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10 Cherry Tree Pests and How To Prevent Them From Damaging Your Cherry Crop

Cherry trees are among the most rewarding fruit trees that you can grow in a home garden. These low-maintenance beauties are popular for their bountiful harvests and sprays of pink or white blossoms, which they display in the spring before bearing their fruit. For the most productive cherry yield, care needs to be taken to prevent cherry tree pests from damaging your crop.

A closeup of ripe cherries hanging on a tree branch.  Detecting early signs of and treating cherry tree pests is part of making sure you enjoy a healthy crop of cherries each year.
A healthy crop of cherries requires being vigilant about the threat of cherry tree pests.

There are two types of cherry fruit. Sweet cherries, which are great for eating raw, do best in bigger gardens. They cannot self-pollinate, so you will need to plant two or three trees to bear a harvest. Sour cherry trees are self-pollinating and don’t grow as big as sweet cherry trees, making them ideal for smaller spaces. Their fruit is usually used for cooking.

Read on to find out how to identify, treat, and prevent common cherry tree pests in order to protect your crop.

Cherry Slugs (Cherry Sawfly)

Closeup of cherry slug (cherry sawfly), a cherry tree pest.

Cherry slugs damage cherry trees by eating leaves down to the skeleton, resulting in unproductive plants and abnormal growth. Severe insect infestations will leave trees defoliated and lacking vigor. If left untreated this can be fatal, especially in younger trees.

Identification

As their name suggests, cherry slugs are small, green-black larvae with heads distinctly larger than their bodies that grow to a length of roughly one centimeter. In winter, they develop into pupae before emerging in April as small black wasp-like sawflies. Cherry slug populations are prevalent in August and September.

Treatment

If you notice cherry slugs, the first step to take is to hose off the leaves with water, removing as many of them as possible. After this, dust your tree with a powdery substance like chalk or wood ash to prevent a reinfestation.

Prevention

Diverse gardens which attract beneficial insects are a great deterrent of sawflies. Natural predators of sawflies will eat them before they get the chance to lay their eggs. Adding ash or lime to the soil around your trees can discourage pupae formation and reduce sawfly populations. 

Japanese Beetles

Closeup of a Japanese beetle, a cherry tree pest.

Japanese beetles are particularly destructive pests that attack and devour the flesh between the leaf veins of cherry tree leaves. In a short time they can cause widespread dropping of leaves, rendering the tree unable to bear fruit.

Identification

These small brown beetles have metallic green heads, bronze wings, and patches of white hair along the sides of their abdomens. They are just over a centimeter long and appear shiny in the sunlight. Lacy, holey leaves may indicate the presence of Japanese beetles.

Treatment

An labor-intensive, but effective way to get rid of beetles is to hand-remove them from your cherry tree and drop them into containers of soapy water. Alternatively, you can spray your trees with neem oil, which contains a chemical that prevents them from procreating.

Prevention

The best way to prevent Japanese beetle infestations is to eradicate their grubs in the soil before they mature. You can treat your lawn with beneficial nematodes or milky spore. Deterring beetles through companion planting can also be effective. Japanese beetles stay away from garlic, tansy, and rye, for example.

Black Cherry Aphids

Closeup of the underside of a leaf covered with black cherry aphids, a cherry tree pest.

A black cherry aphid population can cause significant damage to cherry trees by curling their leaves. They reduce the formation and growth of buds by consuming plant sap and stunting new growth. Aphids also deposit honeydew, a gummy substance that harms a tree’s overall health.

Identification

Black cherry aphids are tiny (around 2 millimeters), wingless, black pear-shaped pests usually found in groups huddled on leaves.

Treatment

Organic insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils can be effective for the black cherry aphid treatment. In mild cases, you can wipe the infected leaves of your cherry tree with diluted dish washing soap mixed with water. Introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs will also get rid of aphids.

Prevention

Studies have shown that overfertilizing cherry trees can attract aphids, as they enjoy high nitrogen levels in soil. Deterring ants can also curb the spread of aphids since ants are known to move aphids around. Placing sticky cards in strategic places on your cherry tree can alert you to early infestations, which can be treated with horticultural oil sprays.

Leaf Miners (Apple Leaf Mining Moths)

The larvae of leaf miners attack the undersides of leaves, creating mines that present as transparent at first but later turn brown and blotchy. This prevents trees from photosynthesizing, which stunts growth and reduces fruit yields.

Identification

Leaf miners are small, light-brown moths with dark bands on their wings. Their larvae appear almost translucent at first but become opaque with a greenish tinge as they grow older.

Treatment

The most effective way to get rid of leaf miners is to introduce beneficial insects to the environment. Where this is not possible, treat infected plants with pesticides. Time your treatment protocol for early spring to ensure you target both mature leaf miners and their larvae. 

Prevention

Leaf miners are less likely to attack healthy trees, so make sure you keep your cherries watered and properly fertilized. For added safety, floating row covers can be used to deter leaf miners from laying their eggs on your trees, while sticky traps can stop them in the act.

Spider Mites

Strawberry leaves with an infestation of red spider mites, also a cherry tree pest.
Red spider mite infestation on a strawberry plant.

Spider mites feed on the chlorophyll in cherry tree leaves, damaging leaf buds and causing leaf and fruit drop over time, reducing tree vigor. Spider mites are usually indicated by stippled or yellowing leaves and a silk-like webbing on new tree growth.

Identification

Spider mites are only about 1 millimeter long, so they are difficult to see unless a large population is present. They are usually red, black, yellow, or white and may appear as suspicious small spots that look like pepper grains. 

