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What's wrong with my apple trees???

 
Bryan John
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Hi All,

Figured this would be the best place to try to figure this out. Attached are three pictures that show the damage to three of my apple trees. All my apple and cherry trees look the same. I've read a couple of local articles about the winter moth caterpillar doing a lot of damage around here. What do you guys think it is causing the damage? Further, if you think you know what the damage is, what are some possible solutions? I appreciate any advice.
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Joseph Lofthouse
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Looks like caterpillars.





I usually don't treat bug infestations... I figure that the bugs natural predators will be along shortly... Looks like the birds sure enjoy being in that apple tree. Are they eating worms? If i wanted to interrupt a bug infestation, I might do something wild like spray the tree with a jet from the garden hose... Wash those buggers off and let them die before finding the tree again.

 
Bryan John
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Great eyes!!! I didn't see any of that when I was outside. Do you have any suggestions to remedy? Are these things going to ruin my trees? All this damage happened in less than two weeks.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Bryan: Ha! This is where I get to say, "farmer".... I can barely tell the difference between a sedan and an SUV, while some of my buddies know every make/model/year of any car on the road. However caterpillar damage jumps right out at me.

I don't know your bugs and climate. If that happened to my trees I wouldn't do anything about it.
 
Bryan John
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Thanks, Joseph. I'm in Rhode Island. My main concern is that these are all newly planted trees with none being older than two years on my property. Not that I was expecting fruit this year, but all the flowers were decimated and there is hardly any substance left to the leaves. I fear this will stunt growth and future production.
 
John Louis
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Small tree? Just hand ppick them off. They won't bite.
 
Blake Wheeler
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^thats my suggestion. No larger than the trees look hand picking should work, not to mention you'll know for a fact the caterpillars are dead.

With that said, here's another suggestion, spray the trees with BT (the bacterial pesticide, can't recall the actual name). Go to Walmart, lowes, Home Depot, etc. and buy a pack of "mosquito dunks". They look like little donuts and are meant to be put in water where they'll kill mosquito larvae. Instead grind them up, dissolve them in water, then spray the water on the leaves of the trees. The bugs will eat the leaves, ingest the bacteria, then die.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau, Bryan, you have several choices to stop the invasion, as Joseph mentions, you can do nothing and the trees will most likely re-leaf next year. You can use one of several different sprays BT or Nicotine sprays are more natural and less harmful than going with commercial type sprays. You can hand pick the critters and with that method you know they are destroyed and you didn't use any type of chemical. You can also get microbes (rather expensive) which will destroy them from the inside out.

I would probably put my efforts into soil health and thus improve the tree's health so they can spring back with new growth and I would hand pick, the trees are small so this is not so hard to do, except for the probable need of picking over several days to get rid of them all.

 
Angela Nelson
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I have the same with my Apple trees-- leaf roller caterpillars.
Last year I tried waiting it out while those caterpillars damaged every single leaf on my newly planted baby Apple and cherry trees. Then I read like crazy and got some spinosad spray (captain jacks) and that worked. The caterpillars at least do not seem to do permanent damage, trees leaves out beautifully 2nd year.

I was told if I sprayed dormant oil late winter and early spring then no caterpillars. But alas, I followed that advice this year and I have the caterpillars again. So I sprayed captain jacks a lot sooner. And am keeping a watch to spray as needed.

The caterpillars seem to be gone now, maybe in part because of our crazy dry heat. But there are lots of tiny black eggs? Or is that caterpillar poop?

I'm frustrated, in my old house 20 minutes away I never had any problems with the fruit trees. Here I've had leaf rollers, canker on the cherries, and the trees just aren't as happy in general. Loosened up soil and enriched when planting, but it's just not the same. My old house had amazing soil.

But wild abandoned Apple, plum and cherry trees bear like crazy here so I keep hope that once the trees are established, they will do well.
 
Cristo Balete
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Spinosad is scary stuff. It doesn't select for what it kills when it is wet, it kills honey bees and all the other thousands of pollinating insects. They are having enough trouble as it is. Bees are out earlier than we are, and are working hard by the time we show up with spray. Even if we spray at night, some liquid could still be present in the early morning. Drying times on drops of liquid in the shade of leaves, branches, flowers, trees, etc., is random, especially in humid climates.

