Do I have to spray? Healthy fruit

By Eric Barrett

OSU Ext. educator

We get lots of questions in our clinic and at area meetings about whether a home gardener needs to spray. Most of the time these questions relate to grapes, apples and peaches in the home garden.

The easy answer is, “No, you are not required to spray your plants.” But this is a great question and a reminder of what our options are when we have disease and insect pressure in our home fruit crops.

When it comes to insects and diseases, if you want high-quality fruit, organic or conventional insecticides and fungicides are usually necessary. The biggest challenge for most homeowners when it comes to spraying grapes or fruit trees is time and persistence. Most sprays need to be applied every seven to 10 days starting at bud break in very early spring. Getting sprays applied in the correct manner at the correct time requires a commitment of time, energy and equipment.

Thus, the better option for most homeowners is proper planning and the adoption of integrated pest-management practices before planting fruit trees or grape vines. This starts with choosing varieties that are resistant to diseases. For example, choosing an apple tree that is immune or resistant to apple scab is a huge step forward in making apple growing easier and less time-consuming.

The problem? Many people only want to renovate an old orchard, grow an heirloom variety or get a free plant from a friend or neighbor. These methods are fine, but they do not guarantee a decent crop or disease resistance. Although many varieties have some resistance to apple scab, there are still issues with insect pests, fly speck and sooty blotch on apples. When it comes to insects, monitoring for key insects will help determine if any controls are necessary during the growing season.

Beyond disease resistance, the main steps to growing healthy fruit without spraying include:

1. Choosing the right site: A site where there is good air circulation, morning sun to dry leaves and higher areas that do not get spring frosts.

2. Soil testing: Be sure the soil is in the proper condition with the correct pH and nutrient levels for the fruit crop.

3. Proper pruning: The old adage about throwing a baseball through a tree suggests the fruit tree has been properly pruned. Generally, a fruit tree is not pretty to look at until the ripe fruit is the main feature. When it comes to grapes, they should not be grown on top of an overhead arbor. They should be grown on a simple trellis and constantly pruned.

4. Sanitation and fall cleanup: Keeping pruned branches and leaves out of the orchard will go a long way in reducing re-infection of fungal diseases. Fall cleanup should include the raking and removal of all leaves at the end of the season.

For information on growing and caring for fruit in the home garden, visit and

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