Treatment

The best treatment for a spider mite pest outbreak is introducing natural predators like lacewing, thrips, and ladybugs. Miticides will eradicate them but ensure you follow the application instructions closely. Treating infected trees with insecticidal oils can also be an effective measure.

Prevention

A simple preventative tactic for spider mites is to blast your trees with water spray, washing off larvae and mites. Then, treat your trees with neem oil. This should prevent them from reproducing and multiplying while eradicating existing infestations.

Pacific Flatheaded Borer

Closeup of a Pacific flatheaded borer beetle, a cherry tree pest.

Pacific flatheaded borers are a type of beetle hazardous to young cherry trees. They live, feed, and bore beneath the tree’s bark. Severe infestations may girdle the trunks and branches of trees and can prove fatal.

Identification

Adult beetles are close to 1 centimeter in length and are reddish-brown with light bronze spots on their wings. Their larvae are creamy-white or pale yellow and are roughly the same length. Cracks or depressions in the bark of a cherry tree trunk usually indicate borer beetle’s presence.

Treatment

Infected trees can be treated with pyrethrin-based sprays applied to the trunk and limbs. Make sure to treat your cherry trees during the egg-hatching season to get rid of as many new larvae as possible, as well as the existing adult borers.

Prevention

These sneaky beetles attack weak areas of plants — for example, cracks in bark or areas damaged by sun overexposure. You can protect young and vulnerable plants by shielding them from too much sun and maintaining rigorous health protocols.

Spotted Wing Drosophila

Closeup of a Spotted Wing Drosophila, a type of fruit fly cherry tree pest.

Considered relatively “new” invasive insects, the Spotted Wing Drosophila is a tiny fruit fly that feeds on cherries and other fruit. It poses a significant threat to cherry trees as it targets damaged, overripe fruit as well as undamaged, fresh fruit. 

Identification

These tiny pests are about 3 millimeters in length and have brown bodies and red eyes. Their name is derived from single dark spots on the wings of the male species. Larvae are pale and translucent, with black mouth hooks located at their front ends.

Treatment

To manage a Drosophila infestation, you can use an organic insecticide spray on your cherry trees, provided you follow application instructions carefully. Remove infected fruits.

Prevention

Consistently harvesting your ripe cherries will reduce the risk of Drosophila and fruit pests in general. Keep the area around the tree as clean as possible by removing decaying leaf matter and fallen fruit from the ground.

Cherry Thrips

Closeup of a species of thrip, a cherry tree pest.

Thrips damage cherry trees by feeding on the juice of their fruits and flowers. Infected areas first discolor and eventually die away. Female thrips lay eggs in developing fruit, which in turn develop into larvae.

Identification

Thrips are tiny, slender, pale, winged brown fruit pests that usually feed in large groups. Larvae are difficult to see with the naked eye and their translucent green color allow them to camouflage against foliage.

Treatment

To treat for thrips, start by pruning away injured or damaged parts of your tree. A mild insecticidal soap, neem oil, or a dormant oil spray can then be used for severe infestations.

Prevention

Cherry trees are pretty tolerant of thrip damage, especially if they are healthy. For this reason, an excellent way to deter thrips is to ensure a clean environment around your trees. Introducing beneficial insects to your garden will also eliminate thrips.

Fruit Tree Leaf Roller

Closeup of a fruit tree leafroller, a cherry tree pest.

Leaf rollers damage cherry trees by feeding on leaves and breeding in their fruit, hurting the plant and making the fruit rot.  

Identification

Leaf rollers are tan-colored moths with dark-brown stripes on their wings. Larvae are pale yellow fruit pests with black or brown heads, and darken as they move through their larval stage.  

Treatment

The easiest and most effective way to treat leaf rollers is to spray your trees with insecticidal oil. For more minor infestations, simply remove damaged leaves. If you only have one or two trees, you can hand-remove caterpillars and regularly check to ensure they haven’t returned.

Prevention

When it comes to preventing leaf rollers, inspect your plant frequently for any signs of infestations or curling leaves. If you notice signs of leaf damage, use insecticidal oil as a preventative measure.

Western Cherry Fruit Fly

Closeup of a Western Cherry Fruit Fly, a cherry tree pest.

This particularly difficult pest only attacks cherries. Larvae develop inside cherry fruit, and in severe cases, can infect and debilitate entire trees for the whole of the fruiting season. This has dire consequences for fruit production.

Identification

A cherry fruit fly larva is a legless white maggot with a blunt rear that grows to about 8 millimeters in length. Adult flies have black bodies with white stripes on their abdomens.

Treatment

The best treatment against fruit flies is using an organic insecticide and introducing beneficial insects. Sticky traps are a popular way of dealing with these pests.

Prevention

To deter fruit flies, keep the tree’s immediate area clean and neat by removing damaged cherries and plant debris. Harvest fruit regularly and keep an eye on your trees for any sign of distress.

Final Thoughts On Cherry Tree Pests

Insect pests can present a serious threat to fruit trees, but if you know how to identify them early, you can deal with them before significant damage occurs. The main culprits are usually easy to identify when you know the signs. While this list could discourage you from adding cherry trees to your own garden, we hope this article has also shown that cherry tree pests can be fairly easy to treat and prevent when detected early.

Comment below and let us know your thoughts and experiences with common cherry tree pests.

Wondering about diseases that may affect your cherry trees? Visit our blog post to read about the most common cherry tree diseases and how to treat and prevent them.