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Don’t let the Western cherry fruit fly ruin a sweet treat

It is often said in my house that “the only thing better than owning a boat is having a friend who owns a boat.”

Well, really, I am the only one who says that. The kids don’t. They love the idea of owning a boat, taking it down to Navajo Reservoir every weekend in the summer and fall, dad pulling them and their friends around. “Literally, it would be the best thing ever!”

They do not realize that boats are expensive, you need a trailer, you need to pay for fuel and you need a weekend that is not already consumed by one of their activities. In other parts of the country, this may be “friends with swimming pools” or “friends with a cabin.” I also like the “friends with power tools,” but the kids don’t care about that one.

In the world of horticulture, I also tend to gravitate to “friends with fruit trees,” as we do not have any fruit trees on our lot here in Durango. I love fruit trees. However, I have come to the conclusion that there are so many trees laden with fruit every year that goes unused, we might as well make use of that instead of growing our own.

We also seem to have the town-deer expressway, which is frequently driven on by bears through our neighborhood, so I don’t want to create any exit ramps leading into my yard.

A couple of years ago, my mom and I went to pick sweet cherries in the Animas Valley. It was a bumper crop, and I am thinking that for every five cherries I picked, one was eaten while on the ladder. It was glorious, and I was superexcited to share the bounty with the family.

When I pulled the cherries out of the fridge a day later, my family was not happy. For a moment, I thought I would be sleeping in the pop-up in the driveway. Crawling around the Tupperware were hundreds (potentially a million, not sure) of small worm-like creatures.

Come to find out, we had picked cherries that were infested with the Western cherry fruit fly, a relatively common pest here in Southwest Colorado. Adults emerge from the soil, where they spend the winter and spring pupating from the larval stage, in late May and into June, and within five to seven days, the females are sexually mature. After mating, the females seek out cherries that are at the blush stage (starting to turn color – green fruit are not attacked) and deposit their eggs under the skin of the fruit.

Those eggs hatch in five to eight days and form the larval stage, which is the worm-like creature we saw in the Tupperware (it is actually a maggot, but larvae sounds a little less gross). In their ideal world, they exit from the fruit, drop to the ground, burrow into the soil, and start the life cycle over again.

Some management tools that can help control the populations are ground covers and mulches. Vegetation such as grass or clover can impede the larvae from reaching the soil. Landscape fabric would do the same and wood chips or bark mulch has shown to have some success as well.

You can also use a combination of temperature calculations, often referred to as the degree-day model, in conjunction with sticky traps placed in the trees to determine when you can try to control the insect using insecticides, either organic or nonorganic.

Be on the lookout for a Get Growing article next week in The Durango Herald about the degree-day model.

Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at darrin.parmenter@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464.