Washington State University Extension

Garden Tips

Fruit Trees RSS feed


GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Published August 14, 2016

Tree anomalies have a way of occurring from time to time over the years. They are signs of potential problems that justifiably alarm tree owners. Recently, some local tree owners became concerned when a considerable number leaves on their trees started to turn yellow and drop on the ground.

Midsummer leaf drop occurs before the arrival of fall and is usually related to heat stress. As you can imagine, excessively hot days can stress trees, especially species not well suited to hot climates. The root systems of these trees are not able to keep up with the water demands put on the trees by high temperatures. Some types of trees respond to heat stress by getting rid of some leaves, thereby limiting the loss of water through their leaves. Other types of trees develop leaf scorch (brown, dry edges on the leaves) when they cannot keep up with the water demand caused by hot weather.

In our area, sudden yellowing and dropping of numerous leaves due to heat stress has been noticed on birch, cherry, Liriodendron (tulip), linden, sycamore, and willow trees. This year’s midsummer leaf drop was probably more pronounced because of the abrupt change from moderate weather to high temperatures.

Drought stress can also lead to tree leaf drop, especially when paired with heat stress. During hot summer weather, it is important to provide your trees with the water they need via deep watering. Large shade trees seldom receive adequate water when getting moisture only through lawn irrigation. It is important in hot weather to provide trees with a deep watering at least once a week.

How much water do trees need? They need a lot of water because they lose a lot through the pores, called stomata, in their leaves. Adequate irrigation is extremely important. To determine how much water your shade tree needs, go to the WSU Irrigation website and use their Tree Water Management Calculator at

A Supposedly “Fruitless” Plum Tree with Fruit: It can be annoying for owners of a flowering plum tree when their supposedly fruitless plum occasionally or frequently produces a prodigious crop of plums. When this happens, I get asked the same two questions. Why did this happen and are the fruit edible?

The production of fruit on ornamental plums is not a reliable occurrence, but it can happen if their bloom overlaps that of other types of plums. Typically, purple-leaved flowering plums bloom in early spring before other plums are flowering, limiting the possibility of cross-pollination and fruit development. Before buying a flowering plum tree, check with your nursery to make sure the cultivar you are selecting is rarely fruitful in our area.

As to edibility, the fruit can be eaten, but are generally of poor quality for eating. The trees were bred for their beautiful flowers, not their fruit. If you are a thrifty gardener, you might try making jam with the fruit and see if it is tasty enough to be worth your time and trouble. Do not use the fruit if the tree has been treated with pesticides not labeled for use on edible fruit trees.

Garden Note: Whenever applying pesticide to a tree with edible fruit, check the label for the “days to harvest” or the number of days after application that you must wait before harvesting the fruit. Also, make sure the type of fruit receiving the application is listed on the label.


GARDEN TIPS – Written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written January 17, 2016

Fruit trees are a lot of work because of the pruning and spraying needed to keep the trees healthy and productive. The only reason to grow fruit trees in your backyard is because you want the tasty fruit of a variety you can not get in the grocery store or at your local farmers market.

If you are willing to take on the large responsibility of growing a fruit tree, check out mail-order nurseries that offer you something different than you can find at big box stores. One of these nurseries is Raintree Nursery, located three hours away from us in Morton, Washington. You can view their offerings at or ask them to send you a catalog. Even if you are not interested in growing fruit trees, check them out to see the interesting variety of garden edibles they offer, from ordinary tree fruit and berries to unusual and exotic fruit bearing plants.

In a recent e-mail from Raintree a pear, Abbe Fetel, caught my eye. It is one of the many pear varieties that Raintree offers. They say that Abbe Fetel is a pear cultivar developed in 1866 by the French Abbot for which it is named. These elongated pears are the most popular variety in Italy and are savored for their very sweet white, juicy flesh. Abbe Fetel is said to “pair well with a low salt Italian cheese.”

Raintree offers both popular pear cultivars along with a number of other less familiar ones, including heirloom, popular European, keeper, and perry varieties. “Perry” pears are varieties that are grown specifically for making pear cider. If you are more comfortable with apple cider, Raintree also offers a number of apple varieties for cider making.

For a fruit tree requiring much less attention than apples, pears, or cherries, consider planting a plum. In addition to well known varieties, Raintree offers varieties, like Moldavian, a freestone desert plum with small red to purple fruit and yellow flesh or Golden Nectar, a self-pollinating large yellow oblong freestone desert plum with golden flesh. They also sell a pluot (a plum-apricot cross) and a pecotum (a peach, apricot and plum cross).

