|Upon closer inspection you see that the leaves are stippled with tiny white dots, a sign of the insect’s feeding. If the problem has been going on for awhile, the leaves may look bronzed. Look under the stippled and bronzed leaves for the insects, their tiny nymphs, and/or black droppings to confirm that lace bugs have moved in. The suckers really are just that, one of many piercing and sucking insects that live in our midst. Some, like aphids, are relatively easy to control with a few sprays of insecticidal soap, pyrethrin or permethrin sprays. But others, like lace bugs and gardenia’s nemesis white flies, can be a challenge. While the daytime temperatures hover in the 70’s, use a horticultural oil spray on the affected plants. Follow that one week later with a through spray of pyrethrin, permethrin, or a product containing neem. Repeat that spray (not the oil) weekly for a month if the signs of damage have been severe. Remember to clean up all the trimmings and rake out old mulch when you do the after-flowering pruning to further reduce the chances of reinfestation.
Last month’s temperatures averaged almost 9 degrees warmer than normal and that has accelerated some insects’ development. Sometimes holes and chewed edges seem to appear overnight, especially in new vegetable transplants and young bean leaves. You may be facing one invader, or two, both capable of eluding your search for them so the signs are even more important. If the holes look neatly punched, suspect beetles and look for them. Lay a sheet or other cloth under the damaged plants early in the morning. Shake the plants and the sleepy beetles will fall off into your waiting clutches and you can trash them. That may not be the end of them, however, so follow up with a dust that is labeled to control beetles on the plants you are growing. Neat holes accompanied by chewed leaf edges require a different approach entirely. Look around the site of mayhem for shiny trails along the sidewalk or on top of mulch to discover that you have slugs. Do not be fooled by the old beer trap – a pie plate full of brew will attract not only your slugs but most of the ones in the neighborhood. Instead, encircle the new and young plants with slug bait, preferably one with a copper element that is not in a form that might attract pets or songbirds. To keep from having to constantly replenish this repellant, seek out the slugs’ retreat and evict them. Turn over boards and bricks, rake leaf piles, and clean up the thicket in the back corner. The doves and lizards will resume residence in a day or two, but the slugs will be seriously thwarted when you disturb their nests.
The signs of fire ants in residence are not subtle at all, since the chances are you will not see them until they have built a mound. If you can get the neighbors to go along, and especially if you can’t, you want to learn the Fire Ant Two Step. Do it at the first sign of fire ants or if you have had mounds in the last 2 years. Treat any mounds that are present with a contact control insecticide made for fire ants and at the same time, broadcast fire ant bait all over your landscape. Reuse your products of choice as directed on the label and suppress the stingers.
Take your cues from the plants and landscape. Walk the garden daily so you can see the glory you have nurtured, but also to keep a vigilant eye out for changes and signs that can mean insects are trying to set up housekeeping. Note the damage, id the pest, and control it early before plants can be seriously compromised.