Spray Schedule for Home Apple Trees

Growing high-quality apples in the home garden is possible but requires significant inputs. Apples have several serious disease and insect pests that can significantly lower the quantity and quality of the apple harvest in the fall. Managing these disease and insect pests is important, and many of the most effective management steps occur in spring, well before the apples form and ripen.

Overall Approach | Spray Schedule | Organic Options | Home Orchard Sprays  |  Nonorganic Options | More Information

An Integrated Approachred apples on the apple tree

There are many approaches a home gardener can take to address the issues that can affect apple trees. Relying on one alone will not yield high-quality results. An integrated approach that utilizes multiple strategies to address common insect and disease issues will produce the best results. 

Good Care & Management

An integrated approach that starts with good care and management is important. Good sanitation and clean-up of fallen fruit and leaves help eliminate potential inoculum and overwintering eggs and larva that could infect trees the following year. Reduce weeds surrounding trees to eliminate pest breeding, feeding, and overwintering sites. 

Good pruning removes diseased wood and promotes airflow through the canopy, which reduces disease-causing organisms from building in population.  

Good care and selection by planting disease-resistant cultivars, mulching the base of trees, planting in appropriate soil conditions (moist, well-drained), and watering trees during dry periods, particularly when they are young, all help produce high-quality apples.


Sticky traps are available from garden catalogs and stores. Insects are attracted to these devices and trapped, making them helpful in monitoring a pest insect's presence and population size. Traps are also occasionally used with the hope of eliminating the insect before they have a chance to damage the apples. Some traps, such as those for codling moths, are sticky cards inside small tents and often include a pheromone lure. Other traps, such as those for apple maggot flies, are red spheres or yellow cards utilizing the color and shape to lure the pest. 

Traps are more effective for monitoring pest population size rather than controlling the pest population and they are best used to determine if and when a spray is needed. For apple maggot, research has indicated that the high number of 1 trap for every 100 fruits on the tree may provide satisfactory levels of control.

Spray Schedule for Apples

Good culture practices and sanitation may not be enough, and apple trees often need to be sprayed to prevent common insect pests like apple maggot and coddling moth and common diseases like apple scab, powdery mildew, cedar apple rust, and fire blight.

Applying the Spray

Whenever sprays are applied, it is important to follow label directions. The most effective control comes from applying the product as directed. Nearly all spray treatments will require multiple applications spaced throughout the growing season. The interval between spray applications should be strictly followed. 

When applying the spray, utilize a pump sprayer and thoroughly cover all the foliage and branches. Never mix more spray material than needed for that application and always store chemicals in their original containers.

When applying the spray, wear appropriate personal protective equipment as outlined on the label. This usually includes long sleeves and pants, goggles, and chemical-resistant gloves. Always apply chemicals when winds are calm (less than 10 mph), temperatures are cool but above freezing, and no rain is forecasted for at least six hours. More details on appropriate weather conditions for specific chemicals are listed on the product's label.

Timing of the Spray & Developmental Stages

The timing of the application is important as many insect pests are more susceptible to sprays at certain points in their life cycle, and most diseases are best controlled preventively before the symptoms are observed. Often the product label will direct the home gardener to spray at certain developmental stages in the tree’s annual growth cycle. The precise time of year these stages are observed will vary year to year by location, climate, and weather conditions. 

Developmental Stages of Apple

Below are the key developmental stages to know and what those stages look like on an apple tree.

 StageWhat it Looks LikeInsects & Diseases Often Controlled at this Stage
dormant budDormantBuds are small and tight, no signs of growthscale, aphids, spider mites
silver tipSilver TipBuds swell and turn fuzzy silver from emerging leavesaphids, scale, mites, apple scab
green tipGreen TipGreen leaves begin to emerge from the tips of budsapple scab
half inch greenHalf-inch Green (Mouse Ears)One half-inch of leaves are visible, folding backward as they emerge, resembling small mouse earsapple scab
tight clusterTight ClusterYoung apple leaves have emerged and are folded backward, revealing a tight flower clusterapple scab, powdery mildew
pink budPink BudFlower buds have grown to reveal pink petal color but still not openapple scab, powdery mildew, plum curculio, apple sawfly
king bloomFirst (King) BloomThe center (or king) bloom opens first, before the buds that surround itapple scab, powdery mildew
full bloomFull Bloom At least 80% of the flowers are openapple scab, powdery mildew, cedar apple rust
 Petal FallPetals are raining down from trees, carpeting the groundapple scab, powdery mildew, cedar apple rust, plum curculio, apple sawfly
 Fruit SetYoung fruit is visibleapple scab, powdery mildew, plum curculio, apple sawfly

Photos by Suzanne Slack

Protecting Pollinators

Most insecticides are toxic to all insects, including important pollinators like bees. Insecticides, both organic and synthetic, applied while bees are active (such as during full bloom) can negatively impact these beneficial insects. 

