The Best Ways to Keep Bugs Away From Fruit Trees

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You're not the only one who enjoys the fruit from your trees -- many bugs find them irresistible, too. True bugs meet certain criteria that separate them from other insects, but common vernacular pulls them all under the same umbrella. Whether the trees on your property are under attack from true bugs or other insects, you'll end up the buggy one if they spoil the literal fruits of your gardening labor.

True bugs attracted to the color yellow include whiteflies, aphids and thrips.
True bugs attracted to the color yellow include whiteflies, aphids and thrips. (Image: wasan gredpree/iStock/Getty Images)

Trapping

Bait and switch describes a trapping tactic that lures some bugs to a decoy, which looks like certain tree fruits. For example, if a tree's fruits are round and red, the decoys are also round and red. The decoys are coated with a sticky adhesive, which traps the bugs. Some flies lay their eggs inside newly forming fruits, and when the maggots hatch, they feed on the fruits. By hanging decoys in nearby non-fruiting trees, you can lure the flies away from the fruit trees and trap them before they can lay eggs.

Tip

  • Make a homemade yellow sticky trap by painting a plastic card, cup or bottle bright yellow, coating it with petroleum jelly or mineral oil and hanging it in the garden.

Sanitation

  • A tidy and clean garden is essential if you have fruit trees -- not for aesthetics, but as one component of an integrated pest management strategy. Remove all fallen fruits from underneath trees; any maggots they contain may mature into flies that lay eggs in other fruit. 
  • Many bugs live in grass or weeds and overwinter on leaves and other garden debris. Keep the grass cut around fruit trees, rake leaves and remove debris.

Spraying

Some types of fruit trees need a labor-intensive chemical spray regimen just to keep harmful bugs at bay. Often, a year-round maintenance schedule is necessary, including dormant-oil spraying in winter and spraying every seven to 10 days during the growing season. Your county extension office can recommend fruit-specific spray programs as well as varieties and cultivars of fruit trees that may be more pest-resistant where you live.

Tip

  • Some insects -- called beneficials -- are predators of the bugs that harm fruit trees. Plant flowers near fruit trees to attract these "good" bugs.

Warning

  • Don't spray bugs unless you know for sure you're spraying a pest species because you may kill beneficial insects.

Exclusion

Some pests may reach your fruit trees, but barriers can keep them from climbing up the trunks to reach the fruit. Although you may think of garden snails and slugs as ground-dwellers, some species also climb trees to feed on fruit. Copper bands that encircle fruit tree trunks produce a mild electrical charge to stop snails in their tracks.

Healthy Trees

Trees that are under stress because of transplanting, drought or improper fertilization -- whether excessive or insufficient fertilizer -- are typically more susceptible to insect damage.

  • Water fruit trees according to recommendations for the specific trees you're cultivating.
  • Fertilize only according to soil-test recommendations from a horticulturist, soil-testing laboratory or the county extension office. 
  • Look at fruit trees carefully before you buy them to make sure they are free from insects and insect eggs -- look on the undersides of leaves to check for eggs.

References

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