8 Bugs And Insects That Eat Apple Trees (How To Repel Them)

trees full with ripe red apples in the netherlands

Apple trees are a delicious addition to any yard. Unfortunately, they also play host to lots of hungry bugs and insects, ready to dig into the tree’s fruit and leaves. 

Pests enjoy the sweet fruit of apple trees just as much as we humans do. Some bugs and insects eating your apple trees include:

  • Aphids
  • Apple maggots
  • Tortrix moths
  • Japanese beetles
  • Scale insects
  • Brown marmorated stink bugs
  • Tarnished plant bugs
  • Leaf blotch miner moths

Luckily, there are several ways to repel these offenders! From keeping your yard clear of debris to investing in fine mesh netting, there are plenty of ways to get rid of these apple tree fiends. Without further ado, let’s dive into the seven bugs and insects eating your apple tree and ways to repel them.

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Aphids on Your Apple Trees

Aphids are in abundance everywhere. It’s hard to imagine a yard without aphids as they’re usually crowding the leaves of plants in gardens across the world. They’re so common that over 5,000 species of aphids have been identified!

With so many species in existence, what exactly is an aphid?

First, it’s important to note there are a few names assigned to the aphid. (Luckily not as many names as species, but still enough to cause confusion!) Other aphid names include ant cow, louse, greenfly, and blackfly. If you hear someone refer to one of these insects, just know they simply mean an aphid!

There’s a reason we’re kicking off our list of apple-eating insects with aphids: it’s because they are notorious for causing damage to plants, trees, and fruits! They thrive in food production settings, and can often intervene in the agriculture and forestry process. And they bring a host of problems to the table.

First, aphids transmit viruses. Plus, they move quickly through crops, thus spreading the virus quicker.

You’ll be able to tell if your plant has aphids just by looking at its leaves for the scattering insects. Other telltale signs are yellowing leaves and slow or stunted growth.

Your apple tree could just be one of many reasons you have aphids in your garden. For information on what attracts aphids to your garden and how to remove them, read our guide!

How to Repel Aphids from Your Apple Trees

As you can imagine by this point, repelling aphids out of your yard and away from your apple trees is an arduous task. However, before we get into the best ways you can repel aphids from your yard, let’s look at the ways they’re naturally removed.

Lucky for aphids’ many predators, they exist in bountiful supply. Birds that consume aphids include the American goldfinch and the sparrow.

Even more impressive are all the insects that consume aphids. These include ladybugs, spiders, larvae (yes, larvae!), and wasps.

Plus, aphids are relatively sensitive to climate changes, bacteria, and even wind! So while you may think you have a bad aphid problem, just imagine how serious it could be if they didn’t have all these natural predators around!  

That said, there are a few ways we humans can control aphids as well. Although in full transparency, it can be difficult.

Why is it hard to control aphids? As mentioned before, aphids are abundant in yards. When spraying pesticides, it’s easy to miss a group, thus allowing them to reproduce and return at full force.

Similarly, they can play tricks like hiding on the underside of leaves. When that’s the case, they’re also able to avoid being sprayed.

For small infestations, the power of a garden hose should be enough of an aphid repellent. For more serious aphid populations, consider using an insecticidal soap. Many insecticidal soaps like Garden Safe Brand Insecticidal Soap Insect Killer will get rid of the aphids while keeping your plants intact. 

If you are having reoccurring aphid issues, read this article on why they come back and how to stop them!

Bonus: Aphids & Ants On Apple Trees

One of the most interesting facts about aphids—and one that may make repelling aphids more difficult—is the fact that they have a mutually beneficial relationship with ants. Aphids, as we’ll go more into later, enjoy sucking the sugary sap of plants and trees (and of course, apple trees.)

Eating such large “meals” causes them to produce large amounts of, erhm, excrement. 

This excrement is sugary sweet, and, as we all know, ants are attracted to sugar! So not only will ants stick around to lap up this excrement, but they’ll also help produce it. Ants help aphids produce their sweet excrement by stroking the aphids; thus stimulating their systems to excrete more.

