Espalier emergency. Maybe you can help.

The best of times the worst of times.
Above are shots from today (left) and last April 28 (right). Left to right are the dwarf plum, dwarf apple and two dwarf pear trees. I've found three problems with my espaliers I haven't come across in its first five years. Maybe you can help me save my trees.

Somebunnies been munching on it.
Seen above. Wascally wabbits is my best guess. I'm land-locked urban, so my natural predators are squirrels, rabbits, birds, cats and the occasional kid. Kids don't chew fruit trees do they? The only solution I can think of of to acquire a taste for rarebit.

Aphids have taken over the plum tree!
This seems even more serious. We noticed the dwarf pear trees are budding nicely, but the apple & plum aren't faring as well. Upon closer inspection, the rough bark on the plum wasn't rough bark, but a coating of aphids. I've sprayed the majority off. I was even out there with a sponge wiping them off the parts of branches I can't get with the hose (my neighbors think I'm garden obsessive already, so wiping trees with a sponge might not have shocked them). I plan to do this every other day until I'm satisfied they're gone. I'll try soapy water. I'll even buy some aphid killer. What do you suggest?

What are these?
What are these big old crusty knotty things on my dwarf apple tree? They're rough, bulbous and plentiful, on the lower branches/trunk. Are they harmful? Will they grow more? Will they take over the tree? Are they a disease? Is it communicable? Can they read minds? What can I do to stop them?


  1. I think your last picture looks like it is some type of borer. Probably dogwood borer as they do go after dwarf apple trees. They can eventually kill your tree but there is spraying that you can do to see if it will go away. Do some research online...Best of Luck.

  2. I can only advise you about the critter damage, with which I have vast experience. Go get a couple of bottles of different brands of spray on critter repellent. Deer repellent will also repel rabbits. Spray on all accessible parts and spray new growth throughout the season, using a different brand each time. That should keep them away from it. I'm sorry about your troubles.

  3. When you find out, we'll all find out, and we can all learn from you. I waonder what the the "special" conditions made all this wonderful bugginess happen THIS year. :/

  4. Our plum was so infested with aphids the last few years we finally took it down. I couldn't get rid of them. I hope you're able to save yours because they look so nice the way you've trained them.

  5. Yikes. I have noticed more animal damage to some of my plants this spring as well, and I rarely have this problem. The repellant sprays will work though. Or you can mix up your own by blending hot peppers and water.

    Good luck with this. Can't regular power spraying deter the aphids?

  6. I'll offer my two bits. Bonide is an aphid killer made with botanicals. It smells horrid but it works. I found mine in a 12 oz. -ish plastic pump spray for about $5.00.

    In the third photo it looks like the green tape is strangling the tree. I would cut it out.

    My other suggestion would be to call or email your local Master Gardener Extension Service. They can be a great help in identifying the culprits and recommend the right treatment. It's free! (More money to spend on plants.)

    Good luck and let us know. It would be just criminal to lose those lovely trees you've obviously spent many hours on.

  7. I am much further south ('bout 350 miles)and I've seen critter damage this spring like I've never seen before. It was a difficult icy winter that lasted way longer than it should have and animals are eating everything. I use a combo of the following: Milorganite, Deer Scram, and Liquid Fence to repel critters.

    I'm in an urban/suburban environment--here's what I've seen--rabbits, chipmunks (really do a lot of damage), squirrels, deer (plentiful), fox, and a lone coyote. Add to that walked dogs that pee on boundary plants...

  8. Oh bummer, it was looking like such a cool idea! Fruit trees have such a host of issues, I'm afraid to grow them. I'm fighting a losing battle with aphids on my honeysuckle vine, I'll probably just give up and put in something they don't like so much. Spraying them with blasts from the hose is one thing that's recommended, but it hasn't worked for me. Releasing extra ladybugs into your garden is another, but they can fly away. Sprays are so troublesome, as they ususually have unintended effects (i.e. killing beneficials along with the nogoodniks.) For the critter damage, maybe you could try some kind of protective sheath on the lower area of the trunk (not binding, just keeping the bunnies at bay)? Or I read that coyote pee (no joke) can be used as a repellant. Not much help here, but I do send my sympathy and hope you solve these tricky issues!

  9. Vanillalotus,
    I'll do that research - thanks. borers don't sound friendly.

    Mr. McGregor's Daughter,
    Thanks for your concern. My small local garden center didn't have anything to repel deer - they're in an urban setting and don't have a market for any deer repellents. I'll check Home Depot this weekend, thanks.

    I have no idea what makes this a buggier year than others. Sometimes I wish I had a clean slate to work with – like your new yard!

    You win for having the most discouraging comment! I'm hoping it doesn't come down to plum termination. From past aphid experience, I know it's almost impossible to stop the buggers from coming back each year.

    We'll see how the power spraying works, with intermittent aphid-killing sprays. Hot peppers seems the way to go. Sounds like a good recipe - rabbit with peppers.

    I'm going to look for Bonide in a larger garden center this weekend. The green tape isn't strangling, in that the tree has grown around it and it's now incorporated into the tree. On the rest of the green ties that were tight, I did take them off if they were no longer serving a purpose. I'm going to hopefully see my favorite master gardener this weekend, Sally Cunningham, and I may take her these pictures to help figure out a good course of action. Thanks for your comments!

    I think the same of a long winter too. I'm hoping that with more to eat out there, the bunnies will have plenty more to eat than my fruit trees. I've not had chipmunk problems. But dogs, only in the front yard by the sidewalk - but I blame owners, not the dogs.

    My honey suckle vine I've had to cut in half the last two years because of aphids. It starts off fine, then mid summer the aphids suck the life out of it. I'm considering taking it out completely. Spray them off never gets the all off. Sprays, liberally applied tend to kill the leaves. I've considered ladybugs, but have not yet talked to anyone that's done that to find out its efficacy. And how do you get a coyote to stand still long enough to hold a cup under him while peeing?

  10. I'm sorry it came across as discouraging. I really didn't mean it that way, our plum had other issues as well. One thing that has helped other aphid infested areas was to release ladybugs onto the the trees. We used the ones we bought at a nursery near us.

  11. Good question. I have seen these too. As long as the tree grows ok, I would tend to think that it's some kind of burl (where the outer cambium reacts to stress). Not necessarily something to be worried about.

  12. I live in Colorado where gardening conditions are harsh. Borers and aphids are just a few of the problems we constantly battle. With an infestation that has taken this hard of a hold, I would skip the use of gentle organic options. (Its better than losing such a nice espaliered specimen.) I would use a Carbaryl Dust type insecticide, such as Sevin Dust. It should kill the aphids and borers. If all else fails, before ripping out those beauties go with a systemic insecticide granule. It makes the very tree itself poisonous to the bugs. Just make sure to throw out the fruit this year. We had an infestation of borers that killed hundreds of trees in my neighborhood and surrounding areas and mine were of the very few that made it. Good luck!


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