Homemade Dormant Oil for Fruit Trees

Sometimes I think that pests, like scales, aphids and mites adore my fruit trees as much as I do. They feast on the juicy tender plant parts in the warm summer and overwinter on my fruit trees. Dormant oil does help control these annoying little pests and homemade dormant oils are safe for use on fruit trees. Homemade dormant oils are easy to make at home and provide the same benefit as store bought dormant oils without the petroleum (because you choose the oil) and it is soooo much cheaper to make your own.

As recently as 10 years ago, dormant oils contained heavy petroleum based oils that had to be applied during fruit trees’ dormancy in order to prevent damage to their foliage and buds. Today, newer dormant oils are lighter, allowing them to be applied at anytime during the year without harming the tree’s buds. Because you can apply homemade dormant oil throughout the season, the term “dormant” is a bit of a misnomer now, but is still a benefit as you will see.

How Dormant Oil Works as an Insect Control

Dormant (or Horticultural Oil is usually combined with some type of emulsifying agent so that it can be mixed with water and used as a spray. The primary way horticultural oil kills insects is by suffocating them. The oil blocks the spiracles through which insects breathe.

Horticultural oils also disrupt the metabolism of insect eggs and the ability of some insects to feed, causing them to starve to death. Not a pretty picture, but remember that insects, like aphids, carry diseases from plant to plant by feeding.

Most commercial dormant oils contain kerosene or petroleum based oil that, when applied to trees, will smother overwintering insects like aphids, scales, mites, and their eggs or will dissolve their protective waxing coating. It is applied in the winter months when fruit trees are in their inactive period. (dormant) For dormant oil to provide proper control, the oil must come in contact with the pests. Dormant oils were further refined to produce lighter weight oils that can be applied during the growing season, without harm to many plants. When the term dormant oil is used now, it generally refers to the application timing, during the dormant season, rather than a type of oil.

Pests Controlled With Dormant Oil

  1. Adelgids: These small, sap-sucking insects are important pests in forests, landscapes, and Christmas tree plantations. Some are very difficult to control because of a waxy protective covering that they hide under. [1]
  2. Aphids: sometimes called greenfly, are small insects that suck plant juices from stems and leaves and can severely stunt or even kill their host plants. [1]
  3. Spider Mites: They are perhaps the most important agricultural and garden pests worldwide. Some researchers estimate that spider mites reduce total agricultural production by up to 5% each year. [1]
  4. Thrips are tiny insects, most feed on leaves but some species are predators. Thrips feeding causes very distinctive silvery patches on the injured leaf. Thrips can be important pests in greenhouses because of the feeding injury as well as for a serious plant disease they can spread. Thrips, both plant-feeding and predatory species, also occasionally bite people. The bites are harmless but annoying.[1]
  5. caterpillar eggs, leafhoppers, mealybug, scale, and whiteflies
    are the most common pests that call for the use of dormant oil.

I did NOT know this and I haven’t tried it, but dormant oil is also effective against powdery mildew. The popular homemade baking soda recipe (recipe one below) includes horticultural oil as an active ingredient.

Also, since horticultural oil is effective against aphids, which spread viruses by feeding on plants, it is also somewhat of a virus control.

Homemade Dormant Oil Recipes

This recipe is to control soft bodied insects like aphids, mites and mealybugs, all you need is an organic oil, laundry detergent and water. Mix together 1 tablespoon of any lightweight organic oil (again, I used sunflower), a few drops of laundry detergent and a quart of water. Shake well and pour into a spray bottle to use. This mixture controls insects by smothering them, so make sure to use an adequate amount when applying it to your fruit trees. (Oh, bonus!) I use this solution as a preventative also, It works by smothering insect egg casings.

I have tried several homemade “dormant oil recipes” and they do help control pests on fruit trees. The first recipe I used, and the most basic, was created by the scientists at Cornell University to controls over-wintering pests and fungal diseases. [2]

Recipe One


  • 2 tablespoons of ultra-fine canola oil (I don’t use canola oil for anything, I used sunflower oil here)
  • 1 tablespoon of baking soda
  • a gallon of water
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Mix the oil and baking soda in the water and viola, homemade dormant oil!

The scientists at Cornell University also came up with a nourishing dormant oil you can make at home. [2]

Recipe Two


  • 2 tablespoons of any lightweight organic oil (again, sunflower oil)
  • 1 tablespoon of baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon of kelp
  • 1 tablespoon of mild dish soap
  • 1 gallon of water

Mix the first four ingredients together in the water and spray.

