Nancy Brachey

Ugly fungus shows up on valuable evergreens

Leaf gall on a camellia plant. Don’t panic, just pick it off.
Leaf gall on a camellia plant. Don’t panic, just pick it off. File photo

Will you forgive me if, at one of the loveliest times of the year, I talk about something quite ugly?

It is called leaf gall, and it shows up mostly on camellias, and sometimes azaleas. I have heard from some of you who are quite alarmed by its presence on these valuable plants.

I hesitate to say relax, but relax.

Leaf gall appears as thickened, fleshy leaves and has a light grayish or yellowish color. That is really noticeable on these evergreen plants that produce such beauty during their flowering season.

While it is mostly seen on leaves, fading flowers may also develop it, though not so often. When leaves are affected, it may involve an entire leaf or just part of it.

The ugliness of leaf gall is a decided contrast to the beauty of shiny green camellia foliage.

So sudden and alarming is it for gardeners that it is easy to overreact and go to pieces. I think I did the first time I saw it on a camellia some decades ago.

Yet this is not cause for alarm, just attention to the problem.

A fungus causes the problem, and it develops in spring when the temperature and rainfall are right for it. Sometimes I don’t see it for years; other times, it pops up almost like it is on a schedule.

And if you don’t know what it is, there is bound to be some head-scratching over it.

Fortunately, the remedy is like snapping your fingers.

You just use your thumb and fingers to pick off the entire leaf or dying bloom. Or use your smallest snippers to do it. There’s nothing squeamish about this, and it is nothing compared to picking beetles off bean plants. Dispose of the leaf galls in the trash. Do not let them fall on the ground.

Even if you are not dealing with leaf gall, another task to keep camellias beautiful is removal of all spent blooms that fell on the ground.

Done by hand, carefully picking up each browning bloom, is tedious business. If there are a lot, simply rake them up with the mulch and dispose of them. Even if there are just a few, you might as well do this and freshen the mulch.

This work reduces the likelihood of camellia petal blight, which can be a real downer. It is caused by a fungus that pops onto and infects the buds of camellias. When they open, you see brownish tissue around the center of the bloom instead of lovely white, pink or red. Now this is something to get upset about, but like leaf gall, it can be avoided with a good cleanup right about now.

Ask Nancy

Q. I want to grow the moon vine you wrote about, but can’t find plants now. Is it too late to grow them from seeds?

A. Not too late. The plants grow rapidly in warm weather. Germination is faster if you soak the seeds in warmish water for 24 hours or so. Plant them in individual peat pots to avoid root disturbance when plants go into your landscape for flowers later this summer and well into autumn.