Common Florida Tree Pests And How To Manage Them



Florida is home to many breathtaking and beautiful species of trees and foliage; we use many of these species to add to our home landscape design and beautify our living spaces. Equally as diverse are the pests that attempt to take up residence in our trees and shrubbery, threatening their health and longevity.

Most pests look for trees that are already weakened or compromised, although some voracious varieties prey on anything they can find their way into. Once an infestation has begun, it is almost impossible to deal with it on your own; a professional arborist is needed to assess tree health and make recommendations for care and eradication of the pest problem.

What does a damaged tree look like?

When an infestation takes hold of a tree, it can affect all parts of its growth and development. It is essential to recognize various signs and symptoms of damage to prevent further degeneration from taking place.

  • Fruit that has been damaged by a pest infestation is abnormal in shape, with bite marks, holes, and premature fruit drop from the tree itself.

  • Buds and twigs that have been damaged by a pest infestation are enlarged and discolored, or they may wither and die.

  • A stem that has been damaged by an infestation has visible holes in the structure, bark that has been chewed, fine sawdust at the base of the tree, and pitch masses where the tree has responded to trauma.

  • Leaves that are infected by an infestation are discolored and may contain insect excrement, frayed edges, or be completely withered altogether.

  • Roots that have been affected will show distress at the tree's base, such as holes, sap drainage, and blackening of bark and surrounding tissue.

Types of pests found on and in Florida trees

There are different types of pests found on Florida foliage that work their destructive magic in various ways.

Defoliators tend to eat leaves and greenery off of tree branches, causing significant damage and in some cases, death of the tree itself. Some common types of defoliators include:

  1. Gypsy moths--this type of insect is most often found in hardwood trees like oak, maple, and elm. Larvae typically hatch in the spring, and you can find their yellowish, teardrop-shaped eggs on the underside of the very leaves they will feast on after hatching. If left untreated, a new population of newly hatched moths can completely eradicate foliage within weeks, so proper cleanup is essential for the survival of your tree.

  2. Bagworms--Bagworms love to populate trees like cypress, box elder, persimmon, juniper, and oak. They use tree matter combined with their spun silk to create a hallmark egg sac which is carried on a female's back until they find a suitable resting place on the underside of a leaf. When the eggs hatch in the summer, they can defoliate and destroy a tree's greenery within a matter of weeks, if not properly tended to.

  3. Eastern Tent Caterpillar--Common hardwood shade trees are most at risk for Eastern Tent Caterpillar infestation. Their large masses of eggs incubate in the winter, as a thick, tarlike substance protects them from extreme temperature fluctuations. When the eggs hatch in the early spring, the larvae spin thick silk webs near the apex of tree branches, clogging up a tree's vascular system and making it hard for the tree to receive vital nutrients. Over the caterpillar's lifespan, it uses foliage as an energy source, robbing the tree of much of its life force.

Wood borers rarely go after healthy trees; they prey upon weak structures, and they can cause significant damage to a tree's strength and structure in a short period of time. Some common types of wood borers include:

  1. Emerald ash borer--This distinctive beetle has an iridescent green coat and a brownish-yellow abdomen; you'll recognize an infestation by the d-shaped holes present in tree bark that the borer uses to drill deep into the tree's layers, damaging critical tissues needed for healthy growth. Eggs are laid on the outside of tree bark and they begin to infiltrate deeper layers of tissue almost immediately after they hatch, making it very difficult to stop once it begins.

  2. Bark beetles--the term "bark beetle" encompasses over 600 species of insects that dig beneath the bark and targets the cambium of a tree, prohibiting the absorption of nutrients and causing death to tree foliage and tissues.

  3. Southern pine beetle--most times, a Southern pine beetle population will only target weakened or diseased trees, but if a population is large enough, they will target healthy pine trees as well. Signs of infestation include holes in the bark, running pitch, white pitch tubes, and sawdust at the base. In addition, the top of an infected pine will turn rust-brown in color, indicating that it is no longer receiving the vital nutrients it needs for proper growth.

Sap sucking insects have specialized jaws or pincers that allow insects to penetrate leaf and vascular tissues, draining the tree of vital nutrients. These insects produce "honeydew," a combination of sugary saliva and water during insect feeding, which coats tree tissues and the ground beneath the tree. Some common types of sap-sucking insects include:

  1. Red spider mite--Red spider mites are rust in color, and they tend to populate in deciduous and flowering fruit trees so densely that it looks as if the tree is covered in brick dust. Under ideal germination conditions, a spider mite population can grow from larvae to adult in a little over a week. As they multiply, they suck the sap from tree tissues, causing a loss of nutrients and finally, death to the tree itself.

  2. Aphids--Aphids are so small that they are barely detectable by the naked eye, yet their destructiveness rivals the largest insect. They reproduce quickly and are efficient sap suckers, so they rob a tree of its vital nutrients as they grow. Look for leaves that are yellow and withered along branches, as well as extremities and branches that are dead and dying.

What to do?

Unless you have intimate knowledge of how these populations grow, mature, and take over your trees, it is best to consider getting professional advice and help from a certified arborist. An arborist can assess your tree health, diagnose an infestation, and take steps to save your tree if possible without doing further damage to your home or property. Using chemicals to treat an infestation is never a good idea unless you know what to use and how to apply; attempting to treat an infestation yourself just to save a few dollars may ultimately cost you more time, more money, and possibly your health if these chemicals are not used properly.

Fey and Sons: Your answer to all pest infestation issues

Over 39 years of professionalism and experience in all aspects of tree care make Fey and Sons one of the premier arborists across Florida. We specialize in tree care, stump removal, planting and designing landscapes, and diagnosing all types of tree conditions, all with one thought in mind----the health and beauty of your trees. If you want answers to your infestation problem, give us a call today; we will diagnose, treat, and restore your tree to its best state of health and provide you with tips for ongoing tree health and maintenance. If your home and property value is a priority for you, you must invest in the health and care of your trees. Contact us today; visit https://www.sarasotatreeservice.com/ for more information.

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