Pest and disease control

tree1When you plant a few fruit trees, you are offering an invitation to hundreds of different forms of life. A tree is not a species living in isolation from the rest of nature. It immediately generates a unique habitat both above and below the ground.

Some of the birds, animals, insects, fungi, lichens and plants that interact with the tree are beneficial. Some are neutral. Others are harmful. Managing the biological equilibrium of a single fruit tree, a garden or a small orchard is a difficult but fascinating task. Today, tree experts can reduce the use of chemicals to a minimum, and with careful management, trees can be kept healthy even in a totally organic pest control programme.

Dan Neuteboom of Suffolk Fruit and Trees has all-round experience of pest and disease control, having worked both in the “chemical age” of the 1960s and 1970s, right through to the organic revolution of the 1980s and 1990s. He is a pioneer of innovative systems based on the use of natural predators that cull the pest population, and at present he is developing ground-breaking work on the role of micro-organisms in providing the tree with natural beneficial substances.

The fundamental concept in organic pest control is exploiting the fact that in nature, friend and foe live together in the same environment. Rather than to attempt to chemically eradicate pests, the organic method is to provide their predators with a happy home, in other words ensuring that the type of plants necessary for successful breeding are present.

Natural predators

One of the most damaging group of insects comprises, for example, the various types of aphids.There is no need to resort to repeated annual chemical control measures as long as the various predators of the aphids are living stably and comfortably in the orchard as well. These predators include lacewings, hoverflies and ladybirds. Provided there are enough of them in the orchard environment, the aphid population will never be so great as to cause serious damage to the fruit tree foliage and the fruit itself. So the point is to build up the predator level in order to keep, for example aphids numbers down.

This can be done in various ways:
– providing homes for predators, such as lady bird boxes and lacewing hotels;
– making space for a couple of beds of well-grown companion plants such as chives, pot marigold and alpine strawberries;
– placing nest boxes at the right height in the trees for the various tits. Make sure that the entrance is woodpecker-proof and cat proof;
– putting grease bands on the tree trunks from October to May;
– removing any bypasses such as tree suckers and/or tall weeds (for winter moth control).
– taking orchard hygiene seriously, in order to keep the number of trees infected by various diseases at as low a level as possible.

This last point is of the greatest importance. If during the growing season, fruit and leaves were seriously infected with various pests, such as codling moth, sawfly, or diseases such as scab and mildew, then the early removal of these fruits and leaves after they have fallen on the orchard floor in late autumn is the most effective way to reduce infection levels at the start of the next growing season and to bring balance back in the orchard environment.


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