Many homeowners plant fruit trees for the pastoral pleasure of plucking and eating an apple or peach fresh from the branches, right in their own backyard. However, growing fruit isn't as easy as planting a tree and waiting for the fruit to come by the basket. As explained on the University of Rhode Island Landscape Horticulture Program's website, fruit trees are susceptible to numerous insect pests that require control with insecticides.
To the uninitiated fruit grower, fruit trees seem under constant assault by bugs. Plant bugs drain the tree of sap while caterpillars gnaw the leaves down to skeletons. Different insecticides control different pests, but Methoxychlor and Malathion generally control chewing and sucking insects, respectively, according to the University of Rhode Island Landscape Horticulture Program.
When to spray depends on the pest you're trying to control and the type of tree you're trying to control it on. Pesticide spray schedules take into account the insect's life cycle--insects are more susceptible at some life stages than at others--and the tree's development, according to the University of Missouri Extension. For example, some insecticides can harm bees and other pollinators, so schedules avoid spraying those when the tree is blossoming. Your local extension office can provide spray schedules for your area.
You will use a spray applicator to apply insecticide to your fruit trees. Read the label carefully before beginning, and never exceed the prescribed application rate--more is not better where pesticides are concerned. The University of Missouri Extension recommends applying the spray until it begins to run off of the leaves. Always wear protective equipment--long sleeves and trousers, eye protection and gloves--and avoid spraying on windy days when the insecticide could drift to non-intended targets.
Chemical insecticides are unappealing to many gardeners because of the environmental and health risks they pose. While spraying fruit trees for pests remains unavoidable if you want good yields of unblemished fruit, safer options may control some of the pests on your trees. Insecticidal soaps, botanical oils and microbial insecticides may protect against some pests with reduced risk of harm to people and the environment, says the Clemson Cooperative Extension. Researching trees before you plant could also reduce your reliance on insecticides, as some cultivars are naturally resistant to certain pests.
Insects will eventually develop resistance to the chemicals to which they are constantly exposed. The University of Rhode Island Landscape Horticulture Program urges gardeners to spray only when needed--according to your local spray schedule--and to always follow application rates found on the label.