5 Organic Ways to Foil Fruit Tree Pests

, written by gb flag

Fixing a glue band to a plum tree

As leaves tumble to reveal bare branches, nights become longer and frosts fiercer, it can be tempting to believe that pests are no longer on the prowl. But late autumn and early winter is a crucial time of year for preventative pest control on fruit trees.

There are five simple techniques that I have found to be effective at keeping fruit tree pests at bay. Conveniently, they can be carried out once the frantic pace of the main growing season has passed, meaning you can give your full attention to this important task.

1. Protect Against Winter Moth Using Glue Bands

Not all moths fly, which is why glue bands and tree barrier glues are very effective measures against destructive caterpillars in Europe and part of the USA. The caterpillars of winter moth are often the culprit behind holey leaves on plums, apples and other trees in spring. They will also damage developing fruits, so that they either drop while still immature, or grow misshapen, scarred and sometimes holed.

Caterpillar damage can be avoided by using glue bands

Adult winter moths lurk in the soil until late autumn, when they emerge to mate. Once mated, the wingless female clambers up a tree trunk and lays her eggs in the branches. She can be stopped in her tracks by a sticky barrier. Glue bands work well on trees with smooth bark like my plum tree in the photo at the top of the page. Trees with more fissured bark can be protected by slathering on tree barrier glue directly. Glue bands will trap other bugs too, so it's important to only use them if you've experienced serious problems with winter moth in the past.

2. Winter Wash Fruit Trees

Aphids are regular visitors to my apple trees every autumn, congregating on the leaves before they fall and laying their eggs in the branches. Aphids feed on new shoots of fruit trees and can cause leaves to become disorted. In severe cases, fruiting may be affected. Minor infestations, particularly on larger trees, are unlikely to cause major problems and can often be ignored. On younger trees, if aphids have been a problem in previous years, it may be necessary to take action.

Aphids nestle their eggs into cracks and folds in tree bark

The first step is to use a jet of water to dislodge aphid eggs. If this isn’t successful, try an organic winter wash based on plant or fish oils. It will destroy aphid eggs and other overwintering pests. For it to be effective, a winter wash needs to be applied in early winter, after the leaves have dropped, and again in spring before the trees burst into growth.

Choose a windless, dry day to apply winter wash, and wear gloves and goggles. Believe me, blowback is not pleasant! Dilute the concentrated winter wash with water in a spray bottle and give the bottle a shake to mix it well. Spray it onto your trees, paying special attention to any nooks and crannies where branches join, and around the buds. I find that using a soft brush to gently scrub particularly badly infested areas helps. Spray any tree stakes too.

An organic winter wash can help reduce problems with aphids

3. Expose Overwintering Insect Pests

Some pests will overwinter in leaf litter or in the soil around your fruit trees so they can be near to their food source when spring comes around. Good garden hygiene is the answer. Rake up all fallen leaves and compost them away from your trees to foil pests such as apple blossom weevil, which can destroy flowers and ruin your fruit crop.

If your trees are surrounded by soil rather than grass, rake around them to expose overwintering pupae of bugs such as sawfly to frost and birds.

4. Prevent Ring-barking by Rabbits and Other Rodents

Tree bark is often nibbled by hungry rabbits, voles and other rodents. If they manage to strip off the bark all the way around the trunk (known as ‘ring-barking’ or ‘girdling’), this prevents carbohydrates from photosynthesis being transported to the roots, and is usually fatal.

A simple tree guard prevents damage by rabbits and other small mammals

Using a tree guard prevents stripping of the bark. Plastic tree guards are not, in my opinion, the best choice; I have found that they can harbour pests and they tend to keep the bark damp, which encourages disease. I prefer to make a protective tube of wire mesh, as it allows free flow of air, is less hospitable to insect pests and is impossible for rodents to gnaw through.

Choose fine wire mesh if your trees are plagued by smaller rodents such as voles, and make sure there is a wide enough gap between the trunk and the mesh so that hungry muzzles can’t push through and reach the bark. Flex the mesh into a tube and secure it using cable ties or wire. Use a cane to keep the tree guard upright, and make sure the wire is pushed firmly into the soil with no gaps at ground level. You may be able to remove guards in summer if the rodent problem is limited to the winter months.

5. Encourage Pest Predators

The larvae of lacewings, ladybirds and hoverflies are voracious pest-munchers. Weather permitting, the period between autumn and spring is a good time to establish more nectar-rich perennial flowers to attract these and other pest predators. Try bugle (Ajuga reptans), asters, daisies or lavender for starters.

Make your garden a haven for wildlife, and ladybirds and other predators will help to control pests

Make sure to provide overwintering habitats so that predators are on hand to step in when pests begin to become a nuisance next year – piles of stones or twigs, hedges and hollow standing plant stems all make great habitats, or you can make a bug hotel.

While birds often get a bad reputation for snacking on fruit, insectivorous birds are excellent pest controllers. Get their attention by providing habitat, winter food and water, and they will seek out bugs in your trees and in your soil.

Insects are much less active during the colder months, but don’t forget to report any you do see to The Big Bug Hunt.

