Sticky Trap Using a Real Apple

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A commercial sticky trap can be very effective … but so can a homemade one! Source: netreefruit.org

Many gardeners already know that a red ball covered with glue can be used as a trap for the apple maggot fly (Rhagoletis pomonella), whose maggot, the apple worm, digs tunnels in the fruit and makes it nearly useable. In fact, you’ll find such traps in just about any garden center! But did you know that you can use a real apple instead?

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Coat a red apple with sticky glue and it too will become an apple maggot trap. Source: www.vegetablegardener.com

Just coat a red apple (a Red Delicious’, for example) with a non-drying glue (you can find Tangle-Trap, for example, in many garden centers) and then hang it in your apple tree when its own fruits are still very small. Attracted by the redness of the apple, the female apple maggot fly will leave the insignificant little green apples alone and land instead on the bright red one, convinced she’s hit the gold mine: a particularly juicy apple on which to lay her eggs. Unfortunately for her, she’ll end up stuck and unable to reproduce … and your apples will be in perfect condition come fall!

Usually one apple per dwarf apple tree is enough, but four or five may be needed on large trees.20180708A www.vegetablegardener.com

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Bag Apples to Keep Pests Away

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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

Love Trap for Bugs

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Japanese beetle trap.

A pheromone trap is an insect trap that gives off pheromones (chemical substances similar to hormones) used to attract the insect being controlled. Pheromones can mimic the smell of an insect’s favorite food (fruit, flower, etc.), but more often the pheromones used in traps are a bit more libidinous than that: they imitate insect sex pheromones, normally that of the female pest. Thus, the males travel from afar, attracted by the smell of what they think is an attractive young virgin. Once they enter the trap, though, the males can’t get out and therefore can’t impregnate any females, leading to, at least in theory, a drop in the local insect population.

To make the trap even more effective, it is usually colored yellow, blue, green, or purple, depending on the favorite color of the insect.

A Trap for Each Pest

Pheromone traps are very specific: each is designed to attract a particular type of pest. There is therefore no danger they will trap beneficial insects. You therefore have to purchase a different trap for each insect you’re trying to control.

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Japanese beetle.

The possibilities for pheromone traps are almost limitless, but for the moment, only one is widely available in most areas in North America: the Japanese beetle trap. It is, of course, designed to repress Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica). It actually contains two pheromones: a sex pheromone that mimics the smell of the female Japanese beetle, which therefore attracts male beetles, and another that gives off a floral scent that attracts both sexes.

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Rose chafer.

Because of the floral pheromone, the Japanese beetle trap can also be used to catch rose chafers (Macrodactylus subspinosus), a Japanese beetle relative. However, there is also a specific trap for rose chafers that only gives off the floral scent. It seems to be more difficult to find in local stores.

Also on the market are apple maggot traps, usually shaped like a red ball that resembles a mature apple. Some models include contain a pheromone: a fruit essence that attracts the apple maggot (Rhagoletis pomonella).

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Trap for emerald ash beetles.

While the home gardener has only a limited choice of traps, farmers and foresters have access to a wide range of pheromone traps for just as wide a range of crop pests. You may, for example notice, traps placed in ash trees (Fraxinus spp.) In a park in your municipality. With this trap, authorities try to determine whether the dreaded emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) is lurking in the area.

The Downside of Pheromone Traps

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When the trap is too full, the insects can’t enter.

But there is one major flaw with pheromone traps. While they do indeed attract insect pests to the area, but the latter don’t all enter the trap! Sometimes they simply miss the trap because the scent is carried elsewhere by the wind. Or the trap may already  be full.

Whatever the reason, the result is that pheromone traps often actually don’t reduce insect damage. The insects that didn’t enter the trap, now starving, flock to the nearest available food plant and start to chow down. This is sadly the situation with Japanese beetle traps: they do catch beetles and lots of them, but they also draw more beetles into the sector, so instead of the damage being reduced, it is often worse.

The joke usually proffered is to buy traps and offer them to your neighbors so the beetles will go to their garden instead of yours! That really would work, but I suspect your neighbours would be a bit upset when they find out!

Effective Use of a Japanese Beetle Trap

You can however use the trap effectively if you follow three simple rules:

  1. Place Japanese beetle traps well away from the plants they eat (at least 50 feet/15 m). For example, on a pole in the middle of a lawn.
  2. Empty the traps regularly. Sometimes you have do it every day, otherwise they fill up and new insects can’t get in. Just dump the pests into a bucket of soapy water.
  3. 20150720FCollect beetles daily from nearby vegetation, preferably early in the morning when they are not very active, using a hand vacuum (empty the vacuum afterwards over a bucket of soapy water). Children, especially, seem to find collecting beetles with a vacuum a lot of fun.

If you start using this combined method of insect control at the beginning of the season, you can make serious inroads into reducing the infestation.

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.