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Backyard Cherries without the Cherry Maggots

Before planting a backyard cherry tree, homeowners should consider the challenge of pest management, especially management of the western cherry fruit fly (WCFF).

Fruit infested with the cherry fruit fly larvae, known as maggots, may have a dimpled appearance, but the maggots can still be difficult to detect when examining the surface of the fruit. However, as the maggots mature, they break the surface of the cherry and open a hole in order to breathe and exit the fruit.

cherry maggot
Sweet cherry infested with cherry maggot.  Photo by Mike Bush, WSU Extension.

There are relatively few proven strategies that homeowners can use to manage this pest. The primary non-chemical strategy to manage WCFF is to pick off every cherry from the tree at harvest. WCFF management will be considerably easier for homeowners who plant fruit trees grafted to dwarfing rootstocks. For a list of pesticides (including organic products), homeowners can access the WSU Hortsense website at .

Pruned cherry
Backyard sweet cherry skillfully and properly trained/pruned to a 10-foot height.  Photo by Fred Staloch, WSU Master Gardener volunteer.

For more information on organic management of tree fruit pests see the WSU Extension manual FS125E- The Western Cherry Fruit Fly and Your Backyard Cherry Tree by Michael Bush and Marianne Ophardt on-line at

Submitted by: Mike Bush, February 9, 2015

The Correct Way to Use Pruning Tools

Using the right pruning tool for the job and using it correctly is safer for the gardener and produces cleaner cuts on the plant. When using cutting tools, it is important not to twist or strain the blades.

Do not cut with the tip of the blade; instead, set the branch to be cut as deep in the jaws of the pruners as possible to make a clean cut. If only a portion of the blade is used to make a cut (such as the tip), it may result in an incomplete cut.

If there is any strain while trying to make a cut with a sharp blade, switch to a larger tool. Trying to cut a large a branch with a tool that is too small may result in a jagged wound that damages the plant and may ruin the tool. Poor quality cuts may also result from twisting, pulling, or turning the tool while cutting. Use sharp scissors or a pruning knife to trim any tears or rough edges that result from a poor cut.

Incorrect    Correct

Incorrect:  branch too large for tool                             Correct:  Tool correct size for cut

For more information on pruning tools, go to Pruning Equipment for Home Gardeners.

Submitted by: Tim Kohlhauff, February 2, 2015


Selecting Pruning Tools

Selecting and using the correct equipment to prune trees and shrubs makes the pruning job quicker, easier, and safer for home gardeners, and results in less damage to plants.  Before beginning a pruning task, determine the goal (such as improving structure, removing dead branches, and the like) and select  the right tool for the job.

There are many types and sizes of pruning tools available to home gardeners. Manufacturers produce such specialty pruning tools as left-handed models, pruners made for smaller hands, and tools with ergonomic handles. Before purchasing any tool, make sure it feels comfortable to operate, and invest in one that fits, rather than settling for something that may cause blisters and muscle strain. Gardeners with limited strength should look for tools made of lightweight material for easier use.

Reducing Fire Risk on Your Woodland

Thin your woodland. Many forests in eastern Washington are overcrowded. Growing too close together makes trees more vulnerable to crown fires. When the crowns of adjoining trees touch or are so close together they form a contiguous fuel ladder, fire can spread quickly through the canopy. Thinning your woodlands can be very effective in reducing fire risk, especially when combined with the removal of ladder fuels such as brush, pruning lower tree limbs, and removing slash left over from a timber harvest. However, thinning should be done only between August and December to avoid creating habitat for bark beetles.

Remove ladder fuels. In unthinned forest stands there are often many little trees in the understory. These small trees act as a “ladder” for fire and help carry it up into the crowns of bigger trees. Once a fire travels into the crown, tree death almost always occurs. These ladder fuels should be removed through thinning.

Prune trees. Tree branches that hang low to the ground are another kind of ladder fuel. Pruning the lower branches of trees can reduce the possibility of fire while improving aesthetics and timber quality. Increasing the distance between the ground and the lowest branches reduces the likelihood that a fire will move from the ground into the crown of a tree; a 10-foot “lift” is generally recommended for reducing this risk.

Treat slash. Slash is created after many forest management activities, such as pruning and thinning. Left on the ground, slash can increase the risk and spread of wildfire. Treating slash usually involves burning in piles or chipping. Many landfills offer designated days when yard debris can be disposed of for little or no cost. If you choose to burn, check local regulations regarding permit requirements and “burn ban” restrictions.

Valley fire

Valley Fire (Photo courtesy of Janean Creighton)

For more information on go to Backyard Forest Stewardship in Eastern Washington.

Submitted by: Tim Kohlhauff, September 15, 2014


Recognizing Sapsucker Damage to Your Trees

Sapsuckers, a species of woodpecker, are a common cause of tree damage in yards and small woodlands. This damage is easy to identify. Sapsuckers peck holes in the bark of the tree that are approximately 1/4 inch in diameter and are drilled in horizontal and vertical rows. There are usually many holes close together.

Sapsucker damage

Sapsucker damage

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Sapsuckers will feed on both hardwoods and conifers. They prefer foraging on trees with thin bark, such as birch. Older conifers with thick and ridged bark are not as susceptible to sapsucker-caused damage. If the damage is limited and minor, the tree will recover.

The most commonly recommended damage control method is to wrap burlap around the affected area to discourage sapsuckers from returning. Liquid spray repellents applied to the tree bark can also be used as well as hanging bright, shiny objects such as pie tins, streamers, or beach balls on the tree as scare devices. These techniques may or may not be effective, and they may just shift the bird’s focus to another part of the tree or to a neighboring tree.

For more information on sapsucker damage to trees, go to

Submitted by: Dave Pehling, March 17 2014


Gardening in Washington State, Puyallup Research and Extension Center

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