The Rutherglen bugs are back—have you seen them on your fruit?

Rutherglen bugs covering a nectarine
Rutherglen bugs covering a nectarine

A few years ago we (and everyone else trying to grow fruit on the east coast of Australia) had a plague of these tiny bugs, but we’ve seen very few since then.

Well, they’re back, though thankfully not in plague proportions this time.

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 we had a plague, a small proportion of our peaches had so much juice sucked out that they weren’t usable, but luckily most were still fine.

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

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

Rutherglen bugs in the grass
Rutherglen bugs in the grass

Why does this happen? Mainly because they have a lot of predators, and nature tends to get these population explosions under control all by herself, as long as we have decent biodiversity in our gardens, and IF we don’t mess things up by using pesticides.

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

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 on the tree at the time, but if there are lots around in the garden the tree will probably be re-infested;
  2. If you have chickens or other poultry, confine them to the area around your fruit trees if possible – they will make short work of the bugs but, 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—the same sort you would use to prevent fruit fly getting to the fruit (because as you can see in the photo below, they easily get through regular size bird netting);
  4. As an absolute last resort, you can try a home-made organic spray, but be very careful if you do this, as it’s easy to do more harm than good by accidentally killing the predator insects that will be eating the Rutherglen bugs, and you may just be perpetuating the problem.

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

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

(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, all of which you’ll find in What’s Bugging My Fruit?. The book also contains recipes for home-made sprays that will do minimal damage to your precious garden eco-system.

In our experience if you stick to those principles, most problems like this are short term.