In addition to fruit, Raintree offers another “edible” that Washington gardeners have had trouble buying. A quarantine on hops plants being shipped into Washington have made it difficult to obtain one or two hops plants for home gardens. Raintree offers Golden Hops, a desirable ornamental vine with yellow leaves and aromatic flowers, as well as three other hops varieties used in brewing.

Along with familiar fruit, like strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries persimmons, quince, gooseberries, hardy kiwi, elderberries, and currants, Raintree also offers an eclectic mix of uncommon fruit, like edible dogwoods, paw paws, jujube, medlar, goji berry, goumi, cinnamon vine and even gingko.

Did you know that the fruit of gingko trees is unbelievably smelly, resembling the odor of dog manure? One of Raintree’s offerings is Salem Lady, a fruit-producing female gingko that requires a male gingko in the vicinity for the production of fruit. So why would anyone want a tree with these terribly odiferous fruit? It is because the nuts, about the size of a small almond, in the center of the stinky fruit are a delicacy in Asian cultures. (If you do not want your gingko producing smelly fruit, only plant an all male tree.)

The Raintree catalog is a very interesting catalog worth of perusing while you are wait for winter to turn into spring. While you are at it, check out One Green World at They also offer a diverse selection of fruit and nut bearing plants, including native Pacific Northwest berries.

Correction from last week: You can find Green Heron Tools at


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Do you own a tree that produces fruit? If it’s a cherry, apple or pear you might be surprised to find out that you’re required by law to control the pesky worms that infest the fruit. This includes ornamental trees that produce fruit. The fruit of ornamental crabapples and flowering cherries “gone wild” are also subject to attack by these insects.

When these wormy attackers, a.k.a. codling moth and cherry fruit fly, are not controlled in home landscapes they’re a source of infestation for commercial orchards in the area. With pressure from nearby infested trees, fruit growers must use more pesticides to keep their crops pest free. “Pest free” may seem like overkill in today’s more environmentally conscious world, but an entire crop of fruit from an orchard can be rejected if only a couple of the offending insects are found. This also sounds like a rather harsh overreaction… but when was the last time you went back to a store that was selling you worm infested fruit?

It’s our duty as gardeners to control codling moth in apples, crabapples, and pears and cherry fruit fly in our trees. The problem is that, with the disappearance of diazinon from the garden store shelf, controlling these pests is a real challenge. What can be used to control these pests? There aren’t many options left to us.

On apples and pears you can apply a spray of malathion almost weekly to the trees. For good control you must spray the tree thoroughly, starting at the top and spraying to the point of runoff. Malathion doesn’t have a long residual so you’ll need to be very vigilant about reapplying it every seven to ten days… which will be tricky with our frequent breezy days and hot weather. Malathion tends to burn plants if applied in hot weather. Your best bet is to spray in the evening when the weather is cooler and the breezes are often calmer. You must keep applying the sprays until almost harvest time.

When using malathion for control of cherry fruit fly on cherries, you’ll also need to spray the trees every seven to ten days. Because the adult flies that you’re trying to spray may rest on nearby plants, you should also spray close by trees and shrubs with the malathion material if the labels allows its use on those plants.

There are also some alternative products for control of these pests. ‘Last Call’ is one of these products. It contains permethrin (an insecticide), a UV protectant to keep the material from breaking down too quickly, and an insect pheromone (sex attractant). It’s applied by placing a couple of pea-size droplets of the material on the tree trunk and branches… no special equipment needed. It’s very easy to use.

Last Call is designed to attract the male moths to the droplet and then kill them. If applied before they have a chance to mate, females will not be fertilized and thus will not be able to lay viable eggs on fruit. In a home orchard situation, the material may not provide complete control, since nearby infested trees where Last Call is not used can be a source of fertile females for your tree. (If you decide to try Last Call, you might want to share some with your neighbors!) At the current time the only way for home gardeners to obtain Last Call is by contacting IPM Tech the manufacturers at

While there is not yet a similar type of “poison bait” material for control of cherry fruit fly in backyard orchards, there are several different, more “environmentally friendly” spray materials containing spinosad that can be used. Spinosad is a pesticide derived from metabolites of a soil bacteria. To be effective, it must also be applied every seven to ten days. Home garden spinosad products include Bull’s-eye Bioinsecticide from Gardens Alive, Fertilome Borer, Bagworm, Leafminer, & Tent Caterpillar Spray, and Monterey Garden Insect Spray Easy-to-Use. (A “poison bait” containing spinosad and an insecticide has provided promising results when tested on some eastern Washington backyard cherry trees. Hopefully, this product will be packaged and available for home gardeners by next year.) Some of our independent local garden supply stores have been trying to obtain the spinosad spray products for sale. Check with these stores to see if they have them available yet.

