Organic Home Orchard Spraying Tips

Renowned organic tree fruit grower and author Michael Phillips recommends a “holistic” spray regimen (now sold as our Holistic Orchard Spray Kit) to help prevent disease and enhance both tree & fruit growth.

For a detailed discussion of these ingredients and how they work together to serve your fruit trees, see Phillips’ book The Holistic Orchard. Fedco also highly recommends his first book, The Apple Grower.

  • Fish Hydrolysate: Feeds soil and arboreal food web.
  • Neem Oil: Contains Azadirachtin compounds that deter pests and disrupt their life cycles. Neem also stimulates trees’ immune systems, gives nutrients to foliage and feeds the arboreal food web. Also used to manage apple borers. Caution: pears are sensitive and can have a phytotoxic response to neem; sub with karanja oil if spraying pears.
  • Karanja Oil: Enhances immune-boosting phytochemistry of the spray mix, deters foliar-feeding pests (such as aphids), without affecting pollinators. Works synergistically with neem.
  • Kelp-It Liquid Concentrate: Promotes growth, helps trees adapt to stress, improves fruit quality and shelf life.
  • EM-1: “EM” stands for “effective microbes.” A probiotic inoculant that colonizes the branches and fruit with beneficial microbes to promote fruit growth and disease resistance. To have enough for all the sprays, you’ll want to do a “brew” using the mother culture EM-1. Assuming you spray ~10 gallons of the Holistic Spray Recipe per spray day, and you spray EM-1 five times in the spring and once in the fall, you’ll need to brew 5 quarts of activated EM-1 for the spring, and 1 quart for the fall (don’t brew all 6 quarts at once, as the brew lasts only 45-60 days).
    Recipe for 5 quarts of activated EM-1: Mix 1 cup EM-1 and 1 cup blackstrap molasses with 4½ quarts warm water (110°). Put into airtight soda bottle(s) or brewing container with an airlock. Ferment at room temperature for 3-5 days. (If you use an airtight bottle, unscrew the lid daily to release pressure buildup.) Let the activated EM-1 rest for 5-7 more days. By then it should smell slightly alcoholic. Use within 45 days.
    For 1 quart of activated EM-1: Mix 1½ fl oz EM-1 and 1½ fl oz blackstrap molasses with 3½ cups warm water (110°). Follow same steps as above.

Note on Organic Molasses: Organic molasses tends to have some type of pH buffer in it, which sometimes prevents the fermentation process. You can add in an equal amount of vinegar (apple cider, wine, etc.) to the molasses to help break the pH buffer.

Michael Phillips’ Holistic Spray Recipe

Makes a 4-gallon ready-to-spray batch. Mix in a 5-gallon bucket in this order:

  • ⅓ cup Neem Oil—warm up to liquefy. Omit if spraying pears; see note above.
  • 2 tablespoons Karanja oil (or 3/8 cup Karanja if you're spraying pears and thus omitting neem)
  • 1 teaspoon biodegradable liquid dish soap—stir to emulsify the oils.
  • 1 quart warm water (around body temperature)—stir again
  • optional: ¼ cup blackstrap molasses to stimulate beneficial microbes and increase Brix in fruit.
  • 1¼ cups Fish Hydrolysate—stir again
  • ¼ cup Kelp-It Liquid Concentrate
  • 1¼ cups activated EM-1 (see recipe above)
  • Add water (lukewarm is best) until you reach the 4 gallon mark, then stir one last time.

Suggested Spray Program

Coat trees—including the trunks—to the point of runoff, about 1½ gallons per mature fruit tree. We recommend using the Solo Deluxe 4-Gallon Sprayer. Agitate tank periodically to keep the solution mixed well. Treat this suggested schedule as a starting point; every site is different and requires a custom program. For example, trees with cedar apple rust or brown rot issues may need additional sprays for effective management, though the Holistic Orchard Spray Kit contains quantities for 5-6 spray dates only, assuming ~7 mature trees on standard rootstock. Remember to flush sprayer lines after each spray!.

  • SPRAY #1 When green leaf tips emerge: Fish, neem, karanja, EM-1 and kelp. Fish, neem, and karanja rates can be doubled for this first spray, but do not double neem rate on pears.
  • SPRAY #2 When buds turn pink: Fish, neem, karanja, EM-1 and kelp.
  • SPRAY #2b (optional) When blossoms open: ONLY EM-1, kelp, and half-rate karanja. To help prevent apple scab and fire blight, increase Brix, and attract pollinators.
  • SPRAY #3 When petals fall: Fish, neem, karanja, EM-1 and kelp.
  • SPRAY #4 7-10 days after petals fall: Fish, neem, karanja, EM-1 and kelp.
  • SPRAY #5 Post-harvest, after about half the leaves have fallen: Fish, neem, karanja, and EM-1. Spray trees as usual, but also aim at the ground to hasten leaf decomposition.

Other Organic products carried by Fedco that can help manage some of the worst fruit pests in New England [manufacturer’s recommended usage rates per gallon of water shown in brackets]:

Surround WP (kaolin clay) [½#/gallon]. Primarily for Plum Curculio, but acts as a secondary defense against other pests. “Do as you oughter: add Surround to water.” Warm water helps Surround go into solution. Allow powder to sink entirely before stirring. Spray solution immediately, do not store in sprayer or it will clog. While spraying, agitate frequently to keep clay in solution.
Monterey Garden Spray (0.5% Spinosad) [1-2 fl oz/gallon]. OR Entrust for commercial orchards [6 fl oz per acre]. Spinosad is used primarily for European Apple Sawfly and Apple Maggot Fly; will also kill moth larvae, but better to use Bt if targeting exclusively moth larvae. Spray while bees are not foraging—right at sunrise or right before sunset because Spinosad is toxic to bees, but only when spray is wet.
Safer Caterpillar Killer (Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt) [1-4 teaspoons/gallon]. OR Dipel DF for larger applications [¼ lb/25 gallons]. Primarily for Codling Moth and Obliquebanded Leafrollers. Add 1½ teaspoons molasses per gallon to act as a feeding attractant. Bt degrades fast (in 3-4 days), requiring more repeat applications.
MilStop (potassium bicarbonate) [1-2 Tablespoons/gallon]. Primarily for Sooty Blotch and Flyspeck, which leave black marks on fruit, though neither affect fruit flavor, texture, or storability. Do not expose to potassium bicorbonate to moisture/humidity in storage, or it will turn rock-hard!
ThermX 70 (sticker-spreader, 70% yucca solids) [½ teaspoon/gallon]. Can be used with any of the above products (except for Surround WP) to help the spray better adhere and spread evenly on fruit and foliage. Add as the last ingredient to any tank mix because it foams a lot.

Helpful Resources for Tree-fruit Growers

  1. Holistic Orchard Network (Michael Phillips); click here for his recommended seasonal checklist.
  2. University of Maine
  3. Cornell University
  4. University of Vermont
  5. Pest management journal from a Zone 5a orchard