If you’re having trouble growing fruit in our area, did you know that the Extension office can help identify what’s going on? I’ve had several samples brought to me in the last few weeks off of plum, pear, and peach trees. Unfortunately, every single one of them has had the same problem – insect damage early in fruit set. This week, I thought we’d discuss a bit about the challenges with producing fruit in Georgia and what recommendations I have for those interested in doing so.

            All of the samples that were brought to me have had the same characteristics – small, early fruit growth that is misshapen, clear gel (actually pectin from the fruit) oozing from insect entry wounds, and if you cut the fruit open, dark lines where larvae have eaten their way through the fruit itself. Unfortunately, I was only able to find an actual insect on one of the samples, but the symptoms are indicative of early insect damage during fruit set. Since I’m just now getting these samples, the damage had already occurred long before they reached me- and there’s nothing that can be done to fix it.

            Due to our climate, Georgia has a lot of insect and disease challenges with producing fruit. It simply does not get cold enough in the winter to kill insects, and the hot, humid summers encourage diseases to run rampant. Some of our fruit species are easier to grow than others – for example, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, muscadines, and figs are all options that have low insect and disease pressure. Therefore, they tend to be easier to cultivate. Unfortunately, every single one of our tree fruits (apples, pears, plums, peach) have high insect and disease pressure which makes producing them really difficult.

             There are three recommendations I can make if you want to try your hand at producing fruit trees in our area. First – it is not a matter of if you get disease or insect damage, but a matter of when – it is simply unavoidable. Our goal then, is not to completely prevent insects and diseases, but to manage them at a level where you can keep fruit damage at a low enough level to still harvest and use what your trees produce. Second, make sure to do your research on varieties (UGA Extension Publications for your desired fruit are a great place to start). Selecting varieties that are resistant to diseases and insects will not eliminate these common problems entirely, but they can make management easier. Third, follow good tree management processes. Management of general tree health through irrigation, soil testing and amendments, proper pruning, and topping to keep trees at a workable height can all help reduce the likelihood of disease and pest issues. It’s very difficult for homeowners to get appropriate spray coverage on 15-25’ trees, so again, be mindful of how you might combat that issue from the start. These proactive methods can all help increase your odds of getting a good harvest.

Finally, the only way to ensure a good harvest off of fruit trees is to implement an appropriate spray treatment program to reduce insect and disease issues. First, you need to start scouting your trees – go look for signs of insects or disease starting early in the season before fruit set. Then, the exact spray program you use is going to depend on what fruit you’re growing, where it is in the fruit growing cycle, and what insect and diseases you’re trying to prevent. The Georgia Pest Management Handbook (https://tinyurl.com/UGASprayPrograms) has a section on orchard and fruit tree management of our most common diseases and insects with recommendations for products and application timing. If you have questions relating to fruit production in Georgia, please contact us at uge3181@uga.edu or 706-359-3233. 

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