Avoid spraying plants when pollinators are visiting the tree. Use systemic insecticides with caution as the insecticide may be present in the pollen and nectar of the trees if growing in a treated area. The “Environmental Hazards” section of the insecticide label will outline the important precautions that should be taken when bees and other beneficial insects are present.

Organic Spray Schedule for Apple

This approach utilizes organic sprays to help control the most significant insect and disease issues, including apple maggot, codling moth, apple scab, and powdery mildew. It is one example of an approach that can be used. Additional control strategies may be needed. Always follow label directions on any chemical spray, even if it differs from what is listed below.

DormantDormant oil for scale and overwintering eggs of aphids and mites, control of some diseases
Silver TipCopper for fire blight
Green TipSulfur (must be three or more weeks from dormant oil) for disease prevention; insecticidal soap or neem oil for aphids and mites (if a problem)
Pink BudSulfur spray (not lime sulfur) for disease prevention; neem oil for aphids (if a problem); Bt or spinosad for pest caterpillars (do not mix with sulfur spray; apply separately)
First BloomDo not use other insecticides at this time to avoid harm to beneficial pollinators such as bees
Petal FallRepeat sulfur and Bt or spinosad and again 7-10 days later, if needed, or begin kaolin clay sprays for insect pest control
Fruit Set & Throughout SummerStarting at this stage spray sulfur spray or potassium bicarbonate every 7-14 days when signs of disease are observed, stop 30 days before expected harvest; spray pyrethrum, spinosad, insecticidal soap, or neem when any insect pests are observed on the same schedule

*Adapted from the Sample Organic Spray Schedule for Apples. Hill, Lewis and Leonard Perry. The Fruit Gardener’s Bible. 2011. Storey Publishing, North Adams, MA. Page 134.

Home Orchard Sprays

For many home gardeners, a home orchard spray is the most straightforward management option. They are often the best place to start when you are looking to start a pest and disease management plan.  These mixtures typically contain one or more insecticides, such as carbaryl, permethrin, or malathion, and one or more fungicides, typically captan or sulfur. They are formulated to control common apple pest insects and diseases such as apple maggot, coddling moth, apple scab, powdery mildew, and cedar apple rust. Always check the label to be sure they are safe to use on apples and control the insect or disease issues you have the most problems with. 

Read the entire label and follow the spray schedule outlined on the label.  For the best control, it is important to follow the directions closely.  Always apply the spray at the correct rate. A higher rate does not mean it will work faster or kill more pests.  Timing of the spray throughout the entire growing season is also critical.  Because the home orchard spray contains multiple active ingredients, if applied at the wrong time, it could cause problems for beneficial insects or pollinators.  

Home orchard sprays greatly simplify the spraying process, but they have a few limitations.  They can lead to applying a specific pesticide that is part of the mix at a time when it has no benefit to the crop. The result is that these pesticides needlessly applied and wasted.  Always read the label carefully and thoroughly, and be sure to apply the home orchard spray when bees are not active, such as before or after the bloom period or at dawn or dusk when they are less active.

Nonorganic Spray Schedule for Apple

If you choose not to use a home orchard spray, then pesticides will have to be purchased and applied separately in accordance with each product's label.
The spray schedule below utilizes “conventional” nonorganic pesticides to help control most insect and disease issues. It is one example of an approach that can be used. Additional control strategies may be needed. Always follow label directions on any chemical spray, even if it differs from what is listed below.

DormantDormant oil for scale and overwintering eggs of aphids, mites; control of some diseases
Green TipMancozeb for rust (must be three or more weeks from dormant oil)
Tight ClusterCaptan or mancozeb for scab and rust
Pink BudCaptan or mancozeb for scab; malathion for sawfly;  Bt for pest caterpillars
First BloomCaptan or mancozeb for scab (do not use other insecticides at this time to avoid harm to beneficial pollinators such as bees)
Petal FallCaptan or mancozeb for scab; carbaryl, malathion, or indoxacarb for plum curculio
Fruit SetCarbaryl, malathion, or indoxacarb for plum curculio
Throughout SummerStarting at fruit set, spray captan or sulfur every 10-14 days for scab, stop 30 days before expected harvest; spray carbaryl, malathion, indoxacarb, acetamiprid, or spinetoram for apple maggot and codling moth on the same schedule

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Last reviewed:
April 2024