Originally created 10/25/02

Red mites active in fall, spring



Q: Now that fall is here and the weather is cooling down, are all the insects gone that can hurt plants in my landscape?

A: You would like to think this is the case, but that is not necessarily so.

Southern red mites are cool-season pests, most active in spring and fall. I see them mostly in the spring, crawling around on the brick wall that separates my driveway from the back yard.

These tiny mites infest common landscape plants, including azalea, camellias and hollies and sometimes invade junipers.

Adults are about the size of a pinhead, so they are hard to find. If you suspect an infestation, take a white piece of paper, hold it under the plant then shake the plant. If mites are there, they will fall on the paper and you can see them crawling on the white background.

These tiny bugs can do some big-time damage to plants. Their feeding shows up on the upper side of leaves as stippling, which is tiny white specks, or as a bronzing of the leaf surface.

They suck out the contents of individual cells in the leaves. In high numbers, they can do some serious damage. I have seen some dieback in severely infected plants. Even when mites don't kill branches, the stippling and bronzing of the foliage can make the plant ugly.

To get rid of the mites, treat the infested plants with an insecticidal soap, horticultural oils, or a miticide. One of the better miticides is di-syston, sold under different brand names.

Whatever you use, the key to making it work is covering the underside of the leaves, which is not easy to do. Hollis and camellias, especially, with their cupped, waxy leaves, can be hard to cover.

Any coverage at all, though, is more than Southern red mites often get. Most people are not looking for pest problems this time of year.

FALL PLANTING: Fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubbery because plants have several months of root growth before stressful summertime conditions set in. And you don't have to water the plants as often or at all if we get some decent rainfall.

You want to dig a big, wide hole, at least two times the size of the root ball. Plant it no deeper than it was growing in the pot. Digging wide holes and planting correctly can get your plant off to a good start and avoid problems down the road.

Also, you want to break up the root ball in container-grown shrubs, especially if the tree or shrub is pot bound. Breaking roots apart will get them off to a much better start. Don't be afraid of injuring the roots. Just think of it as below-ground pruning.

Sid Mullis is director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County. Call 821-2349, or send e-mail to smullis@uga.edu. The Web page for Extension offices in Richmond and Columbia counties is www.griffin.peachnet.edu/ga/columbia.