Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Have A Ball Stopping the Apple Maggot

The main apple insect pest in most home gardens is the apple maggot (Rhagoletis pomonella), a small fly whose larva burrows into the fruit and makes it inedible. But you can control this pest if you know it weakness. You see, the female fly loves red! Given the choice of tiny green apples and a nice big red apple, she will almost certainly choose the red one. And the home gardener can turn this affection to his advantage.

Red ball trap covered with apple maggot flies.

Just take a red ball (or paint a ball red) and hang it from the tree. Do this after the petals have fallen, but before the unripe apples are visible, usually before the end of June. Now apply a non-drying glue (“Tanglefoot”, widely available in garden centers, is the usual choice) to the outside of the ball. The trap is now set.

Commercial trap with attractant.

If you’re not interested in making your own red ball trap, you can also purchase commercial traps. They too are shaped like red balls and come with their own non-drying glue And they’re easy to find: most garden centers and even some hardware stores offer them. Some are even equipped with an attractant that makes them more effective: a fruit essence that attracts the apple maggot flies.

Or use a real apple! Simply coat a apple from the supermarket with Tanglefoot or a similar glue and hang it from the tree.

How the Trap Works

When the apple maggot fly sees the sticky red ball, it will tend to visit it rather than the real apples nearby which are still small and green… and it remains stuck on the trap. In years where the apple maggot population is low (it varies widely from season to season), a single trap will see that up to 98% of the fruit is free of maggots. When the population is high, however, you may need to multiply the traps, placing up to five red balls in each tree… and also, you’ll have to clean the balls when as they become covered in flies. Just apply another layer of glue and hang them back in the tree.

Double Punch

Several studies show that the trap red ball will be even more effective if you accompany it with yellow sticky traps, also known to attract insect pests. Place the yellow trap on the outer edge of the tree, in full sunlight, and the red ball trap in among the foliage, but still well exposed, and the poor pest won’t know what hit it!

Ladd Trap
There is also trap that combines both methods. The Ladd trap, named for its manufacturer (, consists of a red ball surrounded by a yellow trap and includes an attractant as well. It is, apparently extremely effective: truly the Cadillac of apple maggot traps. However, it is also sold at Cadillac prices: $29.95 US per trap on the Gardens Alive website.

Hang a few red balls from your apple trees this summer. It can save you a lot of disappointment.

7 comments on “Have A Ball Stopping the Apple Maggot

  1. L A Middlesteadt

    Doesn’t this stop being effective when the real apples become big and red too? Or does the sticky stuff have a more enticing scent than the real apples?

    • As mentioned, some of the commercial traps include an attractant. However, by the time apples have turned red, very late in the season, there are relatively few apple maggot flies still laying eggs, but I would still suspect the trap would be less effective at that point.

    • Joe Plantsalot

      By then the sticky ball should have gotten all the flies. You can keep your sticky red balls in the trees and just monitor through the Spring and summer, to see when most flies get stuck, and when it stops. This may require cleaning them and re-applying Tanglefoot then re-hanging them a few times.

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