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What to Do About Pests that Can Harm Your Cherry Trees

Aphids on cherry tree leaves

Aphids on cherry tree leaves

You may find aphids, caterpillars, Japanese beetles, thrips, leafhoppers, borers, and the cherry fruit fly on your cherry trees. You can use a product like a general fruit and nut orchard spray, or natural methods such as horticultural oils or neem oil to control them all.

Also consider making your own natural disease and pest control spray with benign materials. Mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon of a mild dish detergent, and 2 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil in a gallon of water to make a solution that will repel all kinds of bugs and serve as a fungicide. Shake it well in your bottle before spraying and repeat every week for it to be continuously effective.

Here’s what to look for to spot damage from these pests.

Aphids

Look for tiny, pinhead-sized insects, varying in color. They will cluster on stems and under leaves. You may spot leaves that curl, thicken, and die. Aphids also produce a sticky residue called honeydew that attracts other insects such as ants.

Cherry Fruit Fly

Adults look like houseflies but smaller. Larvae are yellowish-white grubs. You can use traps for luring adults. Look for small, pinpoint sting marks visible on fruit surfaces. Eggs are laid under the skin, and hatched larvae tunnel.

Moths

There are many types of moths that attack cherry trees. Look for larvae that are pinkish-white with a red-brown head, about 1/2 inch long. Pheromone traps can be used to trap adult moths.

Look for damage to vegetative growth which, if left untreated, will eventually infest fruit. Larvae tunnel in through the stem and often exit near the pit.

Borers

There are many types of borers you may encounter. Adults are small brown beetles that may target the graft location in young trees for laying eggs. You may also see damaged, sunken areas. Look for a thick, gummy sap leaking from round holes on the trunk or in a crotch. Grubs hatch and tunnel through the trunk, eventually killing the tree. Grubs have horseshoe-shaped heads and cream-colored bodies. They are difficult to control once a tree is infested.

Preventative spraying (including the ground around the roots) is a strong defense, but the only effective spray is chemical. You may also use a fine wire to pierce, mash, or dig grubs out. Traps can be used to lure adults, as long as you remove the traps from the site and burn after trapping.

Contact your local county Cooperative Extension Service for further advice.

Japanese Beetles

Adult beetles with their metallic green shells skeletonize leaves. Larvae are cream-colored grubs that feed on turf roots. Turf pest control products may reduce grubs, and traps can be used to lure adults.

Otherwise, knock beetles into a jar of soapy water or use a natural garden dust to control.

Leafhoppers

Leafhoppers are dangerous to cherry trees.

Leafhoppers are dangerous to cherry trees.

These are small, slender-winged insects of various colors that are usually found underneath leaves. You will see slowed new growth with leaves that become whitened, stippled, or mottled. Leaf tips may wither and die. Leafhoppers carry diseases between plants and trees, which may be worse than damage caused directly.

Remove webbed foliage by hand and keep the area free of weeds and debris, or spray.

Mites

These are pinpoint-sized insects in many colors. They are often found on the undersides of leaves. Look for a bronze appearance of leaves, or silken webbing in severe infestations. They are common after droughts.

Scale

You will see small hard, circular, scaly raised bumps with yellow centers on the bark of young twigs or fruit.

Tarnished Plant Bug

Look for yellowish-brown, winged insects that may have black spots or red stripes. They inject toxins into buds and shoots, causing stunted growth and sunken areas or fruit.

Tent Caterpillars

Adults are moths. Caterpillars are a hairy, grayish-brown with cream-colored spots or stripes down the back. They encase large areas in webbing and feed on enclosed leaves. Remove webs with a rake and burn, or spray.

Thrips

These are tiny, fringe-winged insects ranging from 1/25 inch to 1/8 inch long. Nymphs are pale yellow and highly active. Adults are black or yellow-brown, perhaps with red, black, or white markings.

Look for signs of feeding on vegetation, with a deformed appearance or discoloration.

A word about birds

Birds can be bad for your cherry trees.

Birds can be bad for your cherry trees.

Birds will be a major issue with your cherry tree—as in dining on your growing cherries morning, noon, and night! The traditional way to combat birds is to drape bird netting over your trees.

However, you should be ready for the inevitable: Birds and squirrels will get caught in the netting and die. No one really relishes retrieving dead wildlife from their trees.

Therefore, consider some of these alternatives if you prefer:

  • Tie reflective tape to branches to distract and disorient birds
  • Use a dummy owl/hawk and move its location daily
  • Eliminate insects on the branches to deter birds
  • Install a birdhouse to attract the predatory kestrel
  • Plant wildflowers like echinacea and rudbeckia to give birds an easier meal

No single method works better than the others, so you should probably try swapping preventive measures or using more than one at a time to keep the birds from your cherries.

If you do decide to use bird netting, only install it just before fruit begins to appear on your trees. Otherwise, the birds have time to learn how to get inside anyway.

Do pests attack your cherry trees every year? How do you handle removing them—and even preventing them in the first place? Please tell us how you treat your cherry trees to avoid pests.

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