Spray Schedule for Backyard Apple Trees

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Marc Sevigny
I am a total hack and have little training, but I'll offer my opinions anyway.

1. I would seriously doubt the problem is lack of pollinators. You made the case yourself by noting that crabs are getting fruit.

2. Lack of sunlight. My observations suggest this might be a contributing factor. Your trees are not thriving as well as I would expect. Those that are taller seem leggy. You might need to gurdle your neighbor's historic Shaker spruce trees :-)

3. Rather than just testing soil nutrients, it might be worth examining soil drainage. Seems to me, on casual observation, there is quite a bit of ground moisture in your area.

4. Weird varieties. I have several of the same varieties, and they fruited in year 3.

5. I suspect your trees could have better form. The limbs do seem too upright. I used ground anchors and string for a season to bring them down.

6. I doubt you prune too aggressively every year. Iin fact, I think your trees could stand more heavy pruning. I think that taking off 1/3 of the branches or less is the rule of (green) thumb. I think that was only violated oonce, when I "pruned" your tree a few years ago.

7. I hope someone else can speak to this. I would guess that lack of spraying would have resulted in *some* additional fruit drop, but still plenty of fruit.

Some other things to consider...

1. Are you in a "frost pocket"? Might you be suffering from late damage after blossoms come out?

2. Have you watched what happens to the blossoms in the days/weeks following petal drop?

3. Having a mix of trees presents real problems for spraying. You will see that the trees reach spray stages at different times. Makes it very difficult to apply the critical sprays after petal fall, since adjacent varieties will still be blooming. I wait until all petals have fallen, and often get impacted by Plum Curculio, the bane of my orchard.

I'll be watching to see what I can learn from others' input.

Denis Wagner
Hi Jonathan, A few remarks...Bloom is typically the first two weeks of May, most often around Mother's Day. Oil does not control scab and should be applied when temps are above 40. The first application at 2% the second application could be 1.5-2% and the latest application at 1% during tight cluster to early pink which is when the cluster buds are beginning to separate. Myclobutanil is a member of a new class of fungicide but its use has already developed resistant strains of apple scab. Such chemicals should never be used alone because it develops resistance to scab more quickly. It is best to use it with a protectant such as Captan or Mancozeb. A combination will be more effective on scab and Captan alone won't control powdery mildew or cedar apple rust. Follow the label rates exactly!!! Your insecticide of choice seems to be labeled for use on a wide range of tree fruit pests except mites, but it also has a very high toxicity to honey bees! An insecticide spray before bloom should not be necessary unless you experience unusually high numbers of leaf miners, plant bugs or european apple sawfly. If you need a prebloom insecticide you might try a spinosad like Esteem which you may be able to get from Fedco Trees. Then your first and most important insecticide spray should go on at petal fall. One or two more sprays after that to control plum curculio should go a long way to growing clean fruit. Use sticky red spheres hung beginning in July to trap apple maggot fly and you may eliminate your need for insecticide sprays later in the season. And now to address the reason for your blog post...Standard, as opposed to dwarf or semeidwarf apple trees can take up to 12 years to begin bearing fruit. If you planted your trees too deep (graft union at or below ground level) and they are now "scion rooted" the trees will be full size and be slow to produce. Semi dwarf trees should "begin" to bear fruit by years 7-8. Full dwarf trees should bear in 3-5 years in "ideal conditions." Your shaded site may delay fruiting by a year or two and excessive pruning and incorrect pruning can delay fruiting too. Specifically heading cuts will delay fruit bud formation. We have done mostly thinning cuts on your trees to direct growth or correct the structure. Admittedly one or two trees were pruned excessively (for leader correction) and respond with strong vegetative growth as you mentioned. So continue to be patient and you will grow more and more apples over the next few seasons. Happy growing!
Jonathan Feist
Thanks to you both.

Denis, do you know of any specific pests that are likely to result in either preventing fertilization or in fruit drops at a very very early stage?

Interesting that you've found bloom to be so late. My note about April 22 came from observations last year. It will be interesting to see when it happens this year.

