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I have a little backyard nursery which includes a few young grafted apple trees. Today I saw a bunch of ants gathering around the top of one of the baby apple trees, and green nodes seeming to pop out of the stem. At first I thought these might be ant eggs. I shooed the ants away but the little green things were harder to get off. Upon closer inspection, I think the green things are some sort of aphid but am not sure, but they're not ant eggs at all. Photos at end of post.

What course of action should I take to protect the apple tree (and other trees if applicable)?

When I thought they were ant eggs I considered pruning off the affected area, but hesitated since it's one of two main terminal shoots. Knowing it's not eggs, but rather creatures I can pluck off, pruning seems less appropriate. I've used a neem oil / water solution before with success against pests indoors, so I'm considering that option too. Lastly, I wonder if having so many trees close together matters? I've seen other nurseries put potted trees in groups by species so I figured it's fine, and I have a nice amount of diversity on the lawn and of potted trees on the pallets so I'd hope that'd help prevent any bad pest problems.


Some context and photos:

The apple trees are potted using fresh (from a bag) potting soil with wood chips on top. I keep them, and other potted young trees, on wood pallets in a small yard that gets partial sun or shade depending on location.

Affected shoot: affected shoot

Unaffected shoot: unaffected shoot

Affected tree: affected tree

A better shot of the affected shoot: A better shot of the affected shoot

A partially smooshed green aphid? with little black legs: partially smooshed creature

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    FWIW we had ants farming aphids on our 2 yo tree and I put "lithium grease" (used for mechanical applications, cars/bikes/pottery wheels) around the trunk above the height of the support stake, the ants can't cross the barrier. Within days the aphids were clearing up and the tree is growing new leaves too [Summertime in June, UK]; the ants gathered around the bottom of the tree, but have moved on. The grease has been on about 1 month. I've heard that washing with soap will remove the aphids; and my next step was going to be diatomaceous earth to kill the ants. – pbhj Jul 7 at 15:35
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Totally aphids, probably being cultivated, feed and protected by ants. I think that is so amazing. Anyhoo, the Neem should work and please spray at night. Not during the day, no matter what the label on your Neem purports. Hate to kill ants as well, but bees are our lifeline in this world! This is very temporary and not very detrimental to your plants.

I am thrilled you used potting soil for your potted plants. The bark mulch is useless. Because it is not decomposed it will be in the process of decomposition and will use an awful lot of nitrogen meant for your plants. And this bark mulch provides great housing for insects. Really.

I would also weed wack the weeds and grasses around and under those pallets. Also great housing for insects that might not be very good for your potted plants.

Have you fertilized at all? If not, please explain why. Plants that have the correct chemicals with which to do photosynthesis, proper soil, drainage and light will be able to defend themselves. Fertilizer is as important as water, drainage and light to plants. Absolutely. Delete just one of these factors and your plants will fail/die. That is how important fertilizer is. BUT, just a little too much or a little too little will kill your plants.

Remove all the gobbleygoop on top of your soil to include weeds and all bark. When you spray with NEEM please spray the top of your soil. Aphid eggs are certainly there as well as in all the weeds, debris and pallets. Not a big deal just needs vigilance. Aphids also carry viruses you don't want. I am seeing possible virus infection with the distorted leaves. Normal with aphid vectors. Again, healthy plants are able to survive disease and insects to a great degree.

Tell me what you've used for fertilizer, what your watering methodology has been and if there is a way to move this whole kit'nkaboodle to a more hygienic location...or maybe it is already there? Picture of environment. Did you use just soil in those pots? Have you done this before? Need a bit more information before being able to confidently tell you what to do. Especially with the fertilizer. And compost is no fertilizer, has to be accounted for but completely out of balance and organic. Used in pots it should be sterilized first. Raise the pot bottoms off the surface of those pallets with pieces of tile, rock to improve drainage. Spray with Neem correctly mixed according to the label, read carefully. I might give you a pop quiz! Grins! And only spray Neem at night when there is no chance that bees or beneficials are around.

