Q: What is going on with all the palm trees in Collier County? There seems to be a lot of infestation. Is this a new bug or something else?
— Tim R., Naples
A: It's a fairly new pest to Collier County, but it's quickly making its mark.
The rugose spiraling whitefly, a native of Central America, began infesting coconut palms and many other trees in the Naples area in October 2011, said Doug Caldwell, the commercial landscape horticulture extension educator and landscape entomologist with the University of Florida Collier County Extension Service.
"It's just moving in and spreading," Caldwell said. "It wasn't here until late last year — October and November."
Unlike the botanically harmful ficus whitefly, rugose spiraling whiteflies are more of a mess-maker rather than a killer of local landscaping, Caldwell said. The bugs secrete "honeydew," a sticky liquid that feeds a sooty mold.
"The black fungus grows on the honeydew because it's rich in sugars," he said. "It's not going to kill the trees."
Unfortunately, the list of host plants for the exotic pest is pages long — about 80 different trees, Caldwell said.
"It loves coconuts and gumbo limbos and white birds of paradise," he said.
Besides seeing the white-winged adults, telltale signs of a rugose spiraling whitefly infestation include its white, spiral egg trails and a buildup of a white, waxy substance. Beneath trees, one may notice "snowfall" and an accumulation of the sticky honeydew on cars and outdoor furniture.
Rain often washes off the insects and their excrement, but during the dry season they really pile up. Other natural eradicators of the pests include other insects such as lady beetles and green lacewings.
"We're waiting for attack bugs to catch up with them and get them more in balance, and realize there's a meal there," Caldwell said.
In the meantime, homeowners may want to use a systemic insecticide applied to the soil at the tree's base as a drench or granule. These long-lasting products, with active ingredients such as Dinotefuran or Imidacloprid, should be labeled for whitefly control in landscapes and used only as directed, according to information from the UF Extension office.
Q: I was wondering if you have any idea why the gas station at the old Albertsons site on Immokalee Road is being demolished? After the failed International Pavilion episode, can the forgotten people of North Naples actually be getting something exciting, like the movie theater we all hoped for when Albertsons closed?
— Nina Mold, North Naples
A: The former gas station wasn't demolished, but its gasoline storage tanks and the canopy over the old pumps were recently removed to market the original fuel center building to potential tenants, said Christine Wilcox, a spokeswoman for Alberstons LLC, which still owns the North Naples property on the northeast corner of Livingston and Immokalee roads.
In addition to the 2,072-square-foot outparcel, the more than 60,000-square-foot former supermarket is vacant again and still being marketed for lease, Wilcox said.
The old Albertsons store was briefly leased during the last two years by Bonita-based International Fine Art Expositions, which named it Naples International Pavilion and hosted a few art and antique fairs there. But that use ended earlier this year.
Albertsons built the buildings on the 7-acre property at 4835 Immokalee Road and operated them as a supermarket with a gas station/convenience store for only a short time before closing in February 2007.
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