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Barbara Pleasant: Bagging Apples 

apple bagged with tulle
After thinning, I bagged perfect apples with tulle bonnets and plastic bags. The plastic proved much more effective than the tulle, and is a good way to grow apples without spraying.

September 12, 2012


To grow apples without spraying, many backyard apple growers and extension horticulturalists have seen good results bagging apples – enclosing immature apples in various types of bags to protect them from codling moths, fruit worms, and other summer insects. Bagging apples takes time, but so does following a chemical spray regimen. The spray schedule for commercially-grown apples in my region calls for at least ten sprays per season. Proper application procedures would require at least an hour per spray, so a few hours spent bagging apples can be a good investment of time. It is also the best way to grow apples without spraying.

Continuously dousing one’s food with toxic chemicals does not make good sense.


The apple bagging buzz began in the late 1990’s when Ric Bessin of the University of Kentucky resported on the use of apple bags, also known as Japanese fruit bags. The graph below summarizes the UKY 1995-1998 apple bagging studies.

Which Bags are Best?


It wasn’t long before resourceful home orchardists began experimenting with more easily accessible bags. In 2000, Quentin Fadness reported his encouraging work using white paper bags in the Home Orchard Society's newsletter. In the summer of 2003 of the Pome News, William Collins further validated the use of white paper bakery bags for protecting apples from pests. More recent coverage of the paper bag method can be found in the September 2011 issue of Vegetable Gardener Magazine.

Plastic sandwich bags with zip closures also have a proven track record for helping people grow apples without spraying. Three years of data from 20 home orchardists in Minnesota showed clear advantages to enclosing apples with zip-close sandwich bags, particularly preventing codling moth damage.

apple bagging to grow apples without spraying
Trying Tulle for Insect Protection


Hyped with hope that I could grow better apples without spraying, I installed about 20 plastic bags before deciding they were too ugly for my front yard apple trees. I decided to try making insect barrier bags from tulle, or wedding net, as a more attractive alternative to paper or plastic.

It was a good idea that looked great in action, but the apples didn't like them. At harvest, the tulle bags had successfully deterred most insects, but they also abraded the apple skins. Fruit color and size were both better in the apples bagged in plastic compared to those bagged with tulle. Midseason 'Enterprise' apples responded best to bagging.

bagging apples Enterprise

The three 'Enterprise' apples at left were enclosed in plastic bags, and the three on the right were enclosed with tulle bonnets. The plastic bags resulted in a high percentage of large, flawless apples.

And There's More

I bagged apples on three different trees, and found that the method is most valuable on our midseason tree, which always faces the most severe pest pressure. Our early and late apples did not benefit from bagging with plastic or tulle enough to make it worthwhile. In the future, I will bag the 'Enterprise' apples more aggressively but not bother with the early 'Williams Pride' or late 'Liberty', which naturally escape serious insect problems. In my area of Southwest Virginia, they are the easiest apples to grow without spraying.
Can Other Fruits Be Bagged?

Yes for grapes. In 1884, an article appeared in the Wisconsin Horticultural Society’s Newsletter extolling the virtues of placing  paper bags over bunches of grapes, soon after the fruit sets. Over 100 years later, paper remains the best material for bagging grapes, which are prone to rot when enclosed in plastic.

No for pears. Bagging may have a negative effect on pears, which are prettier and sweeter when grown without bags. (Compared to apples, pears typically have fewer problems with pests.)
Yes for peaches, but not early on. According to recent research from China, peaches benefit from being enclosed in orange paper bags (with 27% light transmission) during their ripening period, starting about 50 days after fruit set. Several backyard growers report success placing cotton drawstring bags over peaches and the branch that holds them.