pathogen. Their industry is advised to set up irrigation sprinklers so they do not spray directly onto the tree trunk and skirt the trees high enough to allow adequate air flow to create a dry under tree environment. As the pathogen requires moisture to replicate and waterlogged soils benefit its spread, orchards need to be well drained and not over irrigated. Phytophthora is inhibited by alfalfa meal, cotton waste, soybean meal, wheat straw, chicken manure and urea.

Apply organic amendments such as animal manures and compost to help improve soil structure and fertility. Nutrients in organic matter (especially nitrogen) break down slowly and are released over time in plant useable form. Ammonia and volatile organic acids released by decomposing organic matter kill Phytophthora and the residual organic matter stimulates competitive and antagonistic micro organisms in the soil. Avoid inputs of material which contain excessive levels of ammonia which can cause root damage. The addition of compost or mulches should not reduce the ability of moisture and air to enter into the soil and root system.

Cover crops.

Organic matter may be increased by growing cover crops in the inter row. Cover crops provide nutrients, increase soil organic matter, improve aeration and provide food for soil organisms. Cover crops may reduce orchard temperatures by 1-2°C in summer and protect feeder roots near the surface from drying out or being effected from excessive heat. Sweet smother grass is presently being used very successfully in many macadamia orchards but there are many other grass species that macadamia growers may use to suit their growing region.

Chemical treatments

The use of chemical treatments to aid in the control of phytophthora has been found to be beneficial. These can be applied to give a fast response while other long term protection and prevention strategies such as improving soil health are carried out.

Research has shown that timing of any application of Phosphorous acid is critical. Tree roots do not receive nutrients whilst a tree is flushing as nutrients are moving up the tree towards leaves and twigs. When the flush has hardened, carbohydrates and other products start moving down the tree to the roots. This is the best time to apply your applications.

Always apply the chemical as directed on the label and follow all safety precautions outlined on the label.

Foliar Application

Apply Phosphorous Acid (Phos.Acid) to the foliage when the leaf flush has just hardened in early spring and autumn.
Application rates are:-
400g/L Phos. Acid: Apply at a rate of 2.5mL to 3.0mL product per litre of water. Apply 7.5 to 10.0L of spray solution per tree.

600g/L Phos. Acid: Apply at a rate of 1.7mL to 2.0mL product per litre of water. Apply 7.5 to 10.0L of spray solution per tree.

620g/L Phos. Acid: Apply at a rate of 1.6mL to 1.9 mL product per litre of water. Apply 7.5 to 10.0L of spray solution per tree.

Do NOT apply to trees under severe stress or during hot weather.

Trunk Application
Research work is presently being conducted on trunk application using Phosphorous (phosphonic) Acid(eg. Phospot 400® and Agri-Fos 600®). The results of this work to date have been encouraging.
The rate being used for bark painting in this experimental work is 20% acid, i.e. Agri-Fos 600® is 1L of product and 2L water. Phospot 400® is 1L of product and 1L water.

The penetrant Pulse® is also being added to this bark application to assist the translocation of the potassium phosphonate throughout the tree. The rate of Pulse is 20ml of Pulse in 1L of mix.
This mixture has been applied to the trunks by spraying from the ground to the first limbs of the trees. The use of Pulse for foliar applications is not recommended as it could cause leaf burn to trees.


Diversity and Management of Phytophthora in Southeast Asia. Drenth, A and Guest, D I. Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. Canberra. 2004.

Soil Environmental Factors and Their Relationship to Avocado Root Rot. Menge, JA. and Marais, LJ. Department of plant Pathology, University of California, Riverside. CA92521.

Strategies to Control Phytophthora cinnamomi Root Rot of Avocado. Menge JA. Department of plant Pathology, University of California, Riverside.CA92521

Biological control of Phytophthora Root Rot of Avocado with Microorganisms Grown in Organic Mulches. Jefferson, L. da Costa, S, Menge, A Casale WL. Department of plant Pathology, University of California, Riverside, CA, USA. 2000

Phytophthora Root Disease. Griffith-Jones. 2001

What is phytophthera cinnamomi?
Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment

Fruitgrowers’ Newsletter-p9, Spring 2007

Phytophthora in Macadamia, Akinsanmi, O and Drenth, A. Australian Macadamia Society Journal p49-50, July 2008.