NAPLES — A couple of bugs are causing a buzz in Southwest Florida.
From the region’s gumbo limbo trees to coconut and sabal palms, no tree is safe from the rugose spiraling whitefly.
“It’s affecting everything and anything that it can attach to,” said Yvette Benarroch, owner of Affordable Landscaping Services in Marco Island.
That’s not the only pest infesting Southwest Florida. The croton scale bug also is doing damage to area landscaping.
Area landscaping businesses, such as Affordable Landscaping Services, have been proactive, trying to control the rugose spiraling whitefly since 2011.
Fortunately, this whitefly (previously called the gumbo limbo spiraling whitefly) doesn’t seem as damaging as the ficus whitefly, said Doug Caldwell, a commercial landscape horticulture extension educator and landscape entomologist with the University of Florida Collier County Extension Service.
The rugose spiraling whitefly arrived in Miami-Dade County in 2007 and was confirmed in the Naples area for the first time in January 2009.
The whitefly strips nutrients from host plants, leaving a sticky goo and white residue, which makes plants look nasty. In addition, the fly damages car paint and patio furniture, and it can impair chlorination in swimming pools.
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Some of the hosts besides gumbo limbo include the following: copperleaf, Norfolk Island Pine, live oak, coconut and sabal palms.
The croton scale often goes undetected until it’s too late and it will kill branches and even trees.
Garden centers, landscaping businesses and plant owners should look for green or brown bumps on the branches and petioles — and sooty mold on everything under the tree, said Scott Krueger, plant inspector with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry.
The croton scale arrived in Marathon in Monroe County in 2008.
Some of its hosts in the state include croton, gumbo limbo, guava, mango and ficus species.
“It’s a very bad situation and people aren’t paying attention to it,” Krueger said, adding that it needs attention before spring leaves flush out.
He said the croton scale pest is common on barrier islands along the Gulf Coast, such as Marco Island, Naples, Everglades, Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel.
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Nancy Richie, an environmental specialist for the city of Marco Island, said the city has inoculated more than 1,000 trees for the rugose spiraling whitefly in the city since late-November 2012.
Trees along Collier Boulevard, Barfield Drive and San Marco Road — the city’s main roads — that have been infected with the whitefly include royal palm trees, gumbo limbo trees, laurel oaks and black olive trees. About 600 trees were treated for the spiraling whitefly along Collier Boulevard in Marco Island.
“We value our landscape since it’s quite an investment,” said Richie, adding that the city has planted thousands of trees in the past four years.
Richie said the city has distributed educational information to homeowners and landscaping businesses on how to treat the rugose spiraling whitefly.
She urged people to take care of their own properties because the pest jumps around.
“We like our trees down here and we want to protect them,” Richie said.
Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort & Spa’s officials said the pest hasn’t done significant damage to their landscaping.
“We have had limited issues, nothing of any magnitude,” said Rick Medwedeff, general manager of the Marco Marriott.
The hotel has a dedicated landscaping crew. Moreover, Medwedeff said the hotel has seen the problem on the decline.
However, Benarroch, of Affordable Landscaping Services, said the staff has been really busy with concerned customers.
Affordable Landscaping Services each week is giving about 40 potential customers estimates for whitefly treatment, Benarroch said. The cost of treatment ranges from $3 to $10 per inch of diameter.
The business has been using trunk injections with a systemic that has imidaclopird, an active ingredient that effectively controls the pest.
“It’s been an ongoing battle,” Benarroch said.
Benarroch said people need to take care of the trees on their properties and be proactive about it.
Similar to other lawn-care maintenance businesses, TruGreen is treating for the fly in Southwest Florida. Employees have treated the fly in Naples, Marco Island and Fort Myers.
Since the area didn’t get much cooler weather, Erica Santella, TruGreen’s regional technical manager, said the fly had the perfect conditions to populate.
“It’s something that you should be aware of, not something that they have to panic about,” said Santella, adding that it can be treated.
Santella recommends homeowners be vigilant about checking for the pests.