Kaolin clay is another material that can be applied to fruit trees to protect them from codling moth damage. This highly refined white kaolin clay coats fruit and leaves. The white clay coating repels insects and keeps them from laying their eggs on plant surfaces. While it’s not completely effective in repelling codling moths, it does suppress their activity. To be effective it must be applied before the moths arrive at the tree and then reapplied every two weeks. This white coating gives the tree a white, ghostly look. It’s available to home gardeners as Surround from

The WSU Extension “Home Orchard Pest Management Chart” is available from the Kennewick Extension office. It provides the latest information on the control of fruit tree insect and disease pests in a table format. Just call 735-3551 and you’ll be sent one at no charge.

Next week: Filler Flowers for Containers

Published: 5/8/2004 2:26 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

I thought I’d dust off my crystal ball to check the gardening trends in this country, but I couldn’t find it. Instead, I checked the Gardening Trends Research reports, a special project of the Garden Writers Association Foundation. The survey provides garden writers with up-to- date information on gardening attitudes and activity trends.

One trend I have heard bandied about is that gardeners are increasing their food gardening activities, both home garden vegetable and food production. This has been attributed to higher prices for gas, food, and just about everything else. However, we must be only on the brink of this trend. In the WSU Extension Master Gardener clinic, we have only received the typical number of questions regarding tomato growing problems this summer and no large increase in questions from gardeners new to food gardening.

Checking the gardening research results, it’s interesting to find out that 43% of gardening households already grow some vegetables in their garden, while 56% don’t, citing they either have no time, no interest, or no space for vegetable gardening. Only 8% don’t vegetable garden because of a lack of knowledge.

At the beginning of this year’s gardening season, 41% gardeners were planning to add more perennials to their landscapes. That’s a 10% increase over the last ten years. Only 32% intended to add vegetable gardens or more annuals to their gardens, making no increase over the last ten years. This would seem to indicate that there is no large increase of American gardeners adding vegetables to their list of gardening activities.

However, the Garden Media Group is predicting greater interest in growing “edibles.” The Garden Media Group (GMG) is a public relations and marketing communications firm that specializes in the lawn and garden industry. This summer Suzi McCoy, GMC founder and president, revealed their top ten hot garden trends for 2009. Near the top of the list ,at number two, was the trend of “growing it yourself” including vegetables, herbs, and more. This seems to be connected to the “slow food” movement that encourages the purchase and preparation of fresh local produce.

Another factor that may be contributing to the “growing it yourself” trend is the health of our children. Research at St. Louis University indicated that children ate much more fruits and vegetables if they helped grow and harvest them! According to Debra Haire-Joshu, Ph.D., director of Saint Louis University

s Obesity Prevention Center, “When children are involved with growing and cooking food, it improves their diet. Kids eat healthier and they know more about eating healthy. It

s a winning low-cost strategy to improve the nutrition of our children at a time when the pediatric obesity is an epidemic problem.”

Third on the GMG’s list of hot trends for 2009 was incorporating edibles with ornamentals in the landscape. This eliminates the traditional square veggie garden and strawberry patch in the backyard and incorporates veggies and fruit into the landscape. Edible landscapes have been a slow simmering trend for a number of years, but now their time is “ripe.” (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist the pun.)

Plum, apricot, and peach trees can be utilized as landscape trees. These fruit trees don’t require repeated sprays to control wormy pests in their fruit and can double as ornamental landscape trees. Strawberries can be used as a groundcover. Pretty cultivars of hot peppers and eggplants can provide color to the landscape and tasty fruit as well. A big rhubarb plant makes an exotic addition to the landscape. Perennial herbs, such as lavender, sage and thyme, can be used as decorative accents with a variety of textures, shapes, and foliage colors.

So while there may not be deluge of new and old gardeners increasing backyard vegetable production yet, … hopefully there soon will be more people growing their own vegetables and fruit. After all, there’s nothing better than a juicy homegrown tomato or a luscious strawberry straight from the garden!

