Bag Apples to Keep Pests Away

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20180610B www.genieinthegarden.com.jpg

Sealed inside their individual plastic bag, these apples will mature naturally, http://www.genieinthegarden.com

Are you having trouble getting quality apples without spraying for insects like apple maggots, coddling moths and stink bugs? If red ball sticky traps, the method I use, are not giving you the results you want, why not try bagging your apples? It’s not as complicated as it looks.

Apple bagging may seem pretty new-fangled to many gardeners, but different forms of fruit bagging have been carried on for generations in China and Japan.

The How-To

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Seal the young apple inside a plastic bag to keep pests away. Source: Myk63, youtube.com

About three weeks after apple flowers drop off and the fruits are about ½ to ¾ inches (1.25 to 2 cm) in diameter, thin the apples to one fruit per cluster. Choose a healthy, intact apple (avoid any apples with a crescent-shaped scar, sign it has already been visited by the plum curculio).

Now, insert the fruit into a ziplock sandwich bag (or staple a recycled plastic bag around it) and seal as firmly as you can. Cut off the lowest corner with scissors so any moisture caused by condensation can drip out.

This barrier will stop insect pests from laying their eggs on the growing fruit. It will also prevent some apple diseases, like sooty blotch and flyspeck and will keep birds and (usually) squirrels at bay too. Bagging will have no effect, though, on more pernicious diseases like scab, rust and fire blight. To control those, you need to grow disease-resistant apples.

Come harvest season, just remove the bag (dry it and store it for next year) and you’ll have a worm-free, pest-free apple!

Obviously, bagging will be easiest to carry out on dwarf or at least semi-dwarf trees.

Other Fruits

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Bagged Asian pear. Source: littlehouseinthesuburbs.com

This method will also work with pears (although they have fewer insect problems than apples and I personally don’t find they need it), grapes, kiwis, etc. You can also bag stone fruits (plums, peaches, nectarines, etc.), but they tend to rot under the high humidity of a sealed plastic bag, so instead use as a barrier something that allows excellent air circulation, like an old nylon stocking, attaching it with a twist tie. You can, for example, buy boxes of inexpensive disposable socks that will do the job nicely.

Easier Than It Sounds

Bagging sounds like a lot of work, but if you’re thinning your apples anyway, it only takes a few extra seconds… and you can prepare the bags ahead of time by already cutting off a corner. And it saves big time on spraying time, so you end up getting better results with less effort.20180610B www.genieinthegarden.com.jpg

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Have A Ball Stopping the Apple Maggot

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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.

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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.

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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 (www.laddresearch.com), 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.