William B. Page, on C19th Apple Tree Pest Control

"Not 150 Years ago, when Mons. De la Quintinye, the director of the French King's Gardens, published his book, he could, he says, but enumerate 7 good sorts of Apples, then cultivated in France. Now it is a generally received opinion, that all our good Apples come from thence ; this must without doubt be an error ; for, even at this day, when we have so many fine varieties, it would be difficult to find 12 good sorts on the. Continent. This important fruit , for more than a century, has had great attention paid to raising new kinds, in almost every County in Britain ; and each district has its favorites. Unfortunately, within a few years, a most destructive insect has attacked root and branch this valuable tree ; and 'tis to be feared, unless some effectual remedy is discovered to destroy it, bids fair, at no great distance, to extirpate the whole race of Apple Trees. A gentleman, in this neighbourhood, (Southampton ) has adopted a method of ousting them in his small garden ; but, I fear, it cannot be employed upon a large scale. With a mixture, composed of 1 oz. of corrosive sublimate, to 3 qts.of common tar, he paints over the parts affected. The sublimate must be, first, mixt in some sort of spirits, and then put to the tar. It is the only remedy I have yet seen applied ; for any flowing mixture, with oil , brimstone, soot, &c . &c . answers no good purpose, as the first heavy rain destroys the application altogether : this remains, and is certainly efficient where used.

"This remedy is much commended by Thomas Skip Dyott, Esq. in his work entitled The Orchardist1Full title: The Orchardist: or, A System of Close Pruning and Medication, for Establishing the Science of Orcharding (1805). They didn't do their titles by halves, these early C19th authors., as having been tried with success."

William Bridgewater Page, Page’s Prodromus; as a General Nomenclature of all the Plants Cultivated in the Southampton Botanic Gardens (1818)

You’ll have to excuse Mr. Page’s somewhat anti-French sentiment in the first section of this quote. It was written just a few years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, so it’s no wonder he’s crowing a bit.

The information of interest from a pomology perspective is the bit about the “most destructive insect” that has attacked apple trees “root and branch” – although I suspect this may be a turn of phrase rather than an accurate description of symptoms – and was apparently threatening to “extirpate2Good word, extirpate, about due for a comeback. I can think of a cabinet of government ministers that could do with a bit of figurative extirpation round about now. the whole race of Apple Trees”.

Thankfully the situation didn’t come to that, as the pomological literature of the following century or two attests. But it would be interesting to know which injurious insect Mr Page was referring to – codling moth or winter moth, perhaps? – and whether or not the mixture of “corrosive sublimate” and tar caught on. I rather hope not. It doesn’t sound very Organic.


  • 1
    Full title: The Orchardist: or, A System of Close Pruning and Medication, for Establishing the Science of Orcharding (1805). They didn't do their titles by halves, these early C19th authors.
  • 2
    Good word, extirpate, about due for a comeback. I can think of a cabinet of government ministers that could do with a bit of figurative extirpation round about now.


  1. Very interesting. As a pomology ignoramus, I need to ask how you manage pest control. I don’t use any chemicals in my small garden, just pick off unwanted pests (e.g. lily beetle) or even let the birds sort them (sparrows like black fly, who’d’ve thought?). I had something attack one of my very young apple trees last year and I just carefully removed the affected leaves as soon as I spotted them and burnt them. It seems to be fine now. What common problems do you deal with? Have you a post about this?

    1. Hi Christopher – first up, there are some excellent books on organic orchard management, such as those by Michael Phillips – I was given his book ‘The Apple Grower’ for Xmas and I’m looking forward to reading that one in detail before too long.

      My own experiences so far have been with the usual orchard pest suspects: aphids, codling moth, winter moth and pear midge. (Plus squirrels and pigeons, but there’s not an awful lot you can do about those two). Aphids, except in really bad years, tend to be managed by the likes of ladybirds and lacewings, who soon find a population – unless they’re hiding in a tightly-curled leaf – and will lay their own eggs nearby. It’s the larvae of these two that do the most good. As you say, sparrows and the tit family in general do eat a lot of insects, both aphids and moths, so providing habitat in the form of bird boxes is a good ide. They’ll often repeatedly head to the nearest source of food, especially when feeding chicks, so if that’s your fruit trees, all the better.

      With pear midge, and codling or winter moth, it’s a case of understanding the lifecycle and trying to intervene to reduce the population size. For pear midge and winter moth, that usually means picking off damaged flower buds before the maggots can drop to the ground to pupate. For codling it’s a case of trying to spot damaged fruitlets in spring and removing them early, again before the maggots drop to the ground and burrow into the earth to pupate for the second wave of them in summer.

      Grease bands can help reduce the numbers of winter moth by trapping the wingless females as they climb the trunk to lay their eggs in winter. But they’re ineffectual against codling, as both males and females can fly. And I think I’m right in saying that pheromone traps should be used as an indicator of infestation for codling, rather than a preventative. They’ll trap some males as they start flying, but they might already have mated with the females.

      All of the above is as I currently understand things, I’ll put together a lengthier post at some point, once I’ve read The Apple Grower and a few other texts. In the meantime, all my P&D related posts can be found under https://orchardnotes.com/category/orchard-pd/

      Hope that helps!

  2. RE: codling moth.
    I have yet to get my chickens in my orchard, of whom I have great hopes that they will effect in some measure of control by eating the soil pupating larvae. In the mean time we save and sieve ( have made a mechanical sieve out of old tin rubbish bin and old motor) and use a leaf blower to spray it over trees and dry out the little slimy evils. Then I thought about it… We have a smaller backyard of only 400m2, and within it have 13 apples. Also within is a mini ‘meadow’ to provide colour, nectar and pollen for 3 of the 4 seasons, and a few other flowering plants as well as most of the vegies. The rest of the property (front of house) is a windswept pasture, despite the fact of how many trees are planted, it will look more convincing in another 3 years. Trees were planted first-there are currently few flowers or garden beds. What I realised, is that the front trees get hammered by codling moth, whereas the backyard trees are virtually flawless. That natural IPM stuff! This year I’m digging out the grass (nothing can compete with this grass) from a just a few meters of orchard, in a few repeats. to plant dill, coriander, nasturtium crimson clover, queen annes lace, cosmos, forget me nots, vetch, alyssum ( not all in same spot) as well as some perennial lavender, thyme and rosemary to try and get the good guys in. Borders have flowering bushes- a nice way to provide microclimate for your orchard- and as they establish will provide good insect attracting benefit as well.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.