Just as the January thaw arrives, I notice that my over-wintering lemon tree is covered with some kind of insects. I had noticed a white blob-like creature on a leaf earlier in the year. Since I have a gardening attitude of live and let live, I let it be. It sort of resembled a very white beetle, with faint stripes on its back and a brown head.
After a few weeks, little specks of white appeared on the leaves; Then long strands of stiff filament, like rigid silk, with a small drop on the end appeared to connect the white dots to the surrounding air. That little, white, faintly striped, blob is an egg machine.
Next came a fine webbing in the joints. All of a sudden, lemon leaves were falling like the rain outside my window. Now sticky cotton covers the stems.
My laissez faire attitude has turned to alarm as I realize I could lose my lemon tree. This is not an option. I raised it from a seed taken from a friend’s Ponderosa lemon tree fruit. It is now nearly seven feet tall. I will have to kill the marauders. But, what should I use?
First, the insect(s) has to be identified. The last thing I want to do is kill off beneficial insects that would take care of my problem for free. I’ve spent too many years letting nature take its course in my garden to succumb to over-kill now. Indoors there is seldom a helping insect around. And the dry air and heat are perfect growing conditions for the bad guys looking for a meal on the house, so to speak.
Cottony scale is the culprit taking over my lemon tree. It exists in all four stages: adult, egg, crawler, and stationery. The webbing is a second problem. Spider mites have also taken up residence. Both are sucking the life out of the leaves and leaving sticky honeydew behind.
Prosper TKO from one of our sponsors, Smart World Organics, is a combination of ingredients that naturally repel and suppress parasites while being kind to our environment. It is formulated for citrus. Insecticidal soap is also a kind to the environment spray and works well if you cover the tops and bottoms of the leaves. I sprayed first and then I took the tree outdoors on a sunny day and wiped everything down with alcohol. But, two days later, there are still some brown scale survivors latched onto the leaves and sticky honeydew on leaves, which means there are still some villains present.
I cannot spray the insecticide again for five to seven days, so I’ll wipe down the leaves until then to clean up the honeydew. If that honeydew stays put, my next problem will be black and fuzzy sooty mold. Even indoors, a gardener’s work is never done.
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By Ron Harrison, Ph.D., Entomologist and Orkin Technical Services Director
Photographs courtesy of Orkin
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