There are few things as frustrating as putting in the time and effort to plant a handful of fruit trees, only to watch insects, rodents or deer consume the fruit for which you’ve been patiently waiting to enjoy. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of strategies and techniques you can use to combat these pests and protect your trees. Some are only effective against specific threats, while others provide more general protection.
You may have to experiment and try several of the strategies listed below until you determine the best approach, but with persistence, you’re sure to succeed.
Proper Crop Spacing
By spacing your crops properly and ensuring that the branches of adjacent trees do not come into contact with each other, you can limit the spread of insects and diseases. Additionally, proper spacing will improve the airflow around the trees, helping them to dry more quickly after irrigation each day, which will help your trees remain healthy, so they are better prepared to withstand the indignities caused by feeding insects.
It is a good idea to mulch almost any trees you have, but it is especially important to mulch fruit trees, so that you can benefit from the largest, healthiest crop possible. Mulch provides a number of health benefits for the trees, including moderating the soil temperatures and retaining moisture, but most importantly, it prevents the growth of weeds and grasses. This reduces the amount of habitat available to many pest insects, which will help keep them away from your trees.
Install Protector Plants
In some cases, you can install other plants or trees to help “guard” your crop. Some trees and plants help accomplish this goal by repelling pests entirely, while others serve to attract pests and provide them with an alternative food source, thereby sparing your fruit trees.
Not all pests can be mitigated through the use of protection plants, so you’ll have to investigate the options available for the trees you grow and the insects with whom you battle.
One of the most effective methods of protecting your fruit trees relies on the use of various barriers. Birds, for example, are pretty easy to thwart through the use of soft netting, while mammal damage can be limited through the use of various wraps and fences.
It is somewhat more difficult to protect fruits from insects, but some fruits, such as apples, can be protected by enclosing them in a small plastic bag. Be sure to make a small hole in the bottom corner of each bag, so that the condensation can drain easily – otherwise, the fruit will likely spoil.
Pie pans, metal balloons, old compact disks and a variety of other inanimate objects can provide some value in your fight against squirrels and other fruit thieves. By suspending these types of items from several places on each tree, they will blow about in the wind, frightening the offending critters away.
However, squirrels and other pests can become accustomed to the presence of these items, causing them to stop working, so you may need to rotate between several different items over time.
Many fruit tree pest populations can be drastically reduced through hand-picking and similar manual pest removal methods. However, for maximum efficacy, an intimate knowledge of the common pests and their life cycles is imperative.
In its simplest form, hand picking may involve nothing more than walking between your trees, looking for adult insects, clumps of young larvae or nymphs (who are often gregarious in their early life stages) or even highly visible egg clumps, and picking the bugs off the trees. Light traps can also be helpful for capturing nocturnal moths, who are often among the most problematic insects for fruit trees. Eggs, larvae and adult insects should be carefully dispatched by dropping them in a bucket of soapy water or some other incapacitating solution.
Motion-Operated Sprinklers and Alarms
Several devices are available to modern fruit tree growers that will help frighten off pests. Most such devices work in conjunction with an electronic motion sensor, which triggers some type of negative stimuli, designed to scare off the animals. For example, many such systems produce loud noises or high pitch ultrasound when triggered, while others activate a sprinkler to spray the offending animal with water.
These systems vary in their efficacy, and are clearly more appropriate for repelling vertebrate, rather than invertebrate, pests. Sometimes, scare devices cease to frighten pests after repeated exposures, so they are rarely sufficient to completely protect your fruit trees – they work best as a component of a comprehensive system.
Dogs can make very effective guards for your fruit trees, as most are compelled to chase squirrels, chipmunks and other animals like deer, on sight. In fact, if you select a breed with a high prey drive, you won’t even need to train them for the task – simply provide the dog with a comfortable place to sleep and retreat from the elements, and leave him in the orchard. Nevertheless, just about any dog breed will help reduce some pest damage caused by mammals and birds.
You’ll need a fence surrounding the orchard to keep the dog from wandering off, which may also provide some protection from larger pests, such as deer.
Natural Predators and Biological Control Agents
Squirrels, birds and other fruit-tree pests must take care to avoid the myriad predators lurking near your yard or farm as they go about their daily life. By encouraging these predators to hunt amid your trees, they’ll help limit the pest population. Snakes, hawks, foxes, and coyotes are some of the most valuable predators in these contexts, and most rural and suburban areas have thriving populations of them. The humble garden toad is perhaps one of the gardener’s best friends as they feed on many types of garden pests, and you can certainly encourage them to come and stay in your garden.
Predatory insects and arachnids, including lady bugs, wasps and several flies, often keep pest populations in check in natural habitats, and you can leverage their feeding habits to help keep your fruit trees pest free. Several predatory invertebrates are available from biological supply houses that will work very well in exactly this context.
In the past, pesticides were one of the front-line tools for protecting fruit trees (and other crops) from pests. However, given the potential for environmental harm and the danger some pesticides pose to beneficial, non-target organisms, pesticides are often eschewed by modern tree growers.
However, if all other approaches fail, you may have to rely on pesticides to eliminate the pests or pathogens that are threatening your crops. Just be sure that you use pesticides with as narrow a range of efficacy as possible and follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions while using them.
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