Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
October, 2007
Regional Report

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I can hardly wait to bite into this crisp, sweet, juicy apple!

Growing Great Apples

Our apple crop was sparse this year but the apples are first class. Not a single trace of apple scab disease and no worms. I'd like to take credit for keeping apple maggots away, but the fact of the matter is, they have yet to discover our trees. I expect they will someday, but until then I intend to enjoy the fruit.

Keeping Apple Maggots at Bay
It seems as though every backyard orchardist I know has a different method of coping with apple maggots, those small flies that lay eggs on developing apples. The eggs hatch into worms that tunnel into the apple, ruining it.

Of the tactics I've observed, my favorite is the sticky trap made by painting old light bulbs red, spreading them with petroleum jelly, and hanging them from the tree branches. The theory is that the adult fly will choose a light bulb instead of an apple and when she lands she'll be caught on the sticky surface. Whether they work or not, they surely add interest.

No Fungus Among Us
Other commonly encountered apple problems include powdery mildew and apple scab diseases. Conditions that promote the development of powdery mildew include warm days and cool nights. You know your plants have that disease when you discover a thin layer of white fungus on leaf surfaces. Scab is a very different fungal disease and the more serious of the two, affecting both the appearance and the storage life of apples. Scab develops in the mild temperatures and high humidity of spring. Powdery mildew and scab can be controlled with sulfur sprays early in the season.

Recipe for Healthy Apples
Here's my program to keep my trees as disease-free as possible. I rake and remove fallen leaves from beneath the trees at the end of the season to remove potential disease pathogens. I prune just before spring growth begins, usually in early March, to promote better air circulation and light penetration. When the flower buds have just turned pink, I spray with lime-sulfur (Bordeaux) and repeat the treatment 10 days later. After flower petals fall, the tree gets another lime-sulfur spray, and another one 10 days later. I routinely inspect the trees throughout the season, pinching or pruning off anything that remotely resembles an insect or disease problem.

Thinning the Fruit
Another key to healthy apples is thinning the fruit. Most apple trees set more fruit than they can develop, initiating a natural fruit drop in June. I thin even more after that drop, removing all but the largest fruit in each cluster. Thinning allows the remaining fruit to grow as big and sweet as possible. Big, healthy fruit and healthy trees make for healthy smiles on my part, come fall.

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