What did I do wrong? (spraying apples with neem)

Last year I followed several websites with their advice to spray apple’s with neem oil.

My 3 trees are leftover from the former owner and are a bit too tall. So I could only spray the lower portion of the tree. Up to about 10-12 feet high.

But I followed instructions to make the mixture, and sprayed the trees from pink bud, to flowers, and every 10-14 days following.

At first the little apples looked perfect, but as time passed they ended up just as riddled with bug holes as in years past.

What went wrong? Certainly not worth the trouble with these results.



Working with neem oil can be very much tricky… Did you use neem oil alone with no other ingredients? If so what dilution did you use? Used cold, warm or hot water? Spraying neem oil every 10 days is quite uncommon… If you state complete recipe (including quantity of each products) you used and from which week you began spraying until last week of spraying we could understand more of your actual situation…



I was using a tablespoon of concentrated, cold-pressed neem, along with 1 teaspoon of emulsifier in 1 gallon of water. I used hot water. Mixed the emulsifier with the neem first, then added to water and shook vigorously.

I sprayed at quarter-inch green, at pink bud, at petal fall, then every 10 days or so after that until the apples were golf ball sized or so. At that point I could see bug holes in them like in years past, and figured it was no longer worth the bother, because they were already ruined.

When I look at the label for Neem oil it says that it can be used for white flies, aphids and mites. I don’t see it labelled for the more common insects that do damage to apples- plum curculio, apple maggot, etc. I don’t think it would have any effect on them.

If you want to control insects organically you can either bag the apples or spray Surround which is a kaolin clay that acts as a fruit protectant. Or if your willing to use synthetics you can spray an insecticide to deal with the problem.

For an organic spray schedule and plenty of advice you can look here-

For a synthetic spray and more advice you can look here-


You guys are onto something here. I’m going to add this:

You’re going to have to spray as necessary and maybe luck. I’m feeling pretty fortunate because where I live has the same timing as Iowa State University’s website that tells you when things have arrived. I use neem and hort oil and that’s it. So, I’m going to battle the tougher stuff with the heavier solution of Neem I learned from Tom Wahl at ‘Red Fern Farm’ in my neighborhood of Wapello, IA for him.

Tom is 100% organic but I’ve not asked his apple spray system. I doubt he sprays but I’m going to ask him for this thread.



Neem is good for aphid and mite control, as well as mild anti-fungal properties, but it isn’t going to do anything to things that bite and burrow into apples. I do neem sprays when I see aphids and it works pretty well.


Unfortunately neem has gotten a reputation as some kind of cure-all. As you have discovered, it unfortunately is not. Along with Surround you may need to spray other things depending on what problems you have.

The only thing I really like neem for is my peach tree borers, at full strength painted to lower trunks it has mostly eliminated that problem in my orchard. I currently don’t use it for anything else.


One thing I’ve read about neem is that it effects reproductive cycles, so it might be possible to use it one year (or every year) and have less insect pressure from those species the next year. My only experience is that I used it once on Jap beetles that were tearing up my grapes with no effect whatsoever . I went to sevin and they dropped like ‘flies’.


I like using neem for Japanese Beetles. I also spray the tree trunks and I think that it helps deter borers.


Tom Wahl wrote back and says this:

“I have read of neem oil being able to kill some insects, but I have never witnessed it myself. From what I have seen, it is an effective repellent against insect pests without harming non-pest insects. If I spray in on plums, grapes, and hazels just before the Japanese beetles arrive in mid/late June, they stay away. If I reapply it within two weeks, they keep on staying away. On the other hand, if I wait until the beetles show up and then apply neem, the beetles will fly away immediately (not die), but a few will start coming back after several days. Neem does not keep 100% of plum curculio away from plums and cherries (and it only takes one to ruin the fruit). I have not had much curculio problem on apples, probably because I have enough plums and cherries they feel no need to go to apples. Neem does seem to keep away apple maggots and coddling moth, which, for me, are more of a problem on apples. It is also effective at controlling cedar/apple rust and apple scab. The bottom line is that neem is great for most apple diseases and pests, but don’t count on it for curculio. FYI, there are a lot of products out there with neem oil cut with additives like surfactants and fillers. I don’t know how well they work. The neem I am talking about is 100% pure neem oil. One oz. oil plus one oz. dish soap to one gallon of water.”


It’s interesting to me the variability of response to neem. My local nurseries seem to indicate it works pretty good combined with good sanitation. I will have to see though.

It is not so much that you did anything wrong as that you hoped too much.

The efficacy of Neem oil and other organics depends on where the orchard is. Depends on the dirt also. Some places just have too many uninvited guests for Neem oil to work as well has you would like. Good example would be most of Virginia (especially the Shenandoah Valley) and northern NC. PC, RAA, SJS, JB, CM, and OFM, may be a bit discouraged but they will not be controlled so you can crop your trees. For that, you have to resort to things like Imidan, Assail, Altacor, Centaur, Delegate, Dipel, Verdepryn, and for those of you with licenses, Lorsban (Pilot 4E), (1x year), Lamba CY, Abemectin (AgriMek), Lannate, etc. The thing to do is get the Spray Bulletin from the local Land Grant Extension University, like Cornell, Penn State, Michigan State, University of Minnesota, Rutgers, VPI, etc. There is just so much going on - Fungus control is also important (Captan, Manzate Pro Stick, Ziram, Rally - all inexpensive - Syllit, Merivon, Pristine more expensive but they work) (mixing some together really works well - see spray Bulletin). Moreover, when the birds poke an apple the other bugs jump into their holes - that could mean nets. Also. If you do not spray calcium, you will get results that look like bugs (bitter pit) - same with Boron (corky fruit almost like bitter pit (spray at pink) if needed by a soil test (the Land Grant colleges also do this - usually for free - contact your county extension agent). Finally, Fireblight is a real terror to non-resistant rootstock and scions and it takes Copper (with dormant oil spray early) and Harbour (streptomyicin) (plus strict hygiene and prayer) to fight that. Finally, keep in mind that some cultivars, e.g., Honeycrisp, are better off without Phosphorus or much Potassium and it is better to avoid nitrogen (except as a carrier for Calcium or Boron) until after harvest. Bottom line: Integrated Pest Management. I practice hygiene (pruning, cleaning around the trees and use organics (like Neem oil and Regalia) when I can, but Delegate is much cheaper than its organic cousin Spinosad, which costs upward of $400/gallon.

I am find of saying the hardest work know to man is dairy farming (our county is #1 in Va for that) but that is closely followed by being an Orchardist. :slight_smile:


Thank you for the thoughts and advice everyone. Much appreciated!

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Any updates with using neem oil or any other tree sprays for your fruit trees?

And do we have anything to go on besides the anecdotes of members here? Organically grown fruit sells for a premium so our ag grant universities have taken an interest in methods and materials for some time now and even Cornell provides a lot of research based info on organic production these days.

I always like combining research literature WITH anecdotal observations to come up with methods to use in the orchards I manage. I just did a search and the only research I found was with army worms in Ghana. It was affective at killing them, whether using the product that comes from seeds or leaves if applied at the higher rates of the trial. I also skimmed at least one research trial that suggested its main efficacy came from the smothering affects of its oil, which given its relative price would seem pointless in this country where other smothering oils are so much cheaper.

Unfortunately no. I’ve been too busy chasing after a toddler to be spraying trees. Plan to get back to it one of these days, though.


Taking care of family is much more important. Just whenever you get back to spraying fruit trees keep us updated.