Why is this important for you to know? These same ants will protect aphids from garden predators and will help transport them to new plants, once there are no more nutrients for them to sap.

Therefore, if you have an aphid issue, it’s important to note whether you have an ant issue, as the two’s survival are tightly intertwined.

Apple Maggot Flies Eat Apple Trees

Rhagoletis pomonella on plant in the wild

By their name alone, you can guess this insect is going to be an issue for your apple trees. Although their name makes them sound relatively small and harmless, these bugs are clever little beasts.

First, they’ve evolved over the years to become quite a menace to their predators. Although they don’t have enough power to be harmful, they’ve developed the tactic of imitating the scary jumping spider to repel their natural predators. 

Why should you care? Well, such tactics help repel natural predators who would otherwise be controlling your apple maggot fly population by chowing down, had only they known they were playing dress-up.

It’s quite obvious when you have an apple maggot problem. Look for apples that have taken on a weird shape.

Check your apples for indentations: this is where the female has formed a hole to lay her eggs inside.

Evaluate your apples for discoloration and rot: when the apple maggot flies implant their eggs inside your apples, they’ll often become morphed and unappealing.

How to Repel Apple Maggot Flies from Your Apple Trees

With apple maggot flies, it’s very important to employ certain tactics and remain consistent. The worst outcome would be to get your apple maggot fly issue under control, only for them to return later after all your hard work and dedication to rid them from your yard.

First, be sure to keep your yard clean. Whether the apples are hanging from the tree or rotting on the ground, they will attract apple maggot flies. By picking up fallen fruit, you’re cutting down on the chances of them devouring rotting fruit. 

Top tip: when you dispose of fallen apples, make sure you do so far away from your apple orchard. By keeping them for compost in your yard, you’re only giving apple maggot flies another reason to stick around.

Another tactic for repelling apple maggot flies is to spray Kaolin Clay on your trees. This is a very popular method employed by farmers. The clay makes the fruit an unappealing place for them to land because the clay clogs their systems.

Be careful when spraying: be sure to wear a mask or other protective gear to ensure this product is only getting on your trees!

Tortrix Moths Eat Apple Trees

If you were impressed that there are 5,000 species of aphids, then hold on to your hats! There are over 11,000 (wowza!) species of tortrix moths.

“Tortrix moth” is a mouthful but, chances are, you’re quite familiar with this insect. Tortrix moths are the ones that roll themselves in their own silk during their larval stage. This is when, as we best know them, they are caterpillars.

These insects will live in caterpillar form before ultimately revealing themselves as the tortrix moth. Understanding their caterpillar form is important to understanding why they’re commonly found in apple trees. Not only do they eat leaves, but they also use leaves to create their nests.

How to Repel Tortrix Moths from Your Apple Trees

Although their metamorphosis is mesmerizing, tortrix moths can be quite harmful to your apple trees. As we’ve seen in common literature and everyone’s favorite childhood book, caterpillars like to—quite literally—worm their way into apples, causing rot.

To keep tortrix moths out of your yard, first, be sure your yard is clean and clear. There’s no reason to keep fallen branches and leaves around where these caterpillars could spin their nests!

Another way to repel tortrix moths is to evaluate your leaves for rolled-up caterpillars. Dispose of these leaves quickly and you’ll be able to get a grasp on any small tortrix moth issue.

If those measures don’t work, consider bringing in outside help like Exterminators Choice Moth Traps. These sticky traps are nontoxic, pesticide-free, and employ quite interesting science to repel tortrix moths: each trap holds pheromones to attract the male moths, capturing them against their sticky surface upon making contact.

There are natural ways to repel moths as well! Like many pests, there are scents moths cannot stand, which you can read all about in our other piece!

Japanese Beetles Love Apple Trees

Japanese gold beetle

With its copper-colored body and green head, the Japanese beetle is a beautiful beast. However, it can be quite a nuisance in your yard and among your apple trees.

Unsurprisingly, the Japanese beetle is named after its home country, Japan. Within its country of origin, the Japanese beetle thrives in peace. However, some 100 years ago, the beetle made its way to North America—a country with no natural predators able to contain its population.

