Backyard Tree Fruit ‘bounty’ program renewed

The Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers are continuing and have expanded their Backyard Fruit Tree Program which now includes Wasco County in addition to Hood River County.

The program promotes voluntary removal of unwanted fruit trees, as well as improved control of pests on remaining fruit trees. The short-term goal of the program is to eliminate the spread of pests from unmanaged trees to commercial orchards. The ultimate goal is to reduce the use of pesticides in local orchards.

The impact of unmanaged trees has become more significant in recent years because many orchardists are using pest management programs based on non-chemical controls such as pheromone confusion or “softer” pest management programs that use more selective, less-toxic pesticides. These programs pose lower risk to people and the environment, but they also increase the potential for pests that spread from unmanaged home fruit trees to cause damage in commercial orchards.

The Backyard Tree Program provides an incentive for those voluntarily removing unwanted home fruit trees, including pear, apple, crabapple and cherry trees. The Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers will pay $25 dollars for each apple, pear or cherry tree you remove. Tree removal is offered to seniors or those not physically able to remove trees themselves.

According to CGFG Executive Director Jean Godfrey, the response from the public has been very good, with a high percentage of home owners voluntarily removing unmanaged trees. To take advantage of this program, contact the Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers at 541-387-4769.

The high level of commitment required to grow commercially acceptable fruit may not be apparent to hobby or novice fruit growers. Home fruit growers may neglect to control insect pests and diseases on backyard trees with few apparent consequences. As noted above, not controlling pests on home fruit trees may have serious consequences, however, because they often serve as sources of pest infestation to commercial orchards.

Commercial fruit growers in the area are preparing to apply dormant season sprays targeting pests that overwinter on the tree with low-risk pesticides, such as sulfur and horticultural mineral oil. These early season sprays mark the beginning of a commitment to a season-long, integrated program aimed at preventing pest damage.

Dormant sprays are important for home fruit growers also, but the most important sprays for home apple, pear and cherry trees usually don’t start until mid- to late-May. These later sprays target codling moth, cherry fruit fly, spotted wing Drosophila and apple maggot, four pests that are of special concern to fruit growers in the local orchards. Not only do these pests cause direct damage to fruit, each is a quarantined pest in some export destinations.

Because of relatively high pest pressure in the area, non-chemical methods of controlling these pests on home fruit trees often do not provide adequate results.

Steve Castagnoli, horticulturist with Hood River County Extension Service, said many factors contribute to the effectiveness of pesticide applications including application timing. The life cycle of most fruit pests is dependent on weather conditions, which affect the time of pest emergence in the spring and development through the rest of the season.

For more information, contact the OSU Extension Service Office at 541-386-3343.

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