I hate to bother you with something that I should be able to fix myself, but I’m asking because I’ve tried everything I can think of and nothing is working!
My daughter and I planted an applet tree for the first grandchild in the family – the tree is about 15 years old now. It has been attacked every year by ants and aphids, which destroy the buds, then the flowers and the leaves, nearly killing the tree. PLEASE HELP! I don’t want to use chemicals, but I’m running out of options! You guys always have such natural answers! I DEEPLY appreciate all of you and your efforts to help keep us on track, accountable to our Maker and to each other.
Any ideas, please let me know – I think the tree will die this year without a miracle!
I won’t claim we can save your tree, but here are some options you may not have considered. First, according to U.C. Davis, “Ants are often associated with aphid populations, especially on trees and shrubs, and often are a tip-off that an aphid infestation is present.” These ants, in order to protect their food source, ward off many predators and parasites of aphids. Management of ants is a key component of aphid management. We had a lot of suggestions for ant control in last week’s Letters to the Editor, so that would be the first place I’d look for some ideas on how to get rid of the ants.
Next you want to get rid of the aphids. There are several organic sprays you can try. I know you said you had tried soapy water, Raid, and Sevin dust. (Please don’t use Sevin dust if at all possible. It’s one of the number one killers of honeybees. We understand that there are just situations where you have no choice, and there is no condemnation of its use in this quarter when all else fails. We just ask that you consider it as a last resort.) Here are some other types of mixtures you may not have tried. Remember, don’t spray on fruit trees in the heat of the day (over 90 degrees) when direct sunlight is at its most potent. You can actually do more damage and harm than good because tree leaves can suffer sunburn damage just like human skin can. Better to spray in the cool morning hours or the waning hours of the evening, when the tree is in a more shady position.
Add 1 cup of tobacco to 1 gallon of water. Allow it to soak for 24 hours. If it looks darker than the color of weak tea, add more water. Spray it on fruit trees to get rid of bugs, caterpillars, aphids and some worms.
Get rid of aphids and apple borers by grinding up raw garlic and onions into a puree and soaking it overnight. Strain it and spray the liquid on the fruit trees. You can also plant garlic around the tree to deter borers.
Spray neem oil on the fruit trees to make sure that ants and aphids, along with other insects, stay away. Neem oil is like any other liquid… you should do a patch test first. Some fruit trees are more sensitive to it than others and leaves can turn yellow and wilt.
I have tried planting flower colors that should attract bees. I have tried putting sugar solutions in small containers with ant motes and I still can’t get bees to help me with my vegetables. What else can I try?
Unfortunately, bees are persnickety and have a mind of their own. There are just certain crops, flowers, and weeds that they prefer. Bees are not like hummingbirds… they are not attracted so much to color as they are to scent, nectar, patterns on the petals of the flowers, and the shape of flowers. Bees graze in a six-mile radius to their hives and if they have found a patch of clover that they prefer over your garden, there’s not much you can do.
There are other insects that are pollinating your plants as well. These include bumblebees and what we in the South call miner bees (they live in the dirt or the side of a hill – and no, they’re not yellow jackets! J) The best thing you can do is provide a friendly environment for your area pollinators, relax, and let nature do the rest. If you find that you have a low harvest because of the lack of pollinators, then hand pollinating may be your other option.
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