Crown Gall

Need to know:

  • Crown gall causes round galls to form on stems or roots.
  • Galls are white or cream colored  and spongy when young, but become dark and woody with age.
  • The crown gall bacterium enters the plant through a wound and inserts their DNA to that of the plant.
  • Galls are uncurable so if a plant is infected, it should be removed.
  • A biocontrol agent can be used as a dip for propagative cutting to prevent infection.

Overview crown gall 

Crown gall causes round galls to form on stems or roots, often near the soil line of the plant. Galls may vary from the size of peas to over an inch in diameter. When young, the galls can be white or cream colored and spongy or wart-like; as they age, they become dark and woody. Galls can interfere with the plant’s ability to move water and nutrients through the stem, which may result in stunting or decline of the plant. Crown gall can infect nearly all dicotyledonous plants and is most common in euonymus, Prunus spp., brambles, rose, willow, grapes, and many other plants.

Image of a Euonymus with a case of crown gall
Euonymus with a case of crown gall 

Symptoms of crown gall

The crown gall bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, enters the plant through a wound. It then inserts a portion of its DNA into the DNA of the plant. Once this bacterial DNA is incorporated into the plant DNA, it induces the plant to overproduce plant hormones that stimulate cell division, resulting in a gall that is a perfect home for the bacterium. The bacterial DNA also causes the plant to produce special food called opines that only Agrobacterium can utilize. 

Signs of crown gall

No signs are visible, culturing and specialized nucleic acid testing is required to confirm this bacteria causing the symptoms.

Type of Sample Needed for Diagnosis and Confirmation

The Iowa State University Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic can help you to investigate and confirm (through testing) if your plant has this disease. Please see our website for current forms, fees, and instructions on collecting and packing samples.  If your sample is from outside of Iowa, please do not submit it to the Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic without contacting us. For contact information for other diagnostic laboratories in U.S. states, visit the NPDN site.

Want to submit a sample? select special testing on our submission form, and follow the root problem instructions at Submitting annual plants page. 

crown gall on blackberry
Crown gall on blackberry.  Photo by Randall Vos.

Management of crown gall

Crown gall is usually introduced into a location on infected planting stock, so it is crucial to buy only disease-free plants. Inspect plant root system before transplanting in the garden.

Avoid unnecessary wounding to prevent infection. If galls are present, they cannot be cured, and the plant should be removed. Once crown gall is introduced to a site, the bacteria can remain in the soil for many years.

Practice good sanitation: cleaning tools, pots, and other tools an surfaces, treat them with a disinfectant (rubbing alcohol or diluted bleach). 

No chemical sprays are effective against crown gall, but a biocontrol agent made from the bacterium Agrobacterium radiobacter can be used as a dip for propagative cuttings to prevent infection by the crown gall bacterium. This biocontrol is marketed as Galltrol A, Norbac 84C, Nogall, or Diegall. Keep in mind when using biocontrol agents, you are trying to introduce and establish a biocontrol organism in the field onto a very rich soil ecosystem, where a lot of microbial competition can impact the efficacy of this method.

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.