Cedar-Apple Rust

Need to know

  • Cedar/juniper and apple trees are required to complete their disease cycle.
  • Apple trees will present small, yellow spots on the upper leaf surface shortly after bloom.
  • The fungus produces brown overwintering galls on the cedar twigs that swell during wet weather to form orange gelatinous structures with spores.
  • Sanitation along with properly timed fungicide sprays can be used to protect trees from infection.

Overview of cedar-apple rust 

Cedar-apple rust is an interesting disease. It requires both an apple and cedar or juniper to complete its life cycle. 

Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae gall on cedar,Orange tendrils are forrm after humid conditions
Cedar- Apple rust signs

Symptoms of cedar-apple rust

Apple trees will present small, yellow spots that appear on the upper leaf surface shortly after bloom.  Spots gradually enlarge and become a bright yellow-orange color.

Signs of cedar-apple rust

Galls in junipers will germinate into orange tendrills in the spring. Small black structures (spermagonia) begin to form in the center of the lesions in apple leaves in late spring, early summer.

Disease cycle of cedar-apple rust 

During warm rainy days in late April and early May, cedar trees infected with the cedar-apple rust fungus (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae) will develop bright orange gelatinous projection from overwintering brown galls

It requires both an apple and cedar or juniper to complete its life cycle. On the cedar, the fungus produces reddish-brown galls that are up to golf-ball size on young twigs. During wet weather, these galls swell and begin to push out bright orange gelatinous tubular structures. The wind carries fungal spores from these gelatinous structures to susceptible apple or crabapple cultivars. Infection occurs when these spores land on a susceptible apple cultivar and moist conditions prevail. Small, yellow spots begin to appear on the upper leaf surface shortly after bloom. Spots gradually enlarge and become a bright yellow-orange color. These brightly colored spots make the disease easy to identify on leaves. Heavily infected leaves may drop prematurely. In late summer small tube-like structures develop on the underside of the apple leaves. Spores are released from these structures and are blown by wind back to susceptible cedars or junipers, completing the disease cycle.

Image of Cedar-Apple rust
Cedar-Apple rust dry overwintering gall.

Type of Sample Needed for Diagnosis and Confirmation 

The Iowa State University Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic can help you to investigate and confirm if your plant has this disease. Please see our website for current forms, fees, and instructions on collecting and packing samples. Contact information for each state's diagnostic laboratory for U.S. residents.  If your sample is from outside of Iowa please do not submit it to the Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic without contacting us.

Want to submit a sample? Follow the instructions at Submitting Trees and Shrubs

Management of cedar-apple rust 

If you have followed along with this cycle, you might immediately think that a good way to break it would be to avoid planting susceptible hosts next to each other. Unfortunately, this is often impractical, because the fungal spores can travel as far as two miles.

Symptoms in apple
Bright yellow leaf spot symptoms in apples.

An easy way to avoid this disease is to plant disease-resistant apple or crabapple varieties. Fortunately, there are many varieties available now that show good disease resistance. Redfree, Liberty, William's Pride and Freedom are examples of new apple varieties that are immune to cedar-apple rust. These varieties are also immune to apple scab and show good resistance to powdery mildew and fire blight. Examples of apples that are susceptible to cedar-apple rust include Jonathan, Rome, Wealthy, York Imperial, and Golden Delicious. Many mail-order nurseries offer disease-resistant apples

Rust-resistant crabapples are also readily available. A sampler of disease-resistant varieties includes Adams, David, Donald Wyman, Indian Summer, Prairie Fire, Professor Sprenger and White Angel. These varieties vary in flower color, fruit color, height, and width, so consider these traits before making a selection. Avoid crabapple varieties that have serious disease problems, such as Hopa, Radiant, and Vanguard.

Cedar-apple rust generally does little damage to cedars or junipers. In many cases, the disease is not noticeable except in the spring when the galls are producing the bright orange spore horns. If the disease is very severe, however, twig dieback can occur. Rust galls on small cedars and junipers can be pruned out in late winter or early spring (by April 1). Avoid planting susceptible varieties. Susceptible cedars and junipers are eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and its varieties, and Rocky Mountain juniper (J. scopulorum) and its varieties.

If cedar-apple rust is a problem on your existing apple or crabapple trees, fungicide sprays can be used to protect trees from infection.  For adequate control, make sure to read the label and follow its instructions. As indicated on the label, sprays are applied in the spring at the pink and petal-fall stages of flowering.

Fungicide applications may be avoided by following good Integrated Pest Management practices like those listed in this encyclopedia article. Often, only preventative application is effective to manage plant diseases. If the problem requires a fungicide, state law requires the user to read and follow all labels accordingly. For more information, read Proper fungicide use.  

Last reviewed:
April 2022

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Yard and Garden, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on September 1, 2016. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.