Protecting Apples from Codling Moths using Bags

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Bagged apples for protection against moths

One of the things I enjoy most about contributing to GrowVeg is the way problem-solving ideas get shared between continents. Today's topic is an excellent example. In the last few years, more and more American gardeners have begun bagging their most perfect apples to protect them from codling moths and other pests until they are ready to pick in the fall. It's an easy idea ripe for sharing!

I began experimenting with bagging apples a few years ago, after reading a study from the University of Minnesota in which home gardeners were able to grow more perfect apples by enclosing them in slightly modified plastic sandwich bags. Codling moth damage was cut to zero, and the bagged fruit showed excellent color and flavor. I tried it, and it worked for me, too.

Left hand apples were bagged against codling moth; right-hand apples were not bagged

In the photo above, the nicely colored apples on the left were grown in plastic bags.

Before getting into specifics, note that several non-plastic materials also can be used. In Seattle, pantyhose footies are given away by the non-profit CityFruit organization, so more people can grow high quality apples without pesticides. For maximum effectiveness preventing codling moth and scab, the footies are swirled in a mixture of water and kaolin clay (sold as Surround) before they are slipped over the thinned fruits. Bags made of paper, netting or other materials are less effective (and more unsightly) compared to plastic bags or hosiery sleeves.

Apple tree before thinning

Thin Apples First, Then Bag

Bagging apples is slow work, so your efforts should be concentrated on preserving the most promising immature fruits you can reach. Using sharp clippers or scissors, thin fruits by clipping off all but the largest, most perfect fruits in the cluster, as shown in the before-and-after photos here. You can bag apples as you thin them, or do it in two separate operations. For best results, bag apples before they grow larger than your thumbnail.

Apple tree after thinning

You can use either zip-closure or fold-top plastic sandwich bags. To modify them for bagging apples, snip off the two bottom corners with scissors, which allows moisture to drain away. Also trim off the top edge of zip bags, just above the zipper, which prevents unnecessary friction on the branch. Place the bags over the fruits, and secure them loosely with a staple from an ordinary office stapler. Be as gentle as possible, because rough handling can cause fruit to drop.

Near Portland, Oregon, the Home Orchard Society has been bagging apples for years – mostly in white paper bake shop bags – but has recently switched to kaolin clay-treated nylon footies. The kaolin clay treatment is necessary to get good protection from codling moths using nylon sleeves, but no special steps are needed when using modified plastic bags.

Bagging Fruits for Organic Growing

Once the bags are installed, there is nothing else to be done until the apples begin to ripen, because bagging eliminates the need to spray both fungicides and insecticides. When properly bagged, you can expect at least 80 percent of the bagged fruit to be large and blemish-free, with only slight imperfections in the rest.

Bags for protecting apples from codling moths

Not surprisingly, various types of bags are now being used to protect other types of fruits, from bagging date palms in Egypt, guava in Pakistan, or mangoes grown in India and China. In the US, gardeners in Wisconsin have been tying paper bags around bunches of grapes for decades. When it comes to worthwhile organic techniques, bagging apples is a great one to try.