We know it in the US as an invasive species.

Since the early 1900s, the beetle has been spotted throughout the United States and has been difficult to keep under control. So what are some best practices for repelling the Japanese beetle?

How to Repel Japanese Beetles from Your Apple Trees

Repelling Japanese beetles is similar to how you would control other insects, as described earlier. Start employing these tactics early in the summer, around June and July.

First, clear out the leaves in your yard—which, perhaps, you should do anyway! At least your neighbors would appreciate it. Jokes aside, beetles love a good damaged leaf, so by controlling the amount of these littering your apple orchard, you’ll be controlling the Japanese beetle population.

Another common repellent is to use a fine mesh netting. Check out a flexible option like this Agfabric Garden Netting Insect Barrier Net. Most commonly, this type of protection is used to defend against birds. However, it can be just as effective in keeping beetles away from your trees.

Pro tip: if you’re planning on using netting as an insect barrier, make sure you only do so after the apples have appeared. Otherwise, you’ll be disturbing the pollination process as necessary bugs won’t be able to reach the plant.

You can even use marigolds to keep Japanese beetles away. Check out this step by step guide on just how to do that!

You can also view our full list of scents that Japanese beetles hate for some natural repelling options.

Scale Insects Snack On The Sap Of Apple Trees

Scale insects are very common. If you own apple trees, begin checking them early for these critters.

Scale insects are herbivores that nourish themselves on the sap of trees. Once they latch onto a tree, they’ll stay there. Just like aphids (their very close cousin!), the scale insect excretes a honeydew. This sweet excretion causes trees to rot and ants to come calling to protect them from predators.

To confirm you have scale insects on your trees, look for these signs. First, evaluate your trees for a dark mold on the trunk and branches, where scale insects have trailed their honeydew.

Next, look for small shell-like bodies covering the surface of your apple tree. This can look like discoloration as the bugs are small, but if you’re clear on what to look for, you’ll know they are scale insects.

How to Repel Scale Insects from Your Apple Trees

If your apple trees have a scale insect problem, there are a few ways to repel them.

First, try repelling scale insects with a soapy water mixture. This works effectively well with scale insects, as they are soft-bodied insects.

If that isn’t effective, use a horticulture oil spray like Monterey Horticultural Oil Concentrate. The process and outcome are like using a soapy water mixture: the oil clogs the scale insects’ systems.

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Eat Apple Trees

Brown marmorated stink bugs are considered an invasive species and are common pests in fruit orchards. And yes—they smell! When caught off guard, these bugs give off a foul odor as a defense mechanism. 

Unfortunately, brown marmorated stink bugs are becoming more and more of an issue in apple orchards. Specifically, in the Pacific Northwest.

Since stink bugs are fruit feeders, check your apples to evaluate whether you have a Brown Marmorated Stink Bug problem. They feed around the apple’s “shoulder.” If a stink bug grazes early in the season, the stink bug’s bites will cause the apple to take on a deformed shape, indentations, or dimples.

If a stink bug feeds late in the season, the damage will be harder to spot: the only obvious sign will be small trails of excrement on the skin of the fruit.

How to Repel Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs from Your Apple Trees

Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs are such an issue that the Agricultural Resource Service brought in a samurai wasp to try fighting stink bugs in crops. If you don’t have the same resources as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, do not despair! Check out these other tactics for how to repel the stink bug.

Ironically, stink bugs despise strong-smelling scents. This includes scents like peppermint, garlic, lemongrass, and rosemary. You can use this to your advantage in a multitude of ways: spray your trees with an essential oil mixture, keep strong-smelling plants next to your apple orchard, or hang bundles of rosemary from your apple tree’s branches.

While a soapy water mixture works better on soft-bodied insects, there are several sprays to defend your apple trees against stink bugs. Try Bonide Ready to Use Neem Oil, or a Pyrethrin Garden Insect Spray Mix.

The Neem oil acts similarly to using garlic or rosemary: the scent is powerful and will repel the smell-conscious stink bug.

