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Bug Battles

May 7, 2013

It's a late afternoon on a warm spring day. You walk over to the kitchen window, grasp the tiny handles at the base and lift up.

With even a mere inch of screen exposed, you feel a cool, crisp breeze. You smell fresh grass clippings lingering in the air. And you hear the slightest sound of activity dancing through the yard - no words, just varied tones that highlight chirping birds, busy bees and nosy critters.

But in the midst of enjoying spring sounds through your window, you catch a glimpse of a large, green beetle buzz past your ear.

Mother Nature has planted a boxing arena in your backyard, indicated by the noisy nuisances causing commotion from the distance of your yard, and now, from within the walls of your home. But it's too late to call time out: The bugs are here and ready to force some punches at your plants.

Year after year, your landscape must face the excessive pest populations that spring up when warmer temperatures arrive. But what are some warning signs you can check to determine whether your trees and shrubs are struggling?

Warning Signs

Check out the pest descriptions, symptoms and treatments below to determine whether your plants have fostered a bug battleground this season.

  1. Boring Bugs Break It Down. What's inside is what really matters. Wood-boring insects, which feast on large populations of trees in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, are often difficult to detect until they have infested a tree for some time. Although the exit holes they leave behind on trees' branches and trunks aren't always apparent at first glance, sawdust-like frass can sometimes be found by these holes. Ultimately, trees suffer from wilting foliage, weakening tree canopy and dying branches as a result of wood-boring insects exploring the depths of their trunks.

  2. The Aphid Attraction. Plants are the perfect sap taps for thirsty aphids. Often the culprits for excreting honeydew on plant matter in the Midwest and Northeast, aphid damage wilts leaves and causes dieback of shoots and buds. To make matters worse, honeydew attracts unsightly sooty mold, as well as nuisance insects such as flies, yellow jackets and bees.

  3. Tipping the Scale. Scale may be tiny insects, but they can't hide the damage they can leave behind, even in the mighty Mountain region. Although scale spend most of their lives immobile, limited exploration does not prevent them from removing sap from trees and shrubs and causing branch dieback - and in some cases, even tree death. Unfortunately, dozens of scale species can impact several different tree species.

  4. Lean, Mean, Green-Eating Machines. When certain insects cross your trees, no leaf goes untouched. The leaf-chewing insects of the Pacific region, specifically, feed by biting, ripping or tearing the leaves off your trees. When insects chomp at your trees, their leaves may lose color, wilt or drop - all of which will reduce the trees' vigor in comparison to its healthy counterparts. Heavy leaf loss challenges trees to photosynthesize properly and weakens their abilities to successfully combat insects and diseases. Proper watering and mulching techniques will help prevent trees from suffering the wrath of leaf-chewing insects.
  5. On the Fly. Perhaps you'll detect their presence by the glistening of their white wax wings in the sun. Whiteflies, or tiny insects with wings and bodies covered with white wax, develop rapidly in warm weather - one of the Sunshine State's most valued attributes. But residents shouldn't let the pleasant temperatures distract them from monitoring whiteflies' threats to their plants. Large populations can cause excessive leaf drop and even plant loss. Because whiteflies feed on leaf sap and leave behind honeydew, a medium for sooty mold growth, the presence of honeydew - and resulting ant populations - translate to a whitefly examination. A systemic insecticide soil injection can help battle increasing populations.

  6. All Laced Up. This season, lace bugs are wanted in the West. Named for their lace-like wings, lace bugs suck juices from plant leaves, most often causing stippled and mottled yellow foliage. Sometimes these pests will leave behind whitish cast-off skins or black tar-like spots on the undersides of leaves. Eventually, damaged leaves turn yellowish-gray and fall off, twigs and branches may die back and flowering can be reduced.

  7. When Anthracnose Attacks. In the Southwestern sun, where pests tread a bit lighter than their cross-country cousins, anthracnose often lingers on dead tree matter. The fungus develops during the Lonestar State's warm, moist spring conditions, and it's capable of overwintering on dead twigs and destroying tree foliage. Irregular, brown spots covering a majority of the leaf area are most telling of the anthracnose presence. The spots can distort leaves and leave behind a papery texture, as well as dark pustules later in the growing season. To prevent anthracnose from settling on your trees, remove dead, diseased foliage and branches, then treat with fungicide when warranted.

If you suspect a pest is troubling your trees and shrubs, consult a professionally trained arborist to help put them back in the ring - of good health.

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