Because of the cost of spray materials, the lack of equipment, or a concern for their health and the environment, many home gardeners want to grow fruit using little or no pesticide. But many gardeners become frustrated when pests ruin a crop or render fruit inedible. The following suggestions can help you manage your fruit planting with fewer pesticides.
Closely monitor pest populations. This means checking plants every day or so. Too often, gardeners allow diseases and insects to build up to unacceptable levels before taking steps to control them. By looking for pests every day, you will develop a sharper eye for potential problems and can readily treat or remove localized infestations. Commercially available sticky traps or pheromone traps are helpful in monitoring levels of certain insect populations.
Check plants every day or so to nip pest problems in the bud.
Plants that are healthy from the start are less likely to be attacked by pests. Do a good job of selecting a site and preparing the soil. Plant only top-quality stock, and discard moldy planting stock. Avoid disease and winter injury by planting disease-resistant, cold-hardy cultivars. For example, select only strawberry cultivars that are resistant to red stele and verticillium wilt. Many cane diseases attack bramble or blueberry plants that have been weakened by winter damage.
Closely follow the cultural practices recommended in the "Diseases and Insects" section for each fruit in this bulletin. Clean up dropped fruit (and if possible, leaves) and compost them, preferably in a hot compost pile, or at least bury them deeply in a cold compost pile. Remove and burn any branches infected with fire blight. Keep grass and debris away from the trunks and the bases of plants. Many insects overwinter in or under surface debris such as old boards, fallen leaves, brush, and other vegetation. Maintain a clean home fruit planting to reduce insect populations in successive years.
Destroy pest insect egg masses whenever possible. Plant cover crops such as marigolds to deter nematodes, and use mulch to control weeds. Cover strawberry plants with fabric row covers to prevent damage by tarnished plant bugs and other pests.
Trellis brambles and prune blueberries, brambles, currants, gooseberries, elderberries, and fruit trees annually to increase light penetration and air circulation. This can help reduce disease problems. Trellising also keeps fruit off the ground, reducing the likelihood of a dirty harvest. Harvest fruit as soon as it is ripe. Overripe fruit spoils, rots, and attracts insects.
Biological control measures involve encouraging the natural enemies of insect pests. Many of the insect and mite pests that attack fruits have natural enemies that help keep them in check or under control. In particular, lady beetles, parasitic wasps, aphid lions, ground beetles, and praying mantises are effective against scales, aphids, and mites. Flowering ground covers in the vicinity (not under fruit trees) can provide habitat and pollen and nectar for these beneficial insects. Plants in the aster family are particularly good. (For more information, see "Biological Control: A Guide to Natural Enemies in North America" at www.nysaes.cornell.edu/ent/biocontrol/.)
In general, maintaining a complex habitat surrounding your planting can be helpful. Hedgerows can make it easier for foxes to hunt rodents. Perches and nesting areas for raptors and owls can encourage them to stay and hunt. Providing roosting boxes for bats can encourage them to hunt insects at dusk.
Trellising berry plants increases air circulation and decreases disease.
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