Recipe Three

Sometimes insect control on your fruit trees requires a different approach. Another method for controlling insects on fruit trees is to apply a spray that deteriorates the waxy outer coating of the insect, thereby exposing it to the elements, which causes its downfall. To make a dormant oil spray for fruit trees that accomplishes insect control via this method, Mix all the ingredients together. Pour the mixture into a sprayer and shake it vigorously before applying it. The baking soda and hydrogen peroxide are an important part of this homemade dormant oil because they work to sterilize fungal spores that are potentially damaging to fruit trees. This spray is also great for use after pruning as a way to seal the tree and keep unwanted pests out.


  • 2 tablespoons of baking soda
  • 5 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide
  • 2 tablespoons of castile soap (which is made from an olive oil base)
  • 1 gallon of water

Dormant Oil for Fruit Trees

There is an oil defense especially for use with fruit trees.

  • 1 cup of vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons of liquid soap (preferably castile)
  • 1 gallon of water

The process is the same as in the above recipes… mix the oil and soap together in the water. Shake it good and keep shaking as you spray. This recipe is my “go to” I use for use when the tree is truly dormant. It suffocates insect eggs on my fruit trees. And as I mentioned above, many commercial dormant oil sprays contain petroleum based oils. This homemade mix provides a much less toxic substitution.

Applying Homemade Dormant Oil

All these dormant oil recipes are applied the same way. During the fruit tree’s dormancy (depending on your growing zone it will be any time the leaves fall or first frost and early spring before your fruit tree’s buds first open) Fill a pump sprayer with your homemade dormant oil and completely coat the fruit trees (stems and both sides of the leaves) with the mixture. Only apply the oil mixture when the fruit tree is dry. Moisture OR high levels of humidity will considerably lower the effectiveness of your dormant oil application. Note:

  • Dormant oils generally won’t harm beneficial insects since they are applied at a time when beneficial insects aren’t present on fruit trees and have a low toxicity level to humans and mammals.
  • Homemade dormant oils won’t leave a harsh residue behind.
  • It loses its ability to check pests once it is dry, and can harm plants susceptible to oil sprays.
  • Generally, the cedars, maples, spruce and junipers are susceptible tree species that dormant oil should not be used on.

When Not to Use Horticultural or Dormant Oil

  • You should only apply dormant oil on dormant deciduous trees or shrubs when the temperature is between 40-70°F in late fall and winter. Do not apply oils during freezing weather as this can cause the emulsion to break down and produce uneven coverage.
  • Do not apply oils if plant tissues are wet or rain is likely. These conditions inhibit oil evaporation. Dormant oil should not be used on evergreens.
  • Do not apply when fruit trees are stressed out. (e.g. from sun scald or bark splitting caused by late spring frosts – after growth has started – cool summer followed by a warm fall and drop in temperature, excessive or late season nitrogen fertilization, dry soil or root injury, frost cracking, excessive temperature fluctuations and drying winds, lack of snow cover all which stress a tree out) Stressed out trees are more likely to become more damaged by dormant oil than it is worth.
  • During extremely high temperature: Do not apply horticultural or dormant oil when temperatures are climbing high (esp. over 100° F. (38° C.) Drought-stressed plants are more susceptible to dormant oil damage.

organic apple in hand


The Ready Store
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9 thoughts on “Homemade Dormant Oil for Fruit Trees”

    • Hi Nikki, You can use common 3% hydrogen peroxide. (that’s what I use) You can also use food grade (like 35%) but you will really have to dilute it. You don’t want to use more than 4% (ask me how I know, LOL) or you risk burning the bark on the tree. 🙂

    • Imad,
      I use straight sunflower oil most often. I would venture to guess that a reference using that ratio (the one you mention) is suggesting a different oil to work with the sunflower oil… and most often something petroleum related. I have used only sunflower oil with the above recipes and have had wonderful success. Hope that helps!

  1. Temperature here at the moment is over 100 and I just noticed web worms on my pecan tree. Can I still spray it as I don’t want them to spread all over the tree?

    • Hi Linda, aren’t they a PAIN? Although web worms typically aren’t terribly damaging to healthy trees, they are quite the nuisance and can strip away vegetation and form thick webs. You can get rid of web worms directly by using your hands or a broomstick to remove the worms and webs, and soaking these in warm, soapy water. There are also ways to indirectly remove web worms from affected trees, such as breaking open the webs to encourage predators and removing the eggs in winter. It is my opinion that this is a safer way to manage them in this heat.

  2. Can I use soybean oil instead for DIY dormant oil?

    How’bout the Compare-N-Save Systemic Tree and Shrub Insect Drench?

    Will both work with pear, grapes, peaches?


    • Bago,
      Most pest control oils are made out of some form of mineral oil, which is a refined petroleum product. Some vegetable-based products like soybean oil work effectively as a pesticide as well. Typically, the oil is combined with a mixing agent, which helps it mix with water so it can be turned into a spray. You’d have to read the label for the Compare-N-Save brand to see if they recommend it for the fruits you mentioned. They list pear and apple on their site, but I didn’t see grape or peach.


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