Fruit tree ecology 101

As many of you know, I had some terrible luck in my orchard this year- all my peach tree buds got frozen by a late freeze and then my neighbor let his 2, 4-D spray drift all over my orchard and killed many trees and most of those that survived at least lost their new growth and flowers. The point is, out of about 70 trees I have very, very few that have fruit this year (just a few apples).

I was trying to find a positive side to all this (its hard!) and was thinking that perhaps a year without fruit would cause a lot of my insect pests to either starve out or migrate else where or otherwise have their patterns disrupted to the point that there might be less pressure next year. I should tell you that before I started my orchard I had an existing peach, pear, and apple on the site which had been producing fruit for years, but had never been sprayed or harvested. So it was a perfect setting for pests like PC and OFM. They got to eat and live in the fruit until it fell to the ground and then crawl into ground. In other words, it was the perfect environment for such predatory insects. As a result, I sincerely believe that I have the worst case of PC and OFM many of you have ever seen. Last year I sprayed every 10 days and still had a lot of damage.

With all that background, let me (finally) get to my questions. First, what are your thoughts about whether or not one year without fruit will have any sort of positive impact on the OFM and PC populations?

Second, and this is my ecology question, can someone educate me a little bit on the life cycle of OFM and/or PC. One of those - and I am sorry, but I just can’t tell which one- is absolutely devouring my peach trees. Specifically, the very tips of every single branch-big or small- are wilting and dying. ALL OF THEM…Hundreds per tree. when I pluck the wilted tip off, I can carefully pull it open and there is always a tiny little maggot looking worm in there. Its either PC or OFM. I’ve looked at countless photos of both online and read ways to tell them apart, but I just can’t figure it out. Lets forget which one it is for a moment. I’m very curious about why they bore into the tips of branches and am hoping someone can explain that? With fruit, I understand that they bore to the seed, live there and feed until the fruit falls, then go into ground and continue life cycle. But why bore into the tips of branches? THey branches just dry out and hang there. And the larvae don’t ever go very far down in the branch. So it would seem to me that this behavior leads to their death. Its hard to understand why nature would program something to act against its best interest. Perhaps they can’t find fruit this year so they have no where else to bore. If that is the case, and if it does lead to their death, then it seems I might benefit greatly by not having fruit on any trees this year. I also must ad and admit that part of the problem is that I’ve been much less rigorous about spraying my trees this year since I have no fruit to protect. Seeing all these dead tips makes me think I should have kept a tight spray regimen. On the other hand, I’m not sure this is doing much damage in the long run since new tips form pretty quickly after the old one dies.

Thanks for any insight you can offer into the life of these critters and whether not having fruit for a year will have an appreciable effect. Sorry this was too long (as usual for me!)

CityMan. This is not directly answering your question and I don,t have first hand knowledge of using surround as an insect barrier but I do read good things about it. My solution up to now has been to bag the fruit and pretty much totally eliminate insect damage. The more fruit that I have on my trees the more difficult the bagging turns out to be. There is a small window of opportunity to get the fruit covered. Next year my plans are to use surround spray at least long enough to get the fruit bagged. Just my opinion but I don’t think not having fruit one year will have much effect on eliminating the pest. Hope some of the others can more directly answer your question. Bill

Thanks, Bill. I think I will try to at least bag some of my fruit next year. But with 75 trees and some of them pretty large, it just seems overwhelming to try to bag too many. May I ask what you use for bags and where you get them?

As for sprays, I’ve always read that surround is less effective and needs to be applied much more often than others sprays such as triazicide. Of course it is organic so that may be why you plan to use it. But for me personally, I’m willing to use non-organics so I’ll probably stick with spectracide’s Once and Done (Triazicide). I’ve also used Bonide’s All in One fruit tree spray, but in my limited experience it isn’t as effective.

Meanwhile, I still can’t quite figure out why my OFM/CM burrow into the tips. What are they after? There is no seed or fruit to sustain them and the tips seem to die quickly, thereby destroying their hideout/food source. hmmm???


I think these insects will find you (your fruit) no matter how long it takes.

I attached this fact sheet on OFM. I found this Cornell one easy to read and understand.

Their larva feed on vegetative part of the plant, too. Your fruit trees could be damaged by the big four, OFM, codling moths, Plum Curculio and stink bugs. If I were you, I’ll use chemical insecticide, too since it is usually more effective. Once you figure out their life cycles (including how many generations of them that you need to handle in one growing season, you could plan to disrupt and destroy them in a more organic manner.

I wish you good luck.

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That was an INCREDIBLY helpful link, mamuang, thank-you for taking the time to link me to it. It confirmed that OFM, at least, do feed on vegetative growth and not just fruit. Almost every single thing it said applies to my trees and I’ve seen happen, so I feel more confident than ever that I do have OFM-though maybe others as well. Thanks again.

