In the Garden:
I can't wait to taste the delicious cider from my 'Melrose' apples!
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 haven't yet discovered our trees. I expect they will someday, but until then, I intend to enjoy the apple crop.
Keeping Apple Maggots at Bay
Seems as though every backyard orchardist I know has a different method of coping with apple maggots, 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 it works or not, it surely adds interest to the landscape.
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 that 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 tree 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 just turn 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, repeated again in 10 days. 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. 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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