Published: 9/20/2008 1:39 PM


written by Marianne C. Ophardt WSU Extension Faculty for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Landscape plants with fruit spell trouble with a capital ‘T.’ Because we live in a commercial tree fruit growing area, it’s not recommended to grow certain fruit producing trees and shrubs in our home gardens. That’s because some of the troublesome pests that attack the commercial fruit trees, also attack their fruit producing ornamental cousins, such as crab apple, hawthorn, and more. If these pests aren’t controlled on ornamental trees and shrubs, as well as fruit trees, they can cause problems for commercial fruit growers. Nearby infested plants require growers to use more pesticides to control the pests and … the growers may not be able to ship their fruit out of the area if any of their fruit are infested. Failure to control these insect pests can greatly impact the local agricultural economy of an area like ours. Codling moth has long been a problem in our region. It’s the ‘wormy’ pest that attacks apples and sometimes pears. To protect commercial growers, there are county laws requiring home owners to control codling moth in susceptible fruit producing trees. Local pest boards have the responsibility of monitoring and enforcing these laws. The options are usually to control codling moth with regular applications of pesticide or to remove the trees. For gardeners who want to grow apples and pears for their own consumption, it’s the cost of having your own fruit trees. In the past, this task of codling moth control could be achieved fairly easy by responsible gardeners with the regular application of home garden pesticides. However, as various pesticides have been banned from use, home gardeners have been left with fewer and fewer materials that can be used for control. With the demise of diazinon at the end of last year, home growers are left without many, if any, products that provide acceptable control. So what can a gardener do? There are only two viable options. One is to use multiple control approaches including frequent spraying and poisonous bait with attractants. The other option is to remove all potential host trees from the landscape. While this second option isn’t likely to make gardeners happy, it is the only way to insure good control. The codling moth’s common hosts are apple, crab apple, and pear. It’s secondary hosts include hawthorn, walnuts, and quince. If that wasn’t bad enough, there’s now a new pest in the region that’s an even greater threat to the Northwest commercial fruit industry… the apply maggot. The apple maggot is native to eastern North America. In it’s native habitat it fed on the fruit of native hawthorn trees. When European settlers brought the domestic apple with them to North America, the apple maggot found another very desirable host. In addition to hawthorns and apples, apple maggot can also infest crab apples, plums, apricots, pears, cherries, pyracantha berries and wild rose hips. The adult of this insect is a nondescript fly, similar to the cherry fruit fly. Like the cherry fruit fly, it lays its eggs beneath the fruit’s skin. The tiny puncture made by the fly is not easily seen initially, but later this egg laying by the adult flies leads to dimpled, malformed fruit. After the eggs hatch, the maggots tunnel through the apple flesh, leaving small winding brown trails throughout. These can be seen when the fruit is cut open. The damaged fruit becomes soft and rotten, often dropping from the tree prematurely… unappealing and inedible. Ugh! While the apple maggot can be controlled in orchards, commercial growers will need to apply additional sprays to protect their fruit from this pest which will mean additional costs. The growers will undoubtedly be restricted from shipping their fruit to overseas markets due to strictly enforced pest quarantines. If and when the apple maggot arrives in our area, it will also mean that home gardeners growing apples, hawthorns, and other potential hosts will be required to control this pest too. In other regions, home gardeners have been encouraged or even required to remove all potential hosts, especially hawthorns and crab apples, from their yards and gardens. Apple maggot is already established in twenty western Washington counties, as well as Klickitat, Skamania and Spokane Counties in eastern Washington. Although the apple maggot is not yet established in the major apple production areas of central or eastern Washington, it has been trapped in Yakima county. The cooperation of this region’s homeowners and gardeners is critical to the efforts being made to keep our area ‘Apple Maggot-free.’ You can help by refraining from planting any hosts or alternate hosts of apple maggot, including apples, crab apples, hawthorns or other susceptible plants. You should also consider the removal of these types of plants from your landscapes. Also, don’t bring home backyard grown fruit from infested areas of this state or elsewhere in the country. If the trouble caused by the codling moth and the apple maggot weren’t enough, backyard gardeners and commercial growers must also worry about controlling the cherry fruit fly. It attacks cherries and susceptible cherry relatives. Come to think of it, you just might want to spell fruit trees as T-R-O-U-B-L-E in all capital letters. DROUGHT GARDENING TIP: If you have water available now for watering your gardens, trees, and shrubs… water your yards and gardens right away. Our soils are very dry… having received less than one-third our normal winter precipitation. Irrigating now, before higher demands start with the onset of warmer weather and plant growth, will help provide your plants with the initial water they will need early in the season Later, with severe watering restrictions, it’s doubtful that you’ll be able to ‘catch up’ on your watering and the plants’ needs. Water, by applying the water slowly enough so that it soaks in without running off. If your system does not allow for slow application, then run the system for a short time at each set, and repeat the complete cycle again and again until you have moistened the soil to a depth of at least 12 inches. It will be critical this year not to waste water by allowing runoff. We will need to make the most of every drop.