The claim about Spinosad is that it's safe for us and safe after it dries, and who knows how long that really takes when bees are all over every tiny surface. Spinosad involves two types of bacteria that was found on an isolated island, and is now spread throughout the world way too fast for natural protections to have developed.

Here's some info on it from UC Davis

http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/TOOLS/PNAI/pnaishow.php?id=65

Toxicity Level III for honey bees

Malathion is considered safe after it dries, too.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I wouldn't eat anything treated with Malathion. I think it's clear that neither spray us being recommended. Although the first may not hurt us, it is still harmful.

A suet feeder is likely to attract the sort of birds that would feed on your pests.
 
Matu Collins
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I'm in Rhode Island too! What are you thinking of doing with your apples? If you want to use them all yourself or press cider, you'll be ok but if you want to sell apples it's going to be tricky.

There are many pests for apples here, including cedar apple rust. If you are within two miles of a cedar tree there's no way to avoid the rust, short of the "put each apple in an individual paper bag" method and rust blemished apples are not worth much at market. And we have lots of cedars here!

I am planting more plums and pears, which are more likely to have a successful harvest of good looking fruit here. Sorry to be a bummer.

I would not eat a malathion or spinosad apple either. Not recommended. I would never spray either of these chemicals at all for any reason. Spinosad would be useless against caterpillars as it only kills adult insects anyway.

I have some mature apple trees and we do get a few caterpillars (leaf rollers, winter moths, tent caterpillars) but the bird and wasp population help enough. The rust is mostly cosmetic, so we just use the apples for pressing cider. Send me a purple moosage in the late summer/early fall and I'll invite you to press with us! We use a hand crank press.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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It seems to me that one of the first rules of healthy living is "Don't poison myself". Seven growing seasons ago, I decided that I was not going to poison my farm for any reason: No fungicides, no pesticides, no herbicides. I have never regretted my decision. People ask if my vegetables are "pesticide free" and I have to say no, because I live in a world that is awash in poisons, but at least I can lift my head up high and say "I do not apply poisons to the food that I grow for you". It's wonderful to be able to put a sign on my table at market which says "No -cides used in 7 years".

I endure a tremendous amount of peer pressure for my decision. My parents and community poisoned me while I was a child. The bishop sprays poison across the fence into my fields. So do other neighbors in other fields. The church sent out a flyer about gardening a few years ago, and it might as well have been written by the marketing arm of the chemical companies. It is illegal for me to sell a wormy apple. It is impossible to grow a worm-free apple in this area without poisons. So the peer pressure is even enforced with threat of imprisonment...

Nevertheless, I grow without -cides. And there is a community of people who are careful about their food that appreciate the work that I am doing.

Because of my decision to not use -cides or fertilizers, I had to develop my own varieties that thrive here in spite of the bugs, and the viruses, and the animals, and the farmer. People are all the time asking me what to do about XYZ bug, or ABC fungus... I say, "Just ignore it. Save seeds from the plants that survive and replant those that aren't bothered by XYZ or ABC". A case in point would be blossom end rot in tomatoes. It is widespread, and most people tolerate it. Not me... It is a death sentence to a plant and all of it's offspring to exhibit blossom end rot in my garden.

I have a garden full of pests and just as full of predators. The balance works out very well. If a tree really can't handle the insects in my garden, then I feel like I'm better off growing a different species or a different variety.

 
Bryan John
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WOW...Thanks for all the help and advice everyone. They were winter moth caterpillars. I hand picked over 300 of them. I have 5 apple trees right now; a cortland, honeycrisp, mutsu, winesnap and a 4 in 1 from Stark Brothers. They are doing well right now as they have leaved out pretty well even though they looked pretty decrepit for awhile. Any advice on improving their soil health will be greatly appreciated. I don't plan on using any chemicals. @Matu, thanks for the advice. I don't plan on selling anything. Just for personal use and giving to family and friends. Just this year, so far, I've been able to give over 8 jars of strawberry jam to family just from produce of 2 year old our strawberry patch. Hopefully, with our apples, I want to eat them, press for cider and make sauces while giving much away to family and friends.
 
Dan Boone
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
I endure a tremendous amount of peer pressure for my decision.