CityMan. I totally agree with you about the huge task of bagging that many fruit. Sometimes I let my organic aspirations creep in when it may not be practical to apply. My one and only standard size pear tree took a considerable amount of time to bag. The other trees in my orchard have some degree of dwarfing and I’m hoping that these will go a lot faster. The good side is that almost all my apples and pears that were bagged were blemish free. The only bags I have used is the ziplock sandwich bags with vent holes. Good luck, Bill

I hate to keep bugging you for details, but I’ve read a lot about people “bagging” fruit and never quite understood how they do it. So, if you use ziplock sandwich bags, how to you secure them along the bottom? I mean, I assume you put the bag over the fruit upside down, but then you would obviously have the stem or a branch or something sticking out of the bottom. Do you just zip the bag up as much as you can and leave the stem on the edge? Seems like it would come unzipped a little bit or not seal completely against the stem. If so, it seems like there would be enough of a crack along the bottom where the stem/branch sticks out that determined bugs could still get in??? Am I missing something? Thanks, bill.

City…I have the same questions as you regarding bagging fruit. I’ve never done it, and really don’t intend to, but wouldn’t mind giving it a shot for experimentation purposes. I have some of the nylon “footsies” that I think mamuang uses (or has used).
I agree with mamuang…I’d spray. Given the fact that you already live in an agricultural area that has demonstrated proven drift of herbicide, I’d guess that any small amount of pesticide that you would apply would be spit in the ocean in terms of family health concerns etc.
Given how many trees perished in the farmer debacle, I don’t know how many trees you have left, but you did have a lot. If you have enough trees now, or plan to replant, I think it might be worthwhile to investigate stronger more concentrated commercial grade sprays, if for nothing else, the economical advantages they offer. Triazicide may seem economical, but when you consider the cost per mixed gallon and weigh that against efficacy charts you will quickly see that there are other less costly and far more effective options.

FWIW…I agree with Bill. One year off I think will have negligible effects on pests. When I moved to where I am now there was no fruit trees here at all and I cannot say that pest pressure is any higher now than it was then. That was 4 or 5 years ago.

Also, the footsies seem better for the securement questions, but I cannot see how fruit can properly color up when using them.
Let me know if you find out anything.

I think you had the right concept about the baggies, Cityman. I know I’ve seen pictures on this forumt that fit your description. Your also right about the ability of bugs to still sometimes find their way in with that method. I’m sure of that statement because I bagged all 5 , count 'em, 5 - apples on my tree. Two days later I saw a bug in one of them. I squished the bug. Here are a couple of links to help you. Mother Earth article describing using ziplocks and a video using paper bagging.

Many sites I manage have unsprayed fruit trees on adjacent property- sometimes actually touching trees that I’m protecting. While I don’t question that thriving inoculum and insect pest populations nearby are an issue, it is one that I haven’t measurably observed, beyond perhaps with scab on very susceptible varieties (variety, actually- that being Macintosh).

Even if there are no conventional fruit trees nearby, plum curculio was here before European apple trees were and do quite well feeding on native amelanchier and other native plants. They move fast and far and commercial growers here have to tend to them the same way year after year, even when they were clear burning insect populations with DDT.

I am really sorry you suffered the losses you did and I’d like to provide a silver lining, but pears are the only species that I have problems with based on very local pressure as a rule. Pear psyla and scab may take years to find trees at any given site but once they move in, management seems to be a permanent necessity.

I wonder why a 10 day schedule wouldn’t be entirely successful there while here in the southern NY area (and further up) we can get by with just 2 insecticide sprays for apples most years. OFM would increase that (for peaches especially) but it is not hard to control if you just spray the growing tips after you see the first flagging, in my experience. Now that I think of it, OFM is probably like psyla in that at many sites I don’t see it at all, but once it appears it is fairly constant. So you might see a decline in it, but probably no more than if you had obtained control chemically the previous season.

Anyway, I’m wondering if your pesticides themselves are doing the job they should be or if you are getting adequate coverage. I can only speak for my particular region, but I don’t know that commercial growers down there have to spray a lot more than those up here. We have many of the same pests.

Depending on Triazide for insect control may be a problem when you need control during the hottest weather, but I can only theorize on that. I have read that it loses efficacy in high heat.


It sounds like Mamuang answered your question about OFM. She’s absolutely right about the big four tree fruit insect pests for most humid places east of the Rockies.

Even though the Cornell article talked about OFM as a pest for apples, most of the time it’s not. OFM mostly affects stone fruit and from what I can gather from this forum, it’s not as much of a problem in the Northeast as it is in the South or Midwest.