Published: 3/12/2005 1:45 PM


written by
Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA
It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about ‘garbage gardening,’ but our weather’s halt of all outdoor gardening activities has me snuggled up indoors waiting out what right now seems like it might be a long, cold winter. Garbage gardening is a fun way to keep both young and not-so-young gardeners entertained until they can get outside again. What is garbage gardening? It’s growing plants from seeds and sprouts that you would ordinarily just throw away.

For example, you can grow your own pineapple from the leafy top of a pineapple that you buy in the grocery store. Fresh pineapples are a tasty treat at this time of year and make us longingly think of the tropics where they grow. Alas, a trip to these tropical paradises isn’t an option for most of us, but by gently twisting the leafy off of a pineapple you can grow your own plant at home. This should be fairly easy if the pineapple is fully ripe.

At the base of the leafy shoot, carefully pull off several of the lowest leaves, leaving at least three-fourths of an inch of base. You should see some little brownish root ‘bud’ bumps called primordia.. After this process, wait a couple of days to allow any damaged tissues at the base to dry.

The next step is easy. Simply press the base of the twisted pineapple top into an 8-inch pot containing a well-drained and well-aerated potting. This is important because pineapple plants don’t like ‘wet feet.’ Press the base into the potting soil, gently firming the mix against the base. Don’t let any soil get into the leaf bases. Keep the soil moist while the roots begin to develop… in about a month or so.

Once the roots form, place your new pineapple where it will be warm and get lots of light. Once established, keep the soil only slightly moist. Pineapples are native to areas with 20 inches of rainfall per year, so water them sparingly after the roots have developed. Provide the plant with fertilizer every two to three months using a water soluble houseplant fertilizer. Your pineapple may never grow big enough to produce fruit, but what fun to grow your own from garbage.

Another simple garbage gardening endeavor is growing your own lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit tree from seeds. Of course you can’t use a seedless orange to get started! You’ll need seeds from any type of citrus fruit, well-drained potting soil, and a pot. Place a couple fresh seeds, plump ones that haven’t been allowed to dry out, in the soil and cover with about one-half inch of soil. Place the pot in a warm place and keep the soil evenly moist, not soggy. Within a month or two the seeds should sprout. Save the strongest one and remove the rest.

Your new citrus plant needs warmth and plenty of light… it is a tropical plant. It takes a lemon tree 15 years from seed until it will produce fruit, so it’s not likely that your citrus tree will ever produce fruit. However, you will get a nice citrus plant with shiny green leaves that yield a delightful citrus scent when rubbed. Watch out though, most citrus plants have huge sharp thorns. Keep the soil moist and fertilize regularly as your tree grows.

You can also start your own apple or pear tree in the same way, except the seeds need a chilling period for several months (to simulate winter) before they will germinate. This is easy to do by placing the seeds in some slightly moist potting soil in a sealed plastic band and placing them in the fruit bin of the refrigerator for two to three months. They can then be taken out and planted in pots.

Garden Note: If your fruit tree started from seed (citrus, apple, or pear) ever does produce fruit, the fruit will not be true to variety. For example, seed from a Golden Delicious or a Honeycrisp apple will not be the same as the parent fruit… plus seed from fruit on grafted dwarf trees will not produce dwarf trees.

Potting Soil Hint: I’m usually not able to find many potting soils on the market that are ‘well-drained and well-aerated’ straight from the bag. One reason for this is that many potting soils no longer have peat moss as their major component. The cost of peat moss is high and there are concerns that it’s not a renewable resource. Many companies are using compost as the organic base of their mixes instead of peat moss. These materials tend not to have as good aeration and drainage as peat moss. Because of this, I like to generously add perlite to these heavy potting mixes. (Perlite is volcanic material that has been expanded under heat. It’s those white gritty particles you find in many potting mixes, but usually not in sufficient quantities.) Mix one part perlite to three or four parts of potting mix. That should help improve the aeration and drainage of a heavy potting mix.

