In mid to late spring, local gardeners wonder why plants are half eaten in landscapes. There may be holes on fresh herb leaves and tomato plants, or even petals chiseled away by bugs on newly planted perennials. On a larger scale, palm trees are also under attack in Southwest Florida by bugs and pests.
Who you gonna call? Not “Ghostbusters,” as the popular movie theme song suggests, but Collier County’s own resident bug expert and commercial landscape professional, Dr. Doug Caldwell, of University of Florida’s Cooperative Extension Service.
Caldwell, also known as “Dr. Doug Bug,” has more than 25 years of experience in identifying insects and understanding applied insecticides. His e-mail box is usually full of insect photos and questions from residents in Collier County. For Caldwell, bugs are his passion. No “bug question” goes unanswered.
“We’re the first alert to everyone, when it comes to new pests every year, in local landscapes,” said Caldwell, as he finished his latest research on the control of royal palm bug. The tiny yellow pest can quickly eat and destroy fronds of majestic royal palm trees. Royal palm trees were first made famous by early settlers of Fort Myers in the early 1920’s. Royal palms were planted along McGregor Boulevard during the heydays of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Century-old royal palms can still be discovered in the Collier-Seminole State Park here in Collier County, on acreage donated to the state for preservation by Barron Gift Collier. Today’s younger royal palms are seen in both private landscapes, and along pristine roadways in the city of Naples.
So two years ago, Caldwell teamed up with A.D. Ali of the Davey Tree Expert Company to study how to control infestations of the royal palm bug within trees, also referred to by its scientific name, xylastodoris luteolus.
Their study results on certain pesticide applications will protect royal palms from an invasion of these small pests that feed between leaflets of the royal palm tree. If left untreated, royal palm bugs ultimately cause newly expanded fronds to die.
Their cutting-edge research involves the usage of more water soluble pesticide application processes to ward off royal palm tree predators, and hopefully prevent the spread of these pests. Their study will offer solutions of premature deaths in royal palms, while using softer applications of pesticides along the way.
For Carole Giegerich, a visitor to the Cooperative Extension Service, her tour of the office’s garden was more geared in how she could protect her succulent plants in Naples.
“I’m only down here for four months, and I’ve always been an active gardener up north in Pennsylvania,” she said. “I have four acres of gardens in Pennsylvania. But in Florida, you need a lot more water. I’ve have a passion for agaves, and aloes, and I’m trying to collect a variety of things.”
Together, Giegerich and Caldwell discussed the varieties of succulents she could plant with ease, minus any bugs.
“But there’s always the good guys,” said Caldwell as he buzzes through the garden with visitors. “There are lady beetles, green lace wings, and numerous parasitic wasps, which paralyze their prey with their larvae,” he explained of bugs which have a natural lust to hunt for other harmful pests on plants.
Separating leaves to inspect for any culprits of spring plant destruction, Caldwell summed up his mission against bugs: “We are trying to protect plants from pests that wreak havoc on the environment. And my main role is helping people who are making their landscape beautiful, and protecting it for years to come from pests.”