Plum moth

It is never pleasant to bite into a ripe juicy plum only to find it has a maggot (caterpillar) feeding inside.

Plum moth

Quick facts

Common name Plum moth
Scientific name Grapholita (Cydia) funebrana
Plants affected Plums, damsons and gages
Main symptoms Pinkish white caterpillar and excrement pellets inside ripe fruits
Most active June to September

What is plum moth?

Plum moth has caterpillars that feed inside the ripening fruits of plums, damsons and gages. Affected fruits are unfit to eat.

Symptoms

Indications of a plum moth infestation include;

  • Infested fruits usually ripen early and are often slightly misshapen. This should not be confused with pocket plum, a fungal disease affecting plum fruits 
  • The caterpillar inside the fruit is up to 12mm long and is pale pink with a brown head
  • There will be many light brown excrement pellets near the plum stone where the caterpillar has been feeding
  • Infested fruits tend to ripen first, fruits that ripen later on the tree often have a much lower infestation rate

A resinous gum around the stone is a physiological disorder and should not be confused with plum moth damage.

Plum sawfly

Plum sawfly is a less frequent problem on plums than plum moth. The larvae tunnel into three or four fruitlets before going into the soil to pupate. Unlike plum moth whose caterpillar develop in the mature fruit, fruitlets damaged by plum sawfly fall from the tree at an early stage in June.

The plum cultivars ‘Czar’ and ‘Victoria’ seem to be more susceptible than others to plum sawfly.

Control

Pheromone traps

  • Pheromone traps for plum moth are available from garden shops or from mail order suppliers of pest controls or biological pest controls. These consist of an open-sided box that is hung in the tree in early May. The bottom of the box has a sticky sheet on which the pheromone pellet is placed. The pheromone is synthetic copy of a volatile compound produced by female codling moths to attracts mates. Male plum moths are lured into the trap and get stuck
  • Pheromone traps alone rarely control plum moths, but on isolated trees may catch enough males to reduce the females' mating success, resulting in fewer fertile eggs being laid
  • Pheromone traps can be used to more accurately time pesticide sprays against this pest 
  • By counting the trapped males every week and following the instructions that come with the trap, the best time to spray can be calculated

Chemical control

  • Plum moth caterpillars can only be controlled with insecticides before they enter the fruits
  • Timing of spray can be more accurately determined by the use of a pheromone trap (see above)
  • On trees small enough to be sprayed, the newly-hatched caterpillars can be killed by using deltamethrin (e.g. Bayer Sprayday Greenfly Killer) or lambda-cyhalothrin (e.g. Westland Resolva Bug Killer). Use one of these sprays in about mid-June but in some years, egg hatching may be earlier or later, due to the weather conditions
  • These sprays will also give some control of plum sawfly if applied just after petal fall
  • Manufactures instructions for pesticides on maximum dose, number of applications and harvest interval must be followed for food crops
  • Do not spray trees in flower due to the danger to pollinating insects

Download

Pesticides for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining pesticides available to gardeners)

Biology

Plum moth usually has one generation a year with adult moths emerging from late May onwards, but mostly in mid-June to mid-July. The newly hatched caterpillars tunnel into the fruits and feed around the stone until late summer. When fully fed, they emerge and overwinter inside silk cocoons spun under loose bark or other concealed places.

In warm summers, some caterpillars may pupate early and produce a second generation in late summer.

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  • anonymous avatar

    By anonymous on 03/09/2014

    I have a similar problem in that I have the caterpillar in half the fruits and the leaves are yellowing and have holes in them and many of the fruits have shrivelled on the tree. I used a grease band in autumn and the trap in spring... what do I do to prevent it happening again next year? Meg 3/9/14


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  • Seggiebarb avatar

    By Seggiebarb on 21/07/2014

    Hi my Victoria plums have two problems this year, at least, I think it's two problems. 1) the Green ones (not yet ripe) have a sticky glue patch on them and I think there may be something inside the patch that is burrowing into the plum. 2) some of the plums have shrivelled and gone black but also have slightly raised creamy coloured "blobs" on them. I have a picture of this but don't think I can upload to this site. I could really do with some advice please. Many thanks Barbara