Published: 12/15/2007 2:26 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

It’s that time of year again… time when owners of cherry, apple, crab apple, and pear trees need to be spraying their trees with pesticides to prevent wormy insects from destroying the fruit. This is especially important because area gardeners are neighbors to the commercial fruit industry. Unchecked pests in backyard trees, even single trees, are sources of infestation for nearby orchards. This causes problems for the commercial fruit grower and can lead to the greater use of pesticides to control pests or even a failure to keep the fruit pest-free and marketable.

Owners of backyard fruit trees and certain fruit-bearing ornamental trees should be “good neighbors” and make the effort to adequately control cherry fruit flies in cherries and codling moth in apples, crab apples, and pears. This is no easy task. It involves regularly spraying the entire crown of the trees with several pesticide applications or more during the growing season. It also requires the proper equipment for spraying and the application of the recommended chemicals at the right times. Quite simply, it’s a lot of work.

It is a lot of work and unsuspecting gardeners who planted fruit trees may find this task of pest control a burdensome task for which they don’t have the time… or the inclination. Unfortunately, they don’t have a choice. They are required by county law to control these tree fruit pests. So what options do you have if you have a fruit tree with wormy fruit, but don’t want to keep spraying it on a weekly basis?

Option One: The simplest solution is to remove the offending trees. Gardeners often have difficulty parting with a tree or any other plant from their yard or garden, but they should think of this as “tough love” for a tree that has become a delinquent.

Option Two: Gardeners who dream of picking fresh fruit from their own backyard trees, may want to consider planting fruit trees that don’t usually require regular spraying to control wormy pests in the fruit. This includes apricots, peaches, and plums. Plums are the most dependable and lowest maintenance tree fruit crop for would-be backyard orchardists. My favorite plums are ‘Autumn Sweet’ a newer large purple plum that bloom late, has firm sweet flesh, and dries well; ‘Shiro’ a round, yellow Japanese plum with sweet, juicy flesh; and ‘Elephant Heart’ a reddish-purple heart-shaped Japanese plum with tasty, sweet red flesh.

Option Three: It doesn’t seem to make much sense for gardeners to grow apples in our region where we can easily buy fresh fruit at packing houses, u-pick farms, or farmers’ markets. The supply of apples may be abundant and relatively inexpensive, but you can’t always find “your” favorite variety. I doubt I’ll ever find ‘Empire’ (my favorite) apples locally. You can grow your favorite “back-home” apple variety without sprays for codling moth using paper bags to protect the fruit.

At the same time you thin the fruit, you cover each one left on the tree with a special paper bag. That’s how they grow apples in Japan! A “Fruit Protection Bag” is a waxed paper bag with a double twist-tie that allows you to secure them over the developing apple. Raintree Nursery in Morton, Washington sells Fruit Protection Bags for apples and pears in groups of 100. Contact Raintree Nursery at 360-496-6400 or

What ever option you choose, be a good neighbor and keep the worms out of your backyard tree fruit. If you have fruit trees and need to know what sprays can be used to control codling moth in apples and pear and cherry fruit fly in cherries, contact the WSU Extension Office of Benton County at 735-3551 for a Home Orchard Pest Management Chart.

Published: 5/7/2007 4:09 PM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Recently, I saw a television news report that the crab apples along the driveway at Columbia Basin College were being removed because of concern over an insect called “apple maggot”. If this new pest becomes well established in our area it will have serious implications for our local commercial tree fruit growers, as well as for home gardeners who grow their own backyard apple trees.

It sounds disgusting… maggots in apples? What is it? The name is apt since this pest is a larva, actually a maggot, that attacks apples as well as other fruit trees. Unlike many crop pests that are imported, the apple maggot is native to the eastern regions of North America. Up until the colonists from Europe introduced domesticated apples, the apple maggot’s major host was native hawthorn trees.

A native pest in the Northeast, the apple maggot arrived in the Pacific Northwest in the Portland area in 1979. No doubt it took advantage of the I-5 corridor, as it was soon detected in Clark County, Washington in 1980. It has since spread to 17 western Washington counties and into at least three counties in eastern Washington (Kittitas, Spokane, and Yakima). The adult of the apple maggot is a fly. This allows it to migrate on it’s own, but this natural spread is fairly slow. It’s humans that have greatly accelerated its distribution by bringing apples from backyard trees in infested areas to areas without the pest.

It’s obvious that one way to try to stop, or at least slow down the spread of apple maggot, is to prevent the movement of infested fruit into this area. Short of stopping every vehicle coming from an infested area into a non infested area and checking for fruit, “quarantine” signs have been placed along main highways in our state indicating that homegrown fruit from the infested area should not be transported out of the area. These areas have been quarantined and it’s actually illegal to transport homegrown fruit from a quarantined area to other non-infested parts of the state.

