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Brown or black spots with yellowing are signs of anthracnose.

This time of year, many black walnut trees’ leaves may have black spots, turn yellow and begin to drop. This is commonly known as anthracnose, a fungal disease that causes trees to drop their leaves prematurely.

Anthracnose is worsened by wet weather, and some trees are more genetically susceptible to anthracnose than others. It is not fatal but can look like a serious problem. The absence of leaves can slow a tree’s growth and can reduce the nut crop, although by this time of year growth may have slowed or stopped for the season.

Anthracnose generally begins as small circular brown to black areas on the leaflets. Over the season those spots expand and cause leaf drop. There are a few other leaf spot diseases of black walnut, see the references below for descriptions of those diseases.

Although unsightly, there is no need for further action if you are growing timber and have anthracnose in a plantation or woods. It can be an issue if you are growing walnuts for a nut crop, and there are resources and spray products to help manage the fungus in those situations.

If you have individual landscaping trees and want to limit anthracnose spread there are few things you can do:

  • Gather fallen leaves and compost or remove them from the site.
  • Control weeds which could carry the fungus.
  • Plant walnut trees where there is good air circulation.
  • Keep the trees healthy and vigorous by managing soil fertility and thinning competition as needed.

Walnut Anthracnose, Walnut Notes, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station
Indiana Walnut Council, Industry Representatives include 45 states and 3 foreign countries
Diseases in Hardwood Tree Plantings, The Education Store, Purdue Extension resource center
Planting Hardwood Seedlings in the Central Hardwood Region, The Education Store
Regenerating Hardwoods in the Central Hardwood Region:  Soils, The Education Store
Fertilizing, Pruning, and Thinning Hardwood Plantations, The Education Store
Weed Competition Control in Hardwood Plantations, The Education Store
Resources and Assistance Available for Planting Hardwood Seedlings, The Education Store

Liz Jackson, Manager Walnut Council / IN Forestry Woodland Owners Association (IFWOA) & Engage Specialist
Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

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