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Not all insects are the bad guys for trees

  • Friday, May 31, 2013

Here is a question I was asked the other day and several others like it over the last few weeks:

“While spraying my crepe myrtle for powdery mildew, I noticed a large group of black bugs on the bark of my tree. None of my leaves appeared to be eaten. When I tried to scare them away with a branch, they scattered and then regrouped back on the tree. This group of black bugs has me worried. This is one of my favorite trees and I do not want anything bad to happen to it. Do you have any ideas as to what these bugs are and why they are on my tree?”

Not to worry. It sounds like you have tree cattle or barklice (louse). These are good guys.

The tree cattle clean the tree by eating dead organic matter and lichens (algae and moss combination) out of the bark crevices of the tree.

Even though crepe myrtles have smooth bark, there are plenty of places for the tree cattle to find food. They are the housecleaners of the trees. Maples are another favorite tree of the tree cattle.

These are the same bugs that produce that stocking-like webbing that looks like something out of a horror movie. The webbing is tight against the bark of the tree just like a stocking. It is found on limbs as well as trunks of trees. The tree cattle use this webbing as protection from predators and weather.

Tree cattle do not harm a tree. If they are really bugging you, you could spray them with a blast of water. I would let them clean the bark of the tree, so you do not have excessive organic debris buildup.

At Possum’s the last few years we have been getting a lot of calls about Japanese beetles attacking crepe myrtles, roses, etc. This beetle has always been a problem north of us in Charlotte, etc.

Now it has come down here with a vengeance. Japanese beetles eat up the foliage between the veins and give the leaves a lacy appearance. They usually attack a plant in groups.

Japanese beetles are extra dangerous because before they are adult beetles, they are grubs feeding on our grass roots. If you see the adults, spray them with Orthene, Sevin, or Malathion.

Right now is a good time to attack them as grubs in the ground with Merit, Dylox, Aloft or Sevin. Killing the grubs will help your turf and lower the population of adult beetles chewing on your foliage.

If you prefer the pheromone traps, remember to position them away from the plants you are trying to protect.

If you have St. Augustine grass and are planning to go on vacation, be sure to protect your lawn from the “Nasty Rascal, the Chinch Bug” before you leave or you may not have any grass when you return. Aloft is a product that is newer than most and gives very long term control.

Always read, understand and follow product label. The product label is a federal law.


Bill Lamson-Scribner can be reached during the week at Possum’s Landscape and Pest Control Supply. Possum’s has three locations including one at 481 Long Point Rd. (971-9601). Bring your questions to a Possum’s location, or visit us at http://www.possumsupply.com. You can also call in your questions to “The Garden Clinic,” Saturdays from noon to 1 p.m. on 1250 WTMA. The Horticulture Hotline is available 24 / 7 at possumsupply.com.

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