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Show Comments


"I'm very excited in Encourage Pest Predators. Not just protect the environment but also makes the garden becomes interesting."
Merthin on Wednesday 7 November 2018
"Hi, Please indicate me a treatment for fruit trees in my garden. Plum, apple, cherry, apricot trees. I could not identify a specific problem, just to help the trees to stay health and good quality fruits. How can I maintain my trees all year spring, summer, for winter as well. Thank you Marin"
Marin Mudure on Saturday 4 April 2020
"Hi Marin, fruit trees are usually fairly trouble-free as long as the soil is good (water-retentive but free-draining, fertile, not compacted) and there are insects around for pollination at flowering time. We have lots of articles about growing fruit trees on GrowVeg - use the search box at the top of the page to find topics that interest you. Try typing in 5 Solutions for Unproductive Fruit Trees, or Preparing the Ground Around Fruit for the New Growing Season, or How to Fertilize Fruit Trees for starters. I hope that helps!"
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 7 April 2020
"Hi, I have a guava tree in my garden. As soon as it started fruiting, the fruits were and is still being attacked by bugs which render the fruits inedible. It also turns brown then black and then it drops off. I tried using an insect spray on the trunks and on flowers and small fruit but could not eradicate the problem. In the last 2 years, even hundreds of fruits were produced none were edible. Please help"
Zulkifly Ismail on Tuesday 28 April 2020
"Hi Zulkifly, it's hard for me to guess the pests on your guava as I'm not familiar with growing the plant (I don't have the climate for it unfortunately!), but spraying pesticides will affect pest predators as well as the target pests, especially while the tree is blooming, so is best avoided. If you can find out what the bug is you can then use targeted pest control methods (preferably organic) to avoid killing beneficial insects. They best way to combat pests in general is to grow lots of different types of flowers to attract a wide range of insects, which will tend to keep each other in check, and to make sure the tree is as healthy as possible through good soil and moisture management, and pruning when and where required. "
Ann Marie Hendry on Thursday 30 April 2020
"Hi, I have an old (but quite small) apple tree.. I was given a spray to use on the trunk to prevent bugs affecting the Fruit..up until this year.my apples were excellent... I no longer have it, don't know what it was, my mother who gave me it is no longer with us, so can't ask. This year I noticed, long before they were ripe that they were falling , and eaten by something or other... When they were ripe, they were nearly all infested, and had hardly any that could be eaten... What can I use for next year,can't find anything that looks like it can be used on the trunk? Many thanks, Val."
Val Allen on Wednesday 18 November 2020
"Hi Val. It's hard to say what's affecting your apples without seeing them, but it might be worth using the search box at the top of the page to search for codling moth, whose larvae tunnel into apples. You could try using an organic winter wash based on plant or fish oils, as described in the article above, to prevent further problems, but it will depend on what's causing the issue. "
Ann Marie Hendry on Wednesday 25 November 2020
"I bought an expensive espalier Comice pear two autumns ago. The following spring it was a delight to behold - shiny green leaves and beautiful flowers. Sadly, however, within weeks, nothing had come of the flowers, the leaves began turning black and the tree looked a sight. I hoped that it would recover, but it hasn’t, although it has one fruit still on the tree this year and there is lovely new growth above the blackened leaves also. Would the wash you recommend above bring this tree back to productive life?"
Sile on Saturday 21 August 2021
"Hi Sile. If the leaves turned black because of aphid feeding, which often results in sooty mould forming on the 'honeydew' they leave behind, then a winter wash applied twice in the winter while the tree is dormant would be a good idea. However if the leaves have turned black due to some disease or other problem then it wouldn't be beneficial, so it's important to identify the cause of the issue first."
Ann Marie Hendry on Saturday 21 August 2021
"I have a twin apple tree that grows well but always has rotten fruit. All the apples get grubs. I am trying yellow painted hanging boards covered in honey to try to trap the male fruit fly.,does this work? If not what else can I do to stop these pests?"
Warren on Tuesday 14 September 2021
"Apple-shaped decoys with a sticky coating should help attract and trap the flies. We have a guide on this website for dealing with apple maggot - just use the search box at the top of the page to find it. Good luck!"
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 21 September 2021
"Hello. I have been having a problem with apple ermine moth caterpillars this year. Nearly all the leaves on the apple trees I have were eaten over spring and summer, resulting in no fruit in autumn. I've read that hand picking the caterpillars off in spring is an effective but time consuming method, have you ever known this to work? Do you think a wash would be more effective for this particular pest? Thanks for your help!"
Alex on Tuesday 21 December 2021
"Hi Alex. Check for egg masses on the bark in late summer and early autumn and scrape them off, or hand-pick the webs containing the caterpillars in spring and early summer. It may be worth trying a winter wash, but I'm not 100% sure if it will be effective in this case. Spiders, birds, and some insect predators will prey on apple ermine moth, so it's worth encouraging these into your garden."
Ann Marie Hendry on Wednesday 22 December 2021
"Hello! I'm new to this and have apple and peach trees. What exactly is the winter wash, could I find it online or make my own ? Thanks so much "
Kelsey on Wednesday 19 October 2022
"Hi Kelsey. The winter wash is based on plant or fish oils and is available in garden centres and online - the brand I've used in the past is Vitax. You should only need to use it if you have young trees that have had serious insect infestation problems, and be aware it could affect beneficial bugs too."
Ann Marie Hendry on Saturday 22 October 2022

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