Out of the “big four” three of them produce larva which tunnel in the fruit. You can distinguish the three from each other by timing, fruit preference and number of generations.

PC attacks mostly stone fruits (they will try to lay eggs in pome fruits but most of the time this produces only scars on the fruit, not larva). PC is generally an earlier season pest.

As I mentioned, OFM also mostly attacks stone fruit. The pest generally has about one generation per month, so it’s an all summer battle for folks who have to deal with this pest. As you are experiencing, OFM will cause flagging of peach shoots. Early season attacks seem to attack the shoots more than fruit. The flagging is bothersome, but unless it’s extremely extensive it doesn’t hurt much, just produces a more compact tree for a while.

CM just attacks pome fruits. CM has a much longer life cycle than OFM. For the most part, just two generations per season. An early generation and a late generation.

PC is a beetle and pupates in the soil. CM and OFM are moths and spin cocoons to pupate. PC overwinter as adults, whereas, for the most part, CM and OFM overwinter as pupates in their cocoons.

I agree with Alan and Bill, I don’t think it will help your pest pressure as much as you might think by not having fruit this year. I remember in 2007 there was a severe freeze event in the lower Midwest which completely wiped out all the tree fruit crop everywhere. There was nothing on the trees. The next year I checked non-sprayed fruit trees in my area and the pests were as bad as ever. OFM doesn’t even need fruit to perpetuate it’s life cycle.

As Apple mentioned, if you plan to bring your orchard back to 70 trees, it’s probably more economical to invest in some ag type pesticides. Some labels state, “For Agricultural Use Only” which means you have to sell some of your fruit to meet the label requirements. Other ag pesticides don’t have that restriction on the label.

CityMan. I’m not very good at explaining the bag. I will post a couple of actual pictures later today. Bill


Here’s the link from the old gardenweb about bagging apples with a picture from Spartan-apple and comments from several people.

I personally use plastic sandwich zip lock bags on apples, pears and plums with good results. I’ve used footsies (some with Surround, some plain) for peaches with mixed resulted.

I have not use plastic bags on peaches because I am afraid the plastic could cause rot in peaches. I’ll try experiment with plastic bags on a few peaches this year.

If you have a lot of fruit (to me, anything over 300 fruit), you may want to spray. This will be my 2nd year using Surround as the main protection.

Mark - I don’t know other backyard orchardists in the Northeast but I have plenty of OFM. They attack the shoots until July/Aug. Since my fruit are protected so I just ignore them by then. It makes my peach trees look ugly, with blackened shoot tips. Honestly, the flagging shoots look quite like fire blight on pomme.(at the beginning it made me nervous.)

I have OFM, CM, PC. I have not seen much damage on stink bugs. I have seen them around.


I thought about you and Scott when I wrote about less OFM pressure in the Northeast. Both you and Scott have mentioned problems w/ OFM. I was mostly thinking of Alan and other folks in the Northeast (i.e. CT, NH, etc.) I mentioned that. They don’t seem to talk much about problems w/ OFM. Sorry for including you and Scott in that blanket statement.

I know of one person who is even in interior MA and doesn’t spray for OFM, yet still harvests peaches, so evidently pest pressure is very local up in your neck of the woods. Alan has mentioned his 2 spray program works for the orchards he manages in NY and CT, but it wouldn’t work for OFM in my area here in the Midwest.

Crabapples Pic. Nothing bothers these except for me.

Pic 2. Moonglow Pair

Pic 3. Apple

CityMan. Hope these pictures help. Bill

Nice pics, I hope to try this on some of my pears when they start to fruit

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In that top pic, those are the strangest looking apples I’ve ever seen. What variety is that?

Bill, what is that black pipe at the bottom of the last photo? Irrigation line?
Good photos btw.

Olpea. I guess I could give you the short answer and just say that I don’t have a clue as to what variety of crabapple it is but why miss an opportunity to talk a little about southern traditions. Very few families attempted to grow regular apples due to not being able to control insect damage. Crabapples on the other hand seemed to mostly go undetected by PC and CM. The person that had a large crabapple tree in their back yard was frequently asked to save a sprout so they could grow a tree of their own. Sometimes the sprout was actually a seedling. I’m guessing that around my state there would be in the thousands of different unnamed varieties. However the crabapple did have to meet strict standards to be acceptable. It must be larger than the wild ones and it must be sour as h—. The apples were used for fresh eating with a little salt, pickled, and also made into a jelly. Bill

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AppleSeed 70. The black pipe is 1/2" irrigation pipe with drip emitters. I planted several apples, pears, and blackberries this winter and they will need supplemental water when our dry summer hits. Bill