PESTS AND DISEASE
What pests, diseases, and cultural practices should I know about?
Chestnut blight and Phytophthora root rot are the two major diseases of chestnut trees. In eastern North America, where chestnut blight occurs, it is best to plant blight resistant Chinese chestnuts. It's important to realize, though, that Chinese chestnut trees vary considerably in blight resistance. Some individuals are quite susceptible while others are essentially immune to the disease. Phytophthora root rot is mainly a problem on wet soils. There is genetic variation in susceptibility to phytophthora, but the best control method is to plant trees on well drained sites. There aren't any good fungicide treatments for either of these diseases.
There are many insects and mites which feed on chestnut leaves. Usually, the infestation levels are low enough that they don't cause any economic damage, and control is not necessary. However, insects, such as caterpillars and Japanese beetles occasionally become serious enough that control is warranted. The chestnut gall wasp, which was introduced in the 1970's has now spread over much the eastern USA. It's a serious insect pest that affects shoot growth but has its own bio-controls that eventually render it a minor pest. Ambrosia beetles, which attack large stems (esp. graft unions), have caused serious problems in the South and Pacific Northwest. In eastern North America, the chestnut weevil is probably the most serious economic pest of chestnuts. The larvae feed on chestnut kernels resulting in "wormy nuts." Chestnut weevils are fairly easy to control with prompt harvesting of the crop or with insecticides. In spite of these and other insect pests, many growers produce quality chestnuts without application of insecticides.
On good sites, chestnut trees will survive and grow with little or no care. However, from an economic standpoint, cultural inputs are justified in terms of increased yields, increased nut size, earlier yields, and consistent yields. Maintaining adequate soil fertility is probably the most important cultural input (fertilize them as if they were peach trees). Other important inputs are weed control around young trees, mowing the orchard twice or more per season, and mulching the trees. Irrigation is probably justified. Chestnut trees require much less pruning and training than other fruit trees. Pruning is done mainly after bearing begins and consists of removing lower branches to allow harvesting.
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