Spray Them Or Lose Them

I am tired of being shocked. The air in San Diego is drier than I can remember in a very long while. Anytime I touch someone, I wince just a little as I prepare for a jolt and sparks to fly from my fingers. I am more than ready to welcome the coolness of our gentle winter and hope and pray that the rains our winters bring will be here sooner rather than later. While we have had temperatures in the 80's, 90's and even the low 100's until very recently, our fruit trees are beginning to drop their leaves.

I now offer you the single best bit of advice I can offer you regarding best practices and maintenance for your deciduous fruit trees. This includes apples, cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, all of their hybrids, as well as mulberries, any fruit tree that drops its leaves. As soon as the leaves all drop do the following:

1) Rake up and dispose of any leaves dropped from your trees. Don't leave them in place, they will carry disease and fungal spores that can infect your tree's new leaves next year. You can put them in your green bin for recycling, but don't try to compost them yourself.

2) Immediately, spray all surfaces of the tree with Daconil or Liqui-Cop, or other fixed copper dormant spray. These products are fungicidal and anti-bacterial. They will control brown rot, fireblight, bacterial leaf spot, other fungal and bacterial diseases, but most importantly will control peach leaf curl on peaches, nectarines, and nectaplums. I can not overemphasize how vital this is to your back yard orchard success. Don't procrastinate! As soon as the leaves drop, perform this task. There have been times for me, when life has become busy and the first application at first leaf fall ended up being the only treatment I made. Shame on me! But that's how life works. Get it done right away or it may not happen at all. Make three applications, one at first drop of leaves, another mid winter...say mid to late January, and the last at the end of the season just before the buds begin to swell. Peach leaf curl is hard to miss; it shows up as blistering on new leaves as they emerge. Peach leaf curl won't kill your tree in a season, but weakens the tree and will kill new bud growths if left unchecked, and if not treated over several seasons can weaken the tree enough to cause its decline or demise.

3) A week after you spray fungicide as described above, make an application of a horticultural oil spray on all wood surfaces of the tree. Make sure to flood crevices, fissures, overlaps, and every nook and cranny you see. This will kill overwintering insects, their larvae, but most importantly IT WILL KILL EGGS OF PESTS THAT WILL CAUSE SEVERE DESTRUCTION TO YOUR TREES NEXT SPRING AND SUMMER. Do not use Neem oil. In fact put away the darn Neem. In my opinion gardeners look at it as a cure all. It isn't. Don't treat any and every insect you see. Same goes for leaf diseases. There will never be perfection in your garden, don't expect to achieve it or even get anywhere near achieving it. Accept a little imperfection and let nature herself do most of the control for you. Use only horticultural oil or something like Volck oil, if you still have some sitting around. The use of an oil spray is the single best control available for prevention of various types of borers. Borers are the thing most likely to kill off your apricot, peach, nectarine, and plum trees, and being able to control them with such a benign product as horticultural oil is a boon to our trees and should be done by every fruit grower. Whenever I see borer damage, invariably the gardener has not sprayed. Borer damage manifests itself by tiny pin holes in your trees and balls of oozing sap.

4) Buy a tank sprayer, you need the volume it contains and the pressure produced by it to adequately treat your trees. I recently went to one of the box stores to buy Daconil or Liquid copper to use in a television shoot, and found those products only in ready to spray form and at a very high price-one quart for around $14.00. Not only is it impossible to thoroughly spray even a tiny tree with a trigger spray bottle, a quart isn't enough spray to do the job. I went to a chain nursery outlet and bought a quart of concentrate for about $20.00 which will provide enough spray to treat a yard full of trees. I am a very frugal man, I like to do things in as cost effective manner as possible. Buy the spray in bulk.

I want you to be a huge success as an urban farmer and orchardist. This very simple task of spraying your trees will go a very long way to making your trees very fruitful and healthy. Be about this task as soon as possible while we have a window of dry weather ahead. May you and your garden be exceedingly fruitful in the coming year. Happy Gardening!


  1. Do your dormant spraying recommendations apply only to deciduous fruit trees (nectarine, pomegranate in my case) or to citrus as well?

  2. Hi,
    Seriously, I've been growing these fruits in San Diego for 30 years, in Point Loma, and seeing clients growing these around the county, and I don't see the problems your speaking of at a severe degree, warranting the practices you're recommending.
    You seem to be a high detail person, probably very successful in your life endeavors.
    But, do consider the matter of 'overkill' in what you're presenting here.
    Leaves beneath the tree/bush, even of the Prunus group, is a good thing, and not to the detriment of high quality fruit production. Some leaf curl occurs, no big deal, it's a spring time phase.
    The most likely 'things' to cause a short life of ones fruit trees are improper planting and watering. 'Bugs and diseases' are not so likely to cause poor fruit production and quality performance, and a short life.


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