  • I went the manual smooshing route this time. I also noticed there seems to have been a nearby ant nest in a pear tree pot, but the ants were anxiously moving out by the time I noticed, carrying their eggs out of the pear pot and off into the weeds near a fence. – cr0 Jun 9 '17 at 23:10
  • I've been going the very low maintenance route. I'm not looking to make this an intensive project. Just have the trees growing in a yard where they get partial sun and plenty of rain. I don't water and haven't fertilized yet as most of these got new pots and fresh (bagged) potting soil within the past few months. – cr0 Jun 9 '17 at 23:15
  • Does it say on the bags of soil that a balanced fertilizer was added to the soil? Soil nor compost, ever substitutes for a balanced fertilizer where you know the formulation and can keep track of what you've added. I am very glad you used potting soil and people have lost plants by using potting soil that had fertilizer added to it...and then added their own fertilizer or even compost. Plants have to have balanced fertilizer just as much as water and light and drainage. If plants are lacking chemicals (or nutrients) they are weakened and are more susceptible to disease and insect damage. – stormy Jun 9 '17 at 23:22
  • Shoot, and I have to add that any plant in a pot has to be watered by hand, never by rain. Serious. Are there roots growing through the drain holes and into the soil? It takes less energy to give your trees in pots the correct maintenance than it does to dump those pots and dead trees out and start over, grins. I am very glad you used potting soil, that is a very big deal. Check the weight of those pots. You'll be able to tell if any are in need of water. Balanced fertilizer is critical. The lowest, easiest, safest maintenance is Osmocote 14-14-14. Last those trees easily 4 to 6 mo's. – stormy Jun 9 '17 at 23:27
  • Did I also recommend getting rid of the bark mulch/chips off the top of the soil in those pots? Reduces nitrogen for sure and offers free 'condos' for insects, production of fungus. – stormy Jun 9 '17 at 23:30
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I will recommend some organic methods since I am not too familiar with chemicals you can spray on the apple tree. Depending on the amount of tree that is infected, you can try one ore more of the following:

  1. Spray the affected areas with high pressure water. That may get them away from the apple plant and go elsewhere.

  2. Get some lady bugs and they are pretty good at attacking the aphids, if you can manage to keep them around for an extended period of time.

Aphids typically attack plants that are over fertilized (with a lot of nitrogen) or you have experienced extended wet cool weather. You can't do much about the latter but for the former, you can back off on over fertilization, if that is an issue.

Here is a helpful video regarding Aphids

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UI_Bm0aTl0&list=PL3VEy0_tuFgSA596wd13Ka2UfA3Pw0S1s&index=1

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    I worry a bit about high pressure water spray, J. Lady bugs would be wonderful BUT people need to give their neighbors these packets of Lady bugs. Lady bugs are notorious for bugging out away from the place they awoke. Makes sense, huh! If there were these biological controls in place he wouldn't have this problem so now he needs to do the NEEM thing and try not to kill beneficials, like the ants and bees by spraying at night. Or kill your biological controls atst spraying the aphids. To keep lady bugs or predator insects around your garden you need to provide food for them or they die. – stormy Jun 7 '17 at 23:55
  • Why are you worried about water spray to remove aphids? – JStorage Jun 7 '17 at 23:58
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    Well, using pressure washers, I was able to take paint off siding that kind of thing. Using hoses and spraying via thumb is a different matter. But I think it would take pressure washer pressure to remove aphids. Neem works well for soft bodied insects. I hate the idea that it is used during the day. I hate the smell of this oh so 'organic' pesticide! I don't trust it at all as safe but is far better than any other 'safe' pesticide. Soap and water? Yeah yeah, manual smoosching, better but still hard on the plant physically. And then the eggs...and I love ants. Did you mean pressure? – stormy Jun 8 '17 at 0:10
  • I went the manual smooshing route this time. I also noticed there seems to have been a nearby ant nest in a pear tree pot, but the ants were anxiously moving out by the time I noticed, carrying their eggs out of the pear pot and off into the weeds near a fence. – cr0 Jun 10 '17 at 0:02
  • I've heard lacewing larvae are better than ladybirds, in particular the larvae can't fly yet so they stay on the plants you put them on! You can get them from Amazon in the UK too. – pbhj Jul 7 at 15:58
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I agree that they're aphids.

Considering the tree isn't large, I would just recommend showering it thoroughly with water (with a shower nozzle on a hose; it doesn't have to be high pressure) every two days or so, until they don't come back. That seems to eliminate aphids and whiteflies from plants, in my experience. Some people think it's because it knocks the insects off, but I'm not sure that's the real reason (since it still works even if I don't take care to spray the underside of every leaf). I tend to think they just don't like wet plants.

Your apples might need some fertilizer, minerals, and/or extra sun, too. Pests are more common when plants are weak.

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