Insects in fruit trees cause a lot of concern for gardeners. Almost every week, one of our Grow Great Fruit members gets in touch saying something along the lines of “help, there’s a bug on my fruit tree!”

Back before we were certified organic we took a different approach to insects. We treated them mostly with fear and suspicion, and we aimed to eradicate them, mainly with terrible toxic sprays.

It might be hard to believe, but this is the standard way most farmers are taught how to grow food.

Hugh spraying an organic fungicide in the orchard
Hugh spraying an organic fungicide in the orchard

We didn’t understand just how much damage we were doing. In fact, learning to appreciate insects was an important part of our journey to a truly organic mindset.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of different insects you might see on your fruit tree. Identifying a specific bug can be difficult, whether you’re an enthusiastic gardener or commercial orchardists like us. We’re fruit growers, not entomologists! (Though we very much enjoy Dr Manu Saunders’ entertaining insect blog.)

A macadamia flower with insects (look carefully...)
A macadamia flower with insects (look carefully…)

Once you start looking, you realise that there are insects everywhere. The photo above is a close-up of a macadamia flower from our macadamia tree. If you look closely there are 3 different insects hiding in there. Admittedly, the one in the middle is very hard to see!

When should you be worried about insects in fruit trees?

We use one key factor as our guide to how we respond to any insects in the orchard. Do we have evidence that they’re damaging either the fruit or the trees?

A caterpillar on an apricot
A caterpillar on an apricot

We reckon it’s very important to learn how to really look at your fruit trees. As an antidote to the knee-jerk reaction lots of gardeners have when they see a bug on their tree, we’ve written a short course called “Learn to Diagnose Your Fruit Trees“.

If your monitoring shows that yes, the insects are doing damage, then the next step is to try to identify it. Then, learn as much about the insect as possible. In particular, learn about its life cycle. Look for a weak point where you can interfere in such a way as to stop the damage occurring.

We explain the technique (and show how it works in real life) in our free webinar Organic Pest and Disease Control.

We take this approach because it would be a huge challenge to try to learn about every insect in the garden. They have very complex interactions. Some are pests, some are predators, and some are both!

The complexity goes beyond just the insects. They also interact with birds, plants and even the microbes in the soil in complex ways that you’ll probably never fully understand.

What we’ve noticed over many years is that as long as there is lots of diversity in the garden, populations tend to keep each other in check and become more balanced over time.  

Fabulous green bug
Fabulous green bug

As long as you encourage LOTS of biodiversity, and take measures to protect your fruit without interfering with nature too much, you’ll usually manage to live in harmony with all the critters in your garden.

This is much preferable to the “scorched earth” approach of killing everything that moves. And honestly, it’s very easy to do more harm than good once you start killing things in the garden!

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