Denis Wagner
In 18 years of commercial apple growing my earliest bloom was May 4. Last season was an exceptionally early bloom!
Fedco does have Esteem, listed in organic grower supplies, for $625 for 1#. Go to to see the label and where else to purchase it. The label gives very good instructions about how to measure in grams, the amount you would need for a few gallons of mix. I suggest your group of apple growers chip in and purchase a # together. Another warning is that it has a relatively short shelf life of 2 or 3 years.
As for pests that will prevent fertilization. Thrips are not a common problem, but will damage flower buds. Plant bugs will also feed on flower parts.
Remember the flower buds are produced in the summer before bloom so minimizing plant stress during that period of time may help generate flower buds. Marc had a good point about branches being weighted or pulled down. Branches closer to horizontal, rather than upright, will stimulate flower bud formation. Another mechanical technique that can help too by manipulating plant growth hormones is scoring or girdling the trees with a hand pruning saw below the bottom limbs. You should research this before just following my instructions here but I think the timing is when the new terminal growth is 4-6" long.
Jonathan Feist
Very helpful, thank you!
Marc Sevigny
Esteem appears to be an herbicide. How would that be a beneficial application to justify the $625 cost (even if shared among several growers)?
Denis Wagner
"Esteem" is an insecticide, not an herbicide. However my above comments were about "Entrust", I often get these two names mixed up. Entrust is essentially non-toxic and labeled for organic use so I often recommend it. Its cousin Spintor is not organic and I have never priced it, available by the gallon. Entrust is labelled for use on thrips, leafminers, moths and caterpillars, and apple maggot fly. It is not labelled for use on european apple sawfly or plant bugs, both prebloom and/or petal fall pests.
I'm reminded that when making pest control decisions, there is no clear or definitive answer. In fact the gamma cyhalothrin insecticide you want to use Jonathan, is probably a restricted use pesticide and you will not be able to purchase or use it unless you are a certified pesticide applicator.
The Esteem I mentioned is another non-toxic insecticide, effective on san jose scale, pear psylla, leafmminers and aphids. Though leafrollers and codling moth are on the label, it's effectiveness is questionable.
For small and home orchard pesticide spray recommendations I suggest using materials that are inexpensive and/or available, in combination with disease resistant cultivars, as much as possible, and use of some traps, such as apple maggot fly traps, which are red spheres with tanglefoot applied. Available and inexpensive fungicides seem to be Captan, with Sulfur and/or Serenade as your organic choices. For insecticides, you may only find Sevin, and an organic choice may be garlic. You may find a few other options to chose from but they will require more research and web surfing. Also let's not forget oil as Jonathan suggested but don't expect it to control disease and it's effectiveness is primarily aimed at overwintering european red mite eggs, to reduce or delay the summer bronzing of the leaves by adult mites.
Mike Mintz
Hi Jonathan,

I am reluctant to post with such experienced people as Marc and Dennis (Hey guys!), but here goes. I have a few acres of mostly old Baldwin apples. I get anywhere from 100 to 500 bushels a year.

Consider calling Bob Stanley from Shirley (978-425-2187). He is very experienced and very down to earth. And inexpensive to boot.

I do agree with your assessment that spraying is likely to be the cause. I was getting very very little fruit from my 50+ year old trees until I started a spray program. I use dormant oil, syllet (for one spraying), then switch to captan and Imidian. (Dennis, I would welcome any comments here.)

Good Luck !!

p.s. You are welcome to borrow my apple press at any time.

mike <> gmail
Jonathan Feist
Mike, thanks for the offer of the press! I wish I had apples to warrant its use!
Hi Jonathan,

You will some year !

Take Care,
Norman W. Cross

I have an aopple tree in my back yard, variety unknown, that bears lots of apples ,even though I thin them a lot.Nice apples but along about August the tree starts to drop it's apples. Every day there are several apples on the grass. Usually about 20 apples a dy. Most of the apples seem to drop at night even thoug the temp is in the 50s.One day I noticed 30 apples on the grass.Any iidea why the tree drops all it's apples.? They are almost ripe , but not all the way. Sincerely. Norman Cross
Mike Mintz
Hi Norman,

Sounds like the tree is stressed. It may be too big for its root system. It may be not enough nutrients. How big is the tree? and how much air flow around the branches ?

Now having said that, apple trees do drop this time of year. On my full sized trees, 20-30 a day is common.

Sorry to be wishy washy, there are many variables.

Take Care,
Marc Sevigny
Norman, do you know what variety the tree is? Are you finding the fruit are easy to remove from the tree? Some varieties ripen earlier than others. I have varieties that are starting to lose their apples as well. It may be entirely normal.
Vanessa Cayford
Hi Jonathan,

I too have backyard apple trees that do not want fruit out. I have had them for about 4 years. I tested the soil and found it was very low in lime. I have only sprayed once but will try it again this spring. Also will put the recommended lime down.. Good luck to us all. I do find it funny though that the nearby wild apple trees seem to be doing fine.
Jonathan Feist
Four years is a little young for semi-dwarfs to fruit. Maybe some full dwarfs will fruit by then, but the larger trees need more time. And some varieties take a lot longer, even ten years before fruit shows. Catalogs often give (optimistic) estimates for how long it should take.
Mrs. G
Hi! I have had a home orchard for the past four years. I have fifteen trees, four of which are apples. I would never spray the combo of triazicide and immunox before petal fall. I just sprayed my apricots and peaches today. The rest of your spray schedule looks a bit like over-kill. After petal fall you should need two more combo sprays only, and perhaps one spray of Captan the end of July for Sooty Blotch and Fly Speck. Hope this helps.
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