Apples without pesticides

I haven’t tried growing apples yet, have been a little daunted by what sounds like a lot of need for spraying. I thought this was an interesting article, Would be interested in the thoughts of some of the experienced apple growers.


Lids, the only spraying I do for my apples is dormant spraying, mainly for mildew. I don’t really have any apple pest issues. We are very, very fortunate here where we live - we do not have anywhere near the pest pressure that others have, mainly due to our drier climate. Our worst pest pressure issues are birds and rodents. I probably don’t even need to spray my apple trees, but then get done because most are down with my stone fruit, that does need spraying for PLC and SH, and even that is pretty light compared to other areas of the country.

Patty S.


My mother grew up in Pennsylvania and had large standard apple trees that didn’t get sprayed (at least not regularly.)

When I asked her about that, she said, “Oh yeah, we got plenty of worms. If you felt like it, you could cut that part out. Sometimes I ate them. Couldn’t really taste it too much, and it didn’t hurt you.”

Same thing with all the other insect/fungus damage. You ate around it (or just ate it whole, warts and all). They were also used for processing, which damaged fruit is fine for.

Standard Apple trees are usually a lot hardier, and can take much more of a beating, so I think if I was going to try a no-spray program I would definitely get standards or own-root Apple trees.

So I suppose as long as you’re willing to accept very substandard looking fruit and are ok with “eating around” a lot of stuff, you’ll be fine. I think you also need to accept that even growing standards, you’ll still have losses. But…based on my mother’s experience, it was definitely possible in PA.


I agree with Patty. In California apples require very little care and one can grow them without any sprays. For me, the main issue is saving the fruit from ground squirrels and birds.


My apple trees are in west central Illinois. I do not spray. I get the good apples and the deer get the bad ones.


I didn’t spray a couple of my trees the past few years. The apples look terrible, but part of that is too much shading/bad site location. The worst thing is not the bugs/disease…i can deal with crappy apples…its that the squirrels/birds take/attack them constantly once they start showing color…ugh. My summer apples did great with just a few sprays of pyrethins…i had to put wire mesh over them as they turned because the birds were pecking at em daily.

I was away from home a couple springs caring for my father. The apples didn’t get sprayed or bagged. They were complete junk, not enough wormless spots to even get a bite. It depends a lot on where you are. Western Wisconsin you need to protect apples.


I agree. I read the NYT article, and while I like some of Michael Phillips techniques (i.e. remedial wood chips) he seems to leave me with the impression he thinks his techniques are universally effective for any location. Maybe I’m misinterpreting, I don’t know.

I do know I’ve been on various fruit growing forums (along with Scott, Alan, Fruitnut, and others) for a long time, and have read of countless times where people have tried to basically go without any use of pesticides in the NE, Midwest, or the SE, experience complete failure and become discouraged. They think somehow they must be doing something wrong because an author said no spray techniques work, when in reality the only thing they did wrong was to take the author too literally.

I’m not trying to insinuate nothing can be gained from Phillips books, or discourage anyone from trying to minimize or even eliminate pesticides, depending on location, tolerance to harvest loss and fruit damage, but it’s my opinion there is more collective knowledge on this forum than Michael Phillips experience.

I would also say that until there are more new techniques for growing fruits without pesticides, most people in humid rainy warm climates will probably have to use some pesticides to get dessert quality fruit, or bag the fruit.


Lids that article is closely related to the topics in this recent thread

You will see there my opinion that northern and western climates are much easier to do no- or low-spray on apples. The NYT article is about northern NH and I don’t think those methods will work for me in Maryland.

It is somewhat random what will happen with no-spray apples, it depends on many factors. Most of the trees I have seen have really beat-up fruit, but a few were OK. Even here in Maryland I have seen perfectly OK apple trees that never got sprayed.

1 Like

… for apples and other deciduous fruit.

Like Patty, I spray my apples with copper for mildew but also Agrimycin for Fireblight.

Who are Mr. Gopher’s friends … Mr. Squirrel, Mr. Rabbit …


This is about me! Tried no spray, didn’t get any fruit . By the time I realized this is not working, My tree is in such bad condition that I might have to axe it down. Not just discouraged but also heartbroken. I’m not trying no spray again :disappointed:

1 Like

Hah, exactly, and yes, specifically discussing apples. We have other pest issues that are rather devastating for other fruit trees here in California, that we have to deal with (such as HLB with our citrus). I think we’re probably the Gopher Capital of the World out here in California, especially S. California. I don’t spray for Fireblight because the timing is everything, and I have only had one strike on any apple or pear tree, and that was 4 years ago. So, for right now (crossing all fingers and toes and knocking on all wooden things), I will just keep a vigilant eye out. But, always watching for it, because it is probably one of our worse bacterial/fungal issues we have.

1 Like

Keep in mind that Pomegranate can be an unseen host for FB.


Yup, as well as all the Bradford pears in Vista and Oceanside as well. I think they’re worse for spreading FB than poms.

Bag those apples! I bagged 900 this year, and they nearly all turned out fine. Bagging isn’t hard. I found it relaxing to do at the end of a long work day. The kids played in the yard around me while I bagged a hundred here, two hundred there. I did it over the course of a month–and I didn’t even start till after the plum curculio hit.

If I, a newcomer to this, can have success, then nearly anyone can.


Thanks Richard. I would have never have thought about Pomegranates being a FB host. I just planted my first about a week ago and I hope I didn’t make a big mistake.

1 Like

I bag, too. It really depends on your pest pressure.

If I don’t do Surround cover spray while apple fruitlets are too small to bag, I run the risk of bug damage. Those bugs work very fast. If it takes me a few evenings to complete all the bagging, the risk is higher without Surround.

I, too, have found standing among my apple trees bagging relaxing/ therapeutic.


I agree, those b**tard Callery Pears (Pyrus calleryana) are the worst. The city of Poway planted at least a 100 in boulevard medians. Some fruit enthusiasts are known to have notches on their chainsaws …

Annual copper should control it. You are also aware of pyracantha?


Yup, and I have none on my property. Some in the general neighborhood, though. Do you know that the berries on Pyracantha will ferment on the plant in our heat? Birds will still eat them and become drunk. I used to see this in Fullerton, where I grew up. First time I had ever seen anyone (or anything) intoxicated, before! :smile:


Listen to the growers in your area. When I lived in S. CA, spray free fruit was easy. I was up in the hills enough to avoid a lot of the fog, so I didn’t even know about fire blight- but back then I didn’t grow much in the way of pomes anyway- the nurseries didn’t tend to supply anything but stone fruit, avocados, figs and citrus. I helped manage a neighbors two apple trees but that was the extent of my experience with apples.

Now I grow fruit an hour north of NYC and if I only had experience growing fruit in this pest ridden area my advice would be worthless to you, although I can tell you something about protecting your fruit from ground squirrels! Here grey squirrels are the plague, but dealing with ground squirrels is quite similar. At least we don’t have gophers. Pine voles can create the same damage but they are not as prevalent here as gophers were in Topanga Canyon.

1 Like