Another way to slow down the distribution of the pest is to discourage new plantings of potential hosts, as well as removal of any potential hosts in the area. This includes apples, along with hawthorns, crab apples, plums, apricots, pears, cherries, and even wild rose hips.

When I worked in New York state over 20 years ago, this insect made it very difficult for home gardeners to grow eatable apples without repeated pesticide sprays through the growing season. The adult apple maggot is a fly, very much like the cherry fruit fly. It lays it eggs singly by making a very tiny puncture in the apple’s skin and inserting an egg beneath the skin. The damage this puncture causes is insignificant. It’s the feeding damage caused by the larvae that hatch from the eggs that creates a problem.

The small larvae (maggots), about one sixteenth of an inch in length when first hatched, tunnel through the apple flesh. These tunnels are quite small, but wind extensively throughout the flesh, making it mushy and brown. The fruit fails to develop properly and will be undersized and dimpled to extremely misshapen. The damaged fruit often drops from the tree early and tends to rot. When finished feeding, the maggots leave the fruit and drop to the ground where they’ll spend the winter in a resting stage in the soil. Adult flies will emerge sometime early the next summer.

Control of apple maggot is difficult, because sprays to the fruit don’t affect the maggots under the skin. To be effective, chemical control must be aimed at killing the adult fly before it lays its eggs under the skin. When it comes to home garden products available to gardeners, this means weekly applications while the flies are present. Commercial growers can control the apple maggot fairly well, but many regions won’t accept apples grown in infested areas. This makes it hard to market their fruit.

Our area has not been identified as having a significant infestation of apple maggot… yet. However, there are concerns that it won’t be long before it is a problem here. We can help delay the onset of apple maggot in several ways. Don’t bring in fruit from infested areas. Don’t plant susceptible fruit tree and ornamental host plants. Remove susceptible host plants from the landscape and replace them with unsusceptible plants.

For more information on the apple maggot and its control in backyard apple trees go to:

Published: 12/16/2006 10:49 AM


written by

Marianne C. Ophardt

WSU Extension Faculty

for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA

Why do gardeners go to all the trouble of growing their own fruit trees? I think the answer is flavor. There are many varieties of fruit that are not available in grocery stores or even farmers’ markets. A backyard orchard is the only way to get specialty varieties, including favorite heirloom varieties.

With a backyard orchard, gardeners can also control when the fruit is picked. This can mean all the difference in getting the best flavor. Before we proceed, we should discuss the difference between mature fruit and ripe fruit. Ripe fruit are ones that have developed their full flavor and sweetness and have the right amount of softness. Mature fruit are physiologically mature, but not necessarily ripe and ready to eat.

Some types of tree fruit ripen best on the tree, others can be picked at the mature stage and will ripen off the tree. Commercially harvested fruit is often harvested when fully mature, but when still firm to make shipping and packing easier. Home gardeners have the luxury of picking fruit when fully mature and ripe, allowing fruit to develop full color, flavor, and sweetness. Of course fully ripe fruit tend to bruise much more easily and don’t store as long.

So what types of fruit will ripen off the tree if picked at the fully mature stage? Apricots, peaches, and nectarines will ripen of the tree. There is a definite color change from green immature fruit to a yellow ground color. All three are usually mature when the fruit can be easily separated from the tree with a slight twist. For the very fullest flavor, they do best if left on the tree to ripen.

Plums will also ripen off the tree, but the best flavor comes when they’re ripened on the tree and allowed to develop sweet and soft flesh. If you’re wanting to pick plums when mature and still firm, wait for the skin color to change from green to the appropriate color for the type (red, purple, or yellow) and there should be a slight softening of the flesh at the tip end.

Cherries don’t ripen much off the tree and should be picked only when their full flavor and sweetness have fully developed, but while still firm.

Apples are harvested at the right firmness and sweetness for the variety. Commercial growers use special equipment to determine sugar content and the hardness of the flesh, but home gardeners can figure this out more subjectively by simply tasting the fruit. If you pucker up or the flesh has an astringent flavor, they’re not ready yet. Apples should be harvested when fully mature and sweet, but still firm. This is especially important if you plan to store them for a while. One clue to maturity is how easily the fruit comes off the tree. Lift or roll and twist the fruit stem away from the spur. If mature, it should separate fairly easily with the stem remaining attached to the fruit.