By Barbara Pleasant

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Comments

 
"Great idea. Do you think the footies and baggies would work against birds and squirrels? I lose all my peaches, apricots, avocados,loquats, grapes, you name it, to critters. And is the kaolin clay treatment specific for codling moth, or should it be used for all critters whenever using footies?"
Ron on Friday 1 May 2015
"I was attracted to this article because I was considering bagging peaches so I can have a few left at harvest time. So, Ron, I'm just as eager to find out if there's something that will protect against squirrels and birds. Thanks, people, for sharing!"
Beverly on Friday 1 May 2015
"Hey Ron, I found something that might help with squirrels. An interesting online tip: "I bagged my peaches with plastic sanwich bags. I think the squirrels or coons pulled 1 or 2 bags off. again I use them in conjunction with surround. The surround leaves a very slight mottled appearance on the fruit it washes off and does not effect flavor.I find it more difficult to bag them when small compared to apples hence the surround. One of my wifes patients , gave her a tip to keep critters out of the peach trees.Place water filled balloons around the trunk of the tree.Also air filled .I know this is work but it absolutely does work.If there are any branches that can be jumped up to you will have to deal with.There is a 5 , 7 , 9 rule with squerrils. They can jump up 5 feet. They can jump laterally ( horizontal ) 7 feet and can jump down 9 feet.thats approxiamate but does seem to be true.happy gardening I filled enough small balloons to encircle the trunk. Also some air filled ones mingelled in among them.Also I hang air filled ballons from lower branches. Some balloons broke from branches.after hanging the balloons I was able to harvest 100% of the remaining fruit.After filling the water balloons about a week I needed only to replace broken air filled ones.As the squirrels climb the trunk they cannot avoid popping the balloons. The air filled ones are constantly moving , Until they pop or snag.Happy Gardening Johnny" I'm also looking at FruitSaver Net (google it) which covers the whole tree. "
Beverly on Friday 1 May 2015
"Thanks Beverly. Will try the surround method. How interesting with the jump rule. Most of my trees have jump access from various nearby objects so blocking the trunk with balloons may not help, but I'll keep that in mind for my more isolated trees as they mature. "
Ron on Friday 1 May 2015
"I tried a couple of other materials on apples, and they did not do as well as the plastic bags. However, I think paper bags are preferred for peaches. The white bags from bakery shops let in light and can be stapled in place. The boldfaced words above link to research others have done with the kaolin clay, which enhances control of codling moths when the nylon footies are used. Cool tip, Beverly!"
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 1 May 2015
"Just a possible clarification--I believe the reference to "surround," that was used in the tip with the balloons, means a kaolin clay commercial product named "Surround," used in this case to protect against peach aphid http://orgprints.org/15470/ So, in response to a question in your first thread, Ron, the link I included talks about a study done on efficacy of the product for peach aphids but applied at leaf fall--so no fruit to bag--but apparently kaolin clay is used for other things besides codling moth. Thanks for the information on white bags for peaches, Barbara. I was also researching why most of the small developing peaches disappeared without a trace on my young trees. While we do have a ton of squirrels, I have not seen them or birds active in those trees, and the peaches just disappear--nothing on the ground, no partially eaten anything, no broken branches. Someone posted at another site that rats can be a cause of disappearing, developing fruit, and that would happen at night. Has anyone else heard of rats stealing fruit like this?"
Beverly on Friday 1 May 2015
"Great idea. Please show us a picture of a prepared bag, and preferably one over the fruit itself. Thanks!"
Steve on Friday 1 May 2015
"I used aluminum window screens staple together to protect my persimmons, quite a task. I am wondering if disposable grocery bags will work or will it prevent fruit from development."
Jody on Monday 4 May 2015
"Jody, both white and brown paper bags are used extensively in Japan to protect persimmons. Good luck! "
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 5 May 2015
"I was researching on how to control moths on apples and came across your article. I followed your advice and covered the apples with plastic sandwich bags, and there were no more damages. I grow my apples in containers, so it was easy. But, how do you control moths in a large apple plantation? "
Nycitypestcontrol on Saturday 9 April 2016
"In apple-friendly climates, organic growers use clay-based organic pesticides that coat the apples and leaves with a whitish residue so they are hidden from pests. Pheromone-baited traps also can be quite effective, though expensive. Conventional apples are sprayed with pesticides 12 times or more to keep them pest free. "
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 15 April 2016
"Would this help with peaches Bluejays have ruined 12 already :-("
Venita on Thursday 23 June 2016
"To prevent bird damage to peaches, your best bets are bird netting or tulle. Tulle is easier to work with, does not accidentally snare hummingbirds, and you can loosely wrap it around bearing branches and secure it with clothespins. See this article for more ideas:https://www.growveg.com/guides/bird-control-in-the-garden/"
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 28 June 2016
"Thank you all for your interesting suggestions. I have experienced Norwegian rats eating bark of my Meyer lemon tree (nearly killing it) and eating all the bark off my white fig tree (killing it). They also nibble (but don't finish eating) my apples. I am now on the warpath. I will try plastic sandwich baggies as suggested above. Question for you all: has anyone tried the soft white plastic mittens that slip over a baby fruit and expand as it grows? I saw them used with great success in a guyaba orchard in Guatemala where pests are pervasive. Love to know if anyone has personally tried them. thank you!"
Sharon on Sunday 30 April 2017
"I've tried bags, both paper and plastic, as well as nylon footies in an effort to keep squirrels from taking all the apples. None of these worked. They ran off with sack lunches! I found bags all over the property. Exclusion is the only thing that works. I now have a sheet metal collar around the trunks. I've pruned back nearby trees to stop they aerial acrobatics. I'm going to add some balloons this year to lower branches. BTW, I use Surround for insect control and swear by it."
Robin on Friday 19 May 2017
"Thanks for the tips, Robin. Hope your metal collars work."
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 20 May 2017
"So I was getting lots of damaged apples from Coddling moths and this year I decided to bag the fruit. I bought about 500 bags that look like nylon with a drawstring and I thought they looked great. I thinned the fruit and put bags on maybe 80 apples. Now come to find out that the coddling moths can go through the bags to get at the apples. I did take a lot of pictures but don't know how to post them on this site."
daniel on Friday 13 July 2018
"Daniel, I tried thin cloth bags and didn't think they worked nearly as well as the plastic ones. But what has really worked are pheromone traps for both codling moths and apple maggots. One year of trapping actually gave good control for two years. A little costly, but very worthwhile."
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 16 July 2018

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