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I know it feels like February, but your garden knows it's time for your plants to start waking up, especially your blooming and fruiting trees. More daylight is one of the main triggers to pull plants out of their winter slumber. And that means it's time to protect your fruiting trees before the bugs and fungus find them.
You don't need to spray any chemicals on your fruit trees at all. Many families with backyard fruit trees are opting for the organic method of urban farming and are passing on any form of chemical treatment in their yard. Your fruit might not grow as large, and could have a few imperfections as it grows, but organic gardeners think this is a minor inconvenience for untreated food.
But if you want to help your tree fight off some common pests, now is the time to put up some defenses. Aphids might attack and cause the leaves to curl up from the ends. An infestation can weaken your tree. Apple maggots are little flies that look like houseflies and lay their eggs under the fruit's skin. They develop into larvae and tunnel through the fruit. Codling moths fly at night and will do the same thing. They lay their eggs inside a blossom and let their fat gray grub larvae hatch inside pear and apple fruit.
Caterpillars make cobwebs in the branches. Many different kinds like tent, web worms, and cankerworm caterpillars will spin webs to protect their eggs and hatching larvae. And you can defend your trees with a spring spray program.
Some people think that your favorite summer and fall fruit is covered with chemicals. But that is not true. Fruit growers will treat their trees to protect the budding fruit, but once the fruit forms, they leave the rest to Mother Nature.
The tree will give you the signs so you just need to know what you are looking for. Swollen buds are their sign to spray with dormant oil. Actually, Ohio State University scientists say you can spray your apples, crabapples, pears, and quince even before the buds start to plump. Some mites and scale might have been living on your tree all winter long and this first coat of special oil will keep them under control.
Look for horticultural oil at your favorite home and garden center. Wait for a calm day when it is 50 degrees or warmer and will be above freezing for 24 hours. If the buds already have started to swell, you can use delayed dormant spray.
Another sign is when the tip is green. This is called the half-inch-green stage. It takes a few weeks for the bud to develop enough to start showing a bit of leaf growth. When they are about a half an inch long you can see the green tip. Spray your tree with a general purpose fruit spray. Most contain carbaryl, permethrin, malathion, or methoxychlor.
Captan is a fungicide to fight fungus and bacteria. Spray your tree again with the same general purpose spray when you see the buds open up and start to turn colors. Spray them again about a month later when the petals almost have dropped off. You also can use insecticides like Imidan or a multipurpose malathion/methoxychlor to keep codling moth, plum curculio, and leafrollers from rounding the bases on your tree.
Stop the spray
Once the bees take the field in the early summer, put those insecticides away. We want the bees to do their business and pollinate all they can.
An insecticide can't tell the difference between a good bug and a bad bug.
Contact Kelly Heidbreder at firstname.lastname@example.org.