It’s common to see tiny little Rutherglen bugs on your fruit tree at this time of year. They often show up when the fruit is starting to ripen. Have you noticed any on your fruit?

We first learned about these little bugs a few years ago, the hard way. We (and everyone else trying to grow fruit on the east coast of Australia) had a plague of them. Thankfully we’ve seen very few since then.

We’ve had a few questions about them this year, so it’s a good time to show you what to look for, and what to do.

Rutherglen bugs in the grass
Rutherglen bugs in the grass

They’re called Rutherglen bugs. They are tiny and a nuisance, and unfortunately there’s very little you can do about them. They’re a sapsucker, and if there are enough of them they can suck the juice out of your fruit and cause it to shrivel up.

The year that we had a plague a small proportion of our peaches had so much juice sucked out that they weren’t usable. Luckily most were still fine and we able to sell them at the market as usual.

The bugs can leave a slightly sticky residue on the fruit as well, but this washes off.

Why do some bugs come and go?

Interestingly, we’ve barely seen them since. This is often the way with ‘plagues’—they’re usually the result of an imbalance in the ecosystem that has temporarily favoured one insect over another. They usually quickly get back into balance and numbers go back to normal (i.e., hardly any).

This is in direct contrast to pests like Fruit Fly, which tend to stick around year after year.

So why do plagues happen? Mainly because these insects have a lot of predators. Nature tends to get these population explosions under control all by herself, as long as you have decent biodiversity in your garden, and IF you don’t mess things up by using pesticides.

Protecting fruit from bugs

But, in the meantime, when you are experiencing an outbreak it would be nice to protect your fruit, right?

Netting protects fruit from birds but not from Rutherglen bugs
Netting protects fruit from birds but not from Rutherglen bugs

Here’s our top 4 things you can do:

  1. Hose the tree when it has a large swarm of bugs on it. This should discourage the bugs that are on the tree at the time. If there are lots around in the garden the tree will probably be re-infested and you may need to repeat.
  2. If you have chickens or other poultry, confine them to the area around your fruit trees if possible. They’ll love to make short work of the bugs. As above, if there are lots of bugs around, the tree may be re-infested when you remove the chooks
  3. Protect the tree with a very fine net. Use the same sort you would use to prevent fruit fly getting to the fruit. As you can see in the photo above, they easily get through regular size bird netting.
  4. As an absolute last resort, you can try a home-made organic spray. Be very careful if you do this, as it’s easy to do more harm than good by killing the predator insects that will be eating the Rutherglen bugs. You may accidentally make the problem last longer.

So, the key message is don’t worry too much about them as there’s little you can do in the short term.

Long-term bug management strategies for your fruit trees

Concentrate instead on the long-term strategies for managing these bugs (and all the other pests as well):

(1) continuous soil improvement,

(2) continuous biodiversity improvement,

(3) continue to educate yourself about individual pests that might cause problems for your fruit, including their lifecycle, how to identify them, tips for prevention, and treatment strategies. Our free organic pest and disease webinar is a great place to start.