Pest management is often looked on as the most difficult aspect of raising fruit crops by homeowners. Most people either lack the knowledge to identify and control insect pests and diseases or they dread having to spray chemicals to protect their crops. It is my philosophy that all tree fruit producers, and especially homeowners, should seek to raise their crops sustainably. Sustainable gardening is a process that thrives with minimal inputs of water, fertilizer, pesticides, and labor. Raising fruit crops with fewer inputs is possible when your knowledge level of subject material is high.
The first step to sustainable pest control is to know what insects and diseases are most likely to occur in your area. In each area of the country certain diseases and pests tend to dominate depending on climate and other regional influences. In western Oregon fungal diseases thrive because of our wet mild winters and spring. For Oregon residents look at our guide for diseases and pests which is also posted at this web site. This guide not only shows you what pests to expect for each fruit type but the time of the year the pest can be expected.
Another step to take toward sustainability is to have a healthy soil with the proper pH, good drainage, and adequate fertility. What do these have to do with pest management? The soil and these other factors contribute to the health of your tree. If your tree is healthy it will tolerate disease and pest problems to a greater degree than an unhealthy tree.
The whole process of raising a tree from placing it in the right place for light and drainage, and selecting a variety that is resistant to common diseases in your part of the country will contribute to the ease of your pest control. Choosing an apple scab resistant variety of apple like Liberty will allow a homeowner in western Oregon to completely ignore this troublesome disease.
Good pest control with fruit trees is also incumbent on knowing which insects are the good guys and which are the bad guys. Taking time to learn what common beneficial insects look like will reduce your anxiety levels when you see bugs in your trees.
Identification of fruit pests is part of the process of knowing how to control the bad insects. The other part of the process of control is learning at what level the bad guys become a problem. To monitor many tree fruit pests scientists have developed pheromone traps that attract specific insects to them. Use 1-2 traps per acre to monitor codling moth, leaf rollers or fruit flies. Most of these traps have a sticky substance in them that catches the insect. These traps are used to monitor the level of insect infestation in your trees. For example when 5 codling moths are trapped in any one week it is time to apply your control. By timing your sprays you will be able to reduce the amount of pesticides being used significantly versus old spray systems that encouraged people to spray every two weeks. I have reduced my scab and codling moth sprays from 5-6 sprays per season to 2 well timed sprays. Traps specific to certain pests can be purchased from farm supply stores.
Many pests can be controlled by the use of dormant sprays in your orchard. These sprays are usually made in the fall around Thanksgiving, in mid January, and again at delayed dormancy, just as the fruit buds begin to swell but are not yet open. Dormant sprays usually mix a fungicide like lime-sulfur or copper with dormant oil. The dormant oil is used to smother insects or insect eggs on bark or around buds. The fungicide is riding the tree of fungal spores. For specifics about fruit trees and pests see our posted spray guides.
For homeowners wanting to live by sustainable or organic standards we recommend using cultural steps first when controlling pests before sprays are made. For example when controlling apple scab we recommended planting a resistant variety of apple like Liberty . We also recommend cleaning up old leaves and fruit from around the tree in the fall. Mowing and spreading compost around your tree is usually enough to cause the leaves to decompose. This reduces the amount of disease inoculums around your tree when the tree starts growing in the spring. Pruning your trees to provide plenty of sunlight and air movement around and through the canopy will also help to reduce fungal disease problems. For every disease and many insect pests, taking cultural steps along with orchard sprays will make your control program more effective.
For the safety of homeowners and neighbors try to use least toxic or organic materials when selecting a spray program. There are many products that work very well. Look for specific recommendations in our spray guide. For fungal disease control use any of the following products: lime-sulfur, copper, wettable sulfur, stylet oil, or potassium bicarbonate as low impact materials. For insect control use: Kaolin clay, spinosad product Entrust, Cyd-X (a virus that kills codling moth), horticultural oil, and microbials like Dipel or Javelin. All these products have been formulated for organic growers. When using pesticides, even organic ones, always read the labels and wear personal protective equipment if necessary. At a minimum wear long pants, long sleeve shirts, water proof shoes, water proof gloves and a hat. I always use full rain gear, boots, gloves, eye protection, and a simple respirator.