Codling Moth

Adult Codling Moth on Pear

Controlling Codling Moths Effectively & Organically

Codling moths are pests that afflict apple and pear growers in North America. Populations of codling moths can get out of hand quickly as the damage they cause is not readily visible in many instances. Orchard growers may complain of "wormy" apples; this is a direct result of the tunneling damage done by codling moth larvae whereby feeding galleries filled with frass are left in the fruit.

Description & Life Cycle:

Codling moth larvae overwinter within thick cocoons in areas that shield them from harsh winter weather (e.g. under loose bark, in cracks in bark, under mulch/debris, etc.). Once temperatures warm in early spring, the larvae pupate and emerge as adults ready to mate. Codling moth adults are about 1/2" in length with gray wings containing thin, white stripes distinguished by the copper-colored band at the wing tips. Mating begins once sunset temperatures exceed 62°F. Adults are active for a few hours prior to and following sunset. Each female codling moth can lay between 30 and 70 eggs on fruit, nuts, leaves, or spurs where the eggs will hatch and the pinkish larvae will begin to feed. After maturing, larvae drop from their feeding site and seek out a suitable location to pupate. The Codling moth life cycle varies in length depending on regional temperatures. Two complete life cycles per year are common; however, four complete generations have been observed in certain climates.


Commercial damage is caused by the larvae tunneling into the fruiting bodies of the plant rendering the fruit unsightly and unsellable. These larvae, when left uncontrolled, can infest up to 90% of available fruit. Late-maturing varieties are most likely to incur severe damage. Adults do not damage plants, but should be controlled as a first step in breaking up the codling moth life cycle.

Controlling Codling Moths: Successful control of codling moths requires the combination of control measures targeting egg, larval and adult stages.

Eggs Control using Trichogramma Moth Egg Parasites during the growing season when conditions allow. If Biological Control is not possible for any reason, apply oil-based sprays like Horticultural and Stylet Oils to smother unhatched eggs.

Larvae Once larvae begin feeding, control is difficult to achieve. Best results occur when cultural practices are maintained through the growing season to prevent feeding from occurring.

  • Beneficial Nematode Applications: S. feltiae beneficial nematodes have shown positive results controlling overwintering codling moth larvae, particularly in orchards with smooth-barked trees.
  • Fruit Thinning/Removal: Avoid situations where two pieces of fruit are in contact. These are common points of entry for the larvae. Reducing density of fruit will also improve spray coverage of insecticide applications.
  • Trunk Banding: Wrap tree trunks with corrugated cardboard in spring giving larvae a location to spin cocoons that can be destroyed by hand later. This is not a standalone control measure and should be done in conjunction with one or more of the other methods on this page.
  • Fruit Bagging: Wrap individual fruit with paper bags or Maggot Barriers and seal any openings as best as you can. This is proven successful in keeping larvae off of fruit, but is energy intensive on the grower.

Adults Trap beginning early in the growing season and continue to do so past the time of last fruit production in case neighboring properties still have active populations. Pheromone Lures are widely used by the orchard industry to both monitor and control codling moth populations. The following can be done in addition to trapping:

  • Surround WP (kaolin clay) applications deter and disorient adults. It should be applied throughout the fruiting season and at 6-8 week intervals beginning prior to spotting codling moths.
  • Botanical insecticides like Pyrethrins, Azadirachtin, and Neem should only be applied once most pollination has occurred. Sprays should be applied around sunset when adult moths are most active.

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