Isn't that amazing? People seem to feel really threatened by somebody who doesn't poison.

I hate Facebook but I have reasons I have to use it. I don't tell the Big Face much of anything about my life, but I have family and friends on there from Alaska who really seem to enjoy my gardening updates. (I think they are jealous of my 200-day growing season, which seems astonishing when you're used to 85-95.) Unfortunately I am not allowed to grumble about garden pests, because if I do, a mafia of my local "friends" jumps in without fail to tell me just exactly what poisons I should be spraying, scattering, and sprinkling. (They are all big fans of "7 Dust" and RoundUp.)

Meanwhile I just keep improving the habitat in my little container garden area. This year I've added a big variety of water features (many small pots of water, a three-foot elevated pool with vegetation, and several bird baths), many more perching poles for dragonflies and small birds, and several small masonry features for housing the skinks and garter snakes. This morning after my dawn gardening efforts I was getting rid of the flopsweat by lounging in my little 18' vinyl pool (adjacent to the garden) and was visited by the most enormous and spectacular jeweled dragonflies dipping drinks out of the pool. I swear they were at least four inches long...
 
Cristo Balete
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Malathion is considered safe after it dries, too


--said with sarcasm. Just wanted to be sure it's clear that I am not promoting malathion!

I am really happy to see Spinosad is not on the smart folks' list. I was worried no one was questioning it.
 
Cristo Balete
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Bryan, I guess you saw the moth that will lay more eggs this fall.

http://www.massaudubon.org/learn/nature-wildlife/insects-arachnids/winter-moths

Here's a good picture of the culprit and Massachusetts uses a parasitic fly that will destroy the larvae, although you'd have to give another year to the eating of the leaves.

Has this ever happened to this degree in your orchard before? I've had infestations of different insects, they come and go. Not that you should not act on it, but you may have less to act on in future years. And keeping track of the weather and water and wind from this previous year may alert you to conditions where they will show up in large numbers again.

I've heard of using catepillars of the critter you want to get rid of, squishing a lot, and making a tea out of them, strain that tea and spray it on the leaves in the fall. It might repel the moths.
 
Rick English
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If squishing them is outside your comfort zone, you can give them a "bath" in some soapy water. It works for beetles and caterpillars equally well.

Pro tip - hold the jar under a japanese beetle in the morning while it is still cool, and tap the beetle with your finger, and they will drop off the leaf into the jar. Later in the day when it is warm outside, they have more of a tendency to fly instead of drop.

 
Alex Veidel
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Cristo Balete wrote:Spinosad is scary stuff. It doesn't select for what it kills when it is wet, it kills honey bees and all the other thousands of pollinating insects. They are having enough trouble as it is. Bees are out earlier than we are, and are working hard by the time we show up with spray. Even if we spray at night, some liquid could still be present in the early morning. Drying times on drops of liquid in the shade of leaves, branches, flowers, trees, etc., is random, especially in humid climates.

The claim about Spinosad is that it's safe for us and safe after it dries, and who knows how long that really takes when bees are all over every tiny surface. Spinosad involves two types of bacteria that was found on an isolated island, and is now spread throughout the world way too fast for natural protections to have developed.

Here's some info on it from UC Davis

http://www.ipm.ucdavis.edu/TOOLS/PNAI/pnaishow.php?id=65

Toxicity Level III for honey bees

Malathion is considered safe after it dries, too.


In spinosad's defense, malathion isn't bacterial, spinosad is. Spinosad bacteria tend to disappear from lack of moisture and UV exposure as soon as Mr. Sun gets involved. Also, spinosad's effectiveness as an insecticide mainly relies on it being digested; Bryan's tree also doesn't appear to be doing much blooming at the moment, which is going to considerably limit a small application's damage to the local bee population.

That said, I usually tend to use it on my indoor aquaponics system for caterpillars and thrips for it's minimal effect on water quality. On the rare occasion I would need it outdoors, I would definitely avoid applying it to any plants that are budding/flowering.
 
Cristo Balete
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Alex, I wasn't meaning to compare Spinosad the substance to malathion the substance. I was merely showing how the powers that be claim safety for pesticides, lead us to believe that, only to find out later it's not safe at all.

Why do you think a bacterial insect killer is somehow safer?
 