Pears are tricky. They’re best harvested when mature but before they’re ripe. If allowed to ripen on the tree, they’ll have gritty flesh and the cores will have a tendency to break down and become mushy when stored. There are two types of European pears. Winter pears, such as Bosc, Comice, and Anjou, ripen late in the season and require a period of cold storage after picking. Fall pears, such as Bartlett, Clapp Favorite, and Orcas, ripen earlier and don’t need the cold storage time before they can be used.

Both fall and winter pears have the same indicators for maturity. They will still be green, just starting to turn a yellow-green. The stems will separate easily from the spur when the fruit is lifted and twisted. Check the seeds inside, they should be brown. Also, the flesh will yield a “smidge” to pressure instead of feeling rock hard. (I told you it was tricky!) Winter pears are stored for about three to four weeks under cool conditions (40 to 33 degrees) before they’re allowed to ripen at room temperature.

Asian pears are quite different. They should be allowed to ripen on the tree, just like apples. Their skin color will start to turn from green to yellowish. Asian pears have the best flavor when eaten fresh and not stored for any length of time.

Published: 9/30/2006 11:05 AM


written by Marianne C. Ophardt WSU Extension Faculty for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA In late May or early June when fruit are about one-half inch to one inch in diameter, it’s not unusual for home gardeners to become alarmed about lots of fruit falling off their backyard orchard trees. Even though alarming, it’s not unusual for this shedding of fruit to occur. The phenomenon is called ‘June drop.’ Why would a healthy fruit tree drop so much of its fruit? It’s because the tree has set more fruit than it can support with water and nutrients. It’s hard to believe, but fruit scientists say that if you have good full bloom on an apple tree, only about one bloom out of twenty is needed to produce a good crop. When too many of the blossoms set fruit, the tree sheds the fruit it can’t support. The smaller fruit and the fruit that may not have received complete pollination are the first ones to fall. June drop is the natural way a tree thins its crop load to allow the strongest and biggest fruit to mature. Even with June drop, many fruit trees still need additional hand thinning by gardeners who want to insure good fruit size and tastier fruit. The more fruit left on a tree, the smaller they will be at maturity. Heavy crop loads of maturing fruit can also lead to limb breakage. Also, allowing an overload of fruit one year can significantly reduce the crop the following year. If you find your fruit tree has successfully set a good crop of fruit, you should consider hand thinning to achieve a crop of good-sized, good-tasting fruit. Thinning by hand should be done early in the season before the fruit reach one-inch in diameter. Thinning later will reduce the effectiveness of the process on fruit size and quality. How many fruit should you leave on a tree? That depends on the type of fruit. Over the years, horticulturists have determined the recommended spacing of fruit on fruit tree branches for each type of fruit. Apples – 6-8 inches between fruit, leaving only one fruit per cluster, keeping the largest fruit when possible Pears – 6-8 inches between fruit, leaving only one fruit per cluster, keeping the largest fruit when possible Peaches, nectarines, and large plums – 3-5 inches between fruit Apricots & plums – 2-4 inches between fruit on the branch Cherries – seldom need thinning Fruit drop from poor pollination also occurs earlier in the season, soon after the petals fall from the blooms. It’s less noticeable than June drop because the fruit are so small. The cause of this drop is a lack of pollination or poor fertilization. (Fertilization is when the sperm from the pollen reaches the ovules in the seeds.) Some types of fruit trees are ‘self-unfruitful’ and need pollen from another variety to set fruit. Self-unfruitful trees include most varieties of apple, pears, sweet cherry, and Japanese and American plums. Other types of fruit trees are ‘self-fruitful’ and do not need cross pollination to produce fruit, but their fruit set may sometimes be enhanced by bee activity and some cross pollination. These include most varieties of sour cherries, apricots, peaches, and European plums. Lack of bee activity due to a low bee population, bad weather, or competition from nearby flowers are common causes of early fruit drop. Weather extremes, especially frost, can also interfere with pollination and fertilization. If lots of fruit are dropping from your trees right now, don’t worry. It’s just ‘June drop.’ You may still need to take off additional fruit to insure quality fruit.

Published: 6/3/2006 11:15 AM



Garden Tips, WSU Extension, Benton County, 5600-E West Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336-1387, 509-735-3551, Contact Us

WSU Extension, Franklin County, 1016 North 4th Ave, Pasco, WA 99301-3706, 509-545-3511, Contact Us
© 2017 Washington State University | Accessibility | Policies | Copyright | Log in