Stacking Functions Garden

Operation save our apple tree


We are finally starting to (literally) harvest the fruits of our two-year effort at saving our apple tree. Two years ago, we had it professionally pruned, removing some diseased branches that the arborist thought might be infected with fire blight. The tree then went into shock and produced almost no apples in 2010.

This spring, however, it looked healthier than ever. The air was practically snowing with apple blossoms in late May.  So, with hope in our hearts we tried a couple different methods of apple pest control.

My first thought was to bag a couple hundred apples. Bagging apples prevents a few different harmful flying insects — like apple maggots — from landing on the apple to lay their eggs. Apparently it’s a common practice in Japan, and it’s gaining popularity here. After bagging about 25, I gave up. Our tree is so tall, I would have needed to rent a cherry picker to be able to do this properly.

Plan B: sticky sphere traps. I bought six of them (two kits) and got them in place the last week of June.  They are now covered with dead, stuck flies.  When I get the traps down in a few weeks I will look carefully at them to see if I can identify any of them.

I’m still not 100% sure what we have — from looking at the various U of M Extension diagnostic tools, I think we may have ALL of the following: codling moth, obliquebanded leafroller, apple maggot. These are some of the most common apple pests in Minnesota, so it’s not surprising.

However, I’m trying to look at this tree project as a multi-year process. The first few years we lived here, we had hardly any usable apples from the tree. This year? We’ve already frozen 5 gallon-sized bags of cut up apples for pies, canned 5 quarts of apple sauce, and look at these beauties that I picked today that we’ll just eat:

They are far from perfect, but those minor flaws are only skin deep.  It’s hard to estimate numbers, because the squirrels take SO many of our apples.  But here’s a rough guess of where we’ll end up for 2011:

25% totally unusable
50% suitable for sauce or pies once wormy/gross part is removed
25% absolutely perfect (well, I guess that means only skin-deep minor flaws)

This is a HUGE improvement over the first few years we lived here. And with the measures we’re taking this year, I hope to improve those numbers even more.  I’m not aiming for anything near perfection — you need pesticide for that.  Here’s some photographic evidence of what bagging can do for you:

bagged apple

Although I’ve had a few unbagged apples that looked this perfect, too.  Here was this afternoon’s picking:

A five-gallon pail of sauce apples, and a nice crisper-drawer full of eating apples. Not too bad, considering the relatively small effort I’ve put in.

If you have a pest-ridden apple tree, here are some steps you can take. Again, it helps to look at this as a multi-year process.

1. If the tree itself seems sick: yellowing or spotted leaves, whole dead branches, or other problems listed here, get it professionally pruned.

2. Try to determine what pests you have. The University of Minnesota Extension website has several different diagnostic tools you can try. This one walks you through step-by-step, and this one just lists common pests and how to identify them. (I prefer the second one.)

3. Follow IPM (integrated pest management) guidelines for the pests you know you have.  Since I am not 100% sure yet which pests I have (I do know that I have more than one kind), I’m following a couple of general helpful IPM guidelines:

General IPM for apples:
– Clear away all fallen fruit and leaves and throw them in the garbage, not the compost pile. This prevents a few different pests from overwintering in fallen fruit/leaves.
– Sticky sphere traps are great for apple maggot, a very common pest in MN. I found a kit easily in the organic pest control section of a local garden store.
– Thin out apples in early July (squirrels take care of this part for me).
– Bag as many apples as you possibly can. Simply cut the bottom two corners off a sandwich bag (for drainage) then staple them over the tiny apple as soon as it forms on the tree (usually late June here in Minnesota). Be sure to leave room in the bag for the apple to grow!

So there you have it, progress. Thank goodness something worked out fairly well in what has otherwise been a very challenging year in the garden.

4 thoughts on “Operation save our apple tree

  1. these looks amazing!
    a lot of work (it sounds) – but totally worth it. beautiful!

  2. Thanks for this awesome post! I am inspired to try the bags on our trees next year.

  3. I’ve been faced with similar issues with my tree as well. Had to cut off a huge chunk because of the fire blight and aphids but I didn’t to too crazy pruning, although it needs it, that’ll come this spring. I kind of see it as an over time project too. Anyhoo, just wanted to comment on the bagging technique. I’ve done it for 3 years now. It’s an easy step to add while your thin the fruit at the same time and I get HUGE apples doing this. Coddling moth is a real problem in my area and while I could spray, the bags are very effective even if my tree looks ridiculous and everyone thinks I’m crazy. What they don’t think about is that it’s a one off unlike spraying and what if you if you forget to spray before a big hatch (which I would probably do but I’ve never sprayed it so I don’t know)?
    I cut the corners and trim the top of ziplock bags (unzip them first!) then zip the bag to the stem. Its also important to do this as soon as possible or you’ll be bagging fruit that already has worms in it >.< (Yeah, I know but cut me some slack, I have small kids) Keep count by tracking how many boxes of 100 you used. It's kind of fun to tell your bewildered neighbors that your bagged over 250 apples in a weekend besides they're the first to come around when they start seeing them turn red inside those baggies.
    Best of luck, if you want my opinion, it's a step well worth doing.

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