Matu Collins
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I'd like to remind everyone of the permies publishing standards

One difference between malathion and spinosad is that malathion is not on the Organic Materials Review Board's approved list

That being said, as a permaculture enthusiast, and an apple grower in the same area as the original poster, I would not suggest spinosad for the problem of winter moth caterpillars in Rhode Island. A discussion of the relative toxicity of pesticides belongs, I believe, in the toxic gick forum if anywhere.

Little things like this are what make permies a pleasant easy place to find useful information about permaculture techniques and experience.
 
Cristo Balete
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Spinosad is a very unfortunate addition to the Organic Materials List. But not everyone agrees with that list. Is that list the standard for a permaculurist?
 
Angela Nelson
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I sure didn't mean to open a can of worms! I am really new at this, and spinosad was recommended in organic fruit books and raintree catalogue, so I used it. Next time I will try the house and handpicking, but that never even occupied to me.

The trees were baby trees, no buds or fruit yet. So I feel a little less bad! I notice on my walks the large established trees around here do not look to have problems. Hopefully mine and those of / the original poster will get there.
 
Cristo Balete
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Angela, "can of worms" - pun intended? Ha ha. It's okay to have a discussion and learn things, as long as we're all tactful, which I think we are. I think people who want a healthy world should keep questioning what makes it healthy for every creature on it, not just the humans
 
Burra Maluca
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Cristo Balete wrote:Spinosad is a very unfortunate addition to the Organic Materials List. But not everyone agrees with that list. Is that list the standard for a permaculurist?


I think it's up to each individual permaculturist to decide on their own standards, but if it doesn't even make it to that list it's probably not a suitable topic for discussion on permies.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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I think Burra is exactly right, each permaculturist has to decide upon their own standards and then follow those to the best care of their particular place on our earth mother.

Permaculture is, after all, becoming a helper to mother nature and following her own methods as best we can.
The way I came up with my list of standards was and is to always remember that I am to nurture the soil and all living things, in the same manner that Mother Nature does.
This means, do I spray something? answer: does Mother Nature spray for any reason, other than rain I can not think of anything Mother Nature sprays upon the earth.
Do I use chemicals to put nourishment into the soil? answer: Mother Nature does not do this, why would I? Best thing to do is rot plant materials and help these get into the soil, that is what M.N. does and it has worked for eons.
When one becomes an active thinker, as all Permaculturist are, else they would not have joined the journey.
It becomes easier to make some of the hard decisions.
It does mean there will be great amounts of reading and research to come up with a proper solution to the current problem.
 
Francesco Delvillani
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I had the same problem with an hazel tree....but the year after the problem disapperared !!! Wait the next year, as the tree will become bigger and it will better withstand these animals.
 
Matu Collins
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It's been a bumper crop of apples this year over here in Matunuck! Wow. Blueberries too.

The winter moth invasion continued in other parts of Rhode island, our damage was very minimal. I am pretty convinced the high bird population and the wasp nests that I allow (not near where we spend time!) are our main defense.

We've pressed cider twice already and will again, I think
 
Bryan John
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THEY'RE BACK!!! These little buggers are getting my cherry and apple trees again. In the fall I added yarrow, transplanted chives, added compost, layered a leaf mulch and added bird feeders near the trees. Today I started picking them off. I think I'm getting it earlier in their progress because they're much smaller this year or it's because the trees are just starting to leaf out. It also seems like I have way more ants climbing both the cherry and apple trees, too. I was hoping to get fruit on two of the apple trees this year, hopefully these buggers don't stop me. If anyone has any thoughts, your help is always appreciated. Thanks.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Bryan, try dusting your trees with DE to help control the beetles. Keep in mind though that any bug control is likely to kill good insects as well as the targeted bad insects.

We had a squash beetle issue last year and DE did quite well at reducing the numbers, but it also got a few of our predator bugs that were going after the squash beetles.
 
steve bossie
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i use 2 oz. of neem oil mixed with warm water in a spray bottle. kills all sorts of bugs and breaks down in the sun and rain in about a week. been using this for 2 yrs now and works great! also a good fungicide! its pretty cheap too! just don't use it when your plants are in flower as it will harm bees. dissolves the exoskeleton of insects.  they dehydrate and die.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
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