Tarnished Plant Bug Eat Apple Trees

The Tarnished Plant bug, appropriately named as it can corrode many important plants, attacks lots of fruit- and vegetable-producing plants and your apple trees are no exception.

In fact, the University of Florida claims that tarnished plant bugs feast on over half of the cultivated plant species in the United States—now that’s a busy bug!

You may come across this critter by spotting a black, rotting-looking appearance on your tree’s leaves: this signals a tarnished plant bug has been sucking on the leaves.

What’s the best way to keep your trees safe from this tiny little monster? Read on to find out.  

How to Repel Tarnished Plant Bugs from Your Apple Trees

There are several ways to keep tarnished plant bugs away from your apple.

First, keep your weeds in check to deter tarnished plant bugs from laying eggs in these more hidden, secure places.

Tarnished plant bugs engage in “overwintering,” meaning they hide out in weeds and other garden debris to wait out winter before coming out of hiding in the spring.

Keeping your garden in check will minimize the nesting opportunities for the tarnished plant bugs during the winter months. 

Second, make sure you are growing your crops in strategic places: do your research into what plants deter tarnished plant bugs and base your garden or farm around that information.

For example, pollen plants attract tarnished plant bug predators. The more pollen-producing plants around your apple trees, the less likely it is that a tarnished plant bug will want to hang around for too long.

Additionally, a common practice is covering your plants with any netting that will keep tarnished plant bugs out. Go a step further by placing sticky traps around your orchard and apple trees to attract the common critter.

These non-poisonous, yet effective traps will help keep your tarnished plant bug problem at bay.

Leaf Blotch Miner Moths Love To Eat Apple Trees

Horse chestnut leaf miner close up details

One of the trickiest bugs that will eat your apple tree is the leaf miner moth. Although they may seem harmless, the damage they do to your apple tree leaves can inhibit the tree from experiencing photosynthesis.

Ultimately, this can and will affect the plant’s ability to grow.  

To spot a leaf miner moth problem, review your tree’s leaves. It will be hard to see the moth itself, but you will notice the evidence of its presence. The leaf miner moth leaves silver yellow trails on the leaves or colorless blotches in its wake. 

How to Repel Leaf Blotch Miner Moths from Your Apple Trees

The first tip to get rid of leaf blotch miner moths is to ensure you’re keeping a clean orchard (which may be your backyard!)

Remove weeds and debris from your yard. Ensure your plants are healthy so they’ll be more resistant against leaf blotch miner moth attacks on your leaves.

A more creative solution is to have a decoy garden.

A decoy garden contains plants that the leaf blotch miner moths will find more interesting than your apple trees. That way, your apple trees will thrive while the miner moths are elsewhere, smacking away on leaves far away from your apple trees.

Leaf miners have many natural predators, including wasps and lacewings. Research which predator would be best to help contain your leaf miner issue, and then look at your local nursery or online to purchase a pack to release in your yard.

Lastly, try a spray like Monterey Garden Insect Spray. This spray contains odorless bacteria to protect your trees from the leaf miner by attacking the larva.

Wrapping Up!

Although the bugs and insects listed above may not seem to do much damage at first, they can start to wreak havoc if left to their own devices. Be sure to stay on top of your apple orchard’s care by implementing the bug and insect strategies above.

You know what they say about apple trees: an inspection a day keeps the bugs at bay! 🙂 

References

Beckham, Clifford Myron, Walter Seneff Hough, and Clarence Howell Hill. “The biology and control of the spotted tentiform leaf miner on apple trees.” Technical Bulletin. Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station 114 (1950).

Leskey, Tracy C., and Anne L. Nielsen. “Impact of the invasive brown marmorated stink bug in North America and Europe: history, biology, ecology, and management.” Annu. Rev. Entomol 63 (2018): 599-618.

Shanovich, Hailey N., Arthur Vieira Ribeiro, and Robert L. Koch. “Seasonal abundance, defoliation, and parasitism of Japanese beetle (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) in two apple cultivars.” Journal of economic entomology 114.2 (2021): 811-817.

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