Spruce spider mite management in Christmas trees

As temperatures begin to cool, Christmas tree growers should be on the lookout for resurgence in spruce spider mite populations.

Spruce spider mites (Oligonuchus umunguis) are an important pest of conifers in Michigan. This tiny insect can infest all species of commercially produced Christmas trees, regularly causing significant economic losses in spruce and Fraser fir plantings. Spruce spider mites are more commonly a pest in conventionally managed plantations that have lower predatory mite populations due to insecticide use. Predatory mites benefit the grower because they feed on spruce spider mites and help keep populations in check; in their absence, spruce spider mite populations can flare, leading to tree damage.

As cooler weather approaches, growers should be ramping up their mite scouting programs as we expect to see populations grow as the hot weather that limited activity this summer abates. To scout for spruce spider mites, growers should sample multiple trees in each plantation and be sure to select trees from different elevations as well as from the interior and exterior rows of plantings. Larger tree samples will increase grower accuracy in their assessment of the population and potential risk.

Scouting should be done on a season-long basis and not only after symptoms appear as this is often too late for effective treatment. The simplest way to scout for adult and juvenile mites is to shake or tap a branch over a scouting board or piece of paper. The spruce spider mite egg is a tiny, bright red sphere with a single hair in the center. Eggs that have already hatched will appear clear (Photo 1).

Spider mite with egg
Photo 1. Adult spider mite with egg. Photo credit: USDA FS-Northeastern Area
Archive, Bugwood.org

Spruce spider mites are very small and soft-bodied during the motile stages. Adult spruce spider mites are one, solid color, elliptical in shape and have hairs along the top of the abdomen. Coloration varies and is not a good indicator of identity for the motile life stages. Beneficial predatory mites can be distinguished from pest mites by observing their movement. When disturbed, adult predatory mites generally move more quickly than pest mites and can be observed moving speedily around on scouting boards.

Symptoms of damage include chlorosis, needle drop and tree mortality. When viewing damage through a hand lens, symptoms appear as small, yellow, circular patches that surround the feeding sites (Photo 2).

Spider mite feeding damage
Photo 2. Spruce spider mite feeding damage on needle. Photo credit:
John A. Weidhass, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Bugwood.org

Spruce spider mite damage can be prevented through a combination of careful monitoring, resistance management and the utilization of pesticides that are less harmful to natural predatory mites. The simplest way to determine the need for management is to evaluate if scouting indicates that the population is growing or at a damaging level. It is important to remember that spruce spider mite populations can fluctuate rapidly, so simply observing damage on trees is not an accurate indicator of the need for treatment as damage may have been caused by populations that have since died off, making a spray application pointless.

The following table contains current treatment options, their chemical class, the life stage they target, relative efficacy, duration of control and relative toxicity to beneficial predatory mites.

2012 control options for spruce spider mites

Chemical class

Compound (active ingredient)

Life stage target*

Efficacy

Residual control

Toxicity to predatory mites

Pyrethroids

Asana XL, Adjourn, S-fenvalostar (esfenvalerate),   OnyxPro, Sniper, Quali-Pro Bifenthrin Golf and Nursery 7.9F (bifenthrine),   Tame (fenpropathrin), Baythroid XL (cyfluthrin)

Motiles

Good

4-6 weeks

H

Organophosphates

Chlorpyrifos 4E AG, Chlorpyrifos 4E AG, Govern 4E, Hatchet,   Lorsban Advanced, Lorsban 4E, Lorsban 50W WSP, Lorsban 75WG, Nufos 4E,   Quali-Pro Chlorpyrifos 4E, Warhawk, Whirlwind, Yuma 4E Insecticide, Vulcan (chlorpyrifos)

Motiles

Fair

4-6 weeks

H

Avermectins***

Avid 0.15EC, Ardent 0.15EC, Lucid Ornamental, Nufarm Abamectin,   Merlin, Minx, Quali-Pro Abamectin 0.15EC, Timectin 0.15EC T&O (abamectin)

Motiles

Good

3-4 weeks

M

Neonicitinoids

Admire Pro, Couraze 1.6F, Couraze 2F, Couraze 4F, Mallet 75WSP,   Nuprid 1.6F, Pasada 1.6F, Prey, Provado 1.6F, Sherpa, Widow, Wrangler (imidacloprid)


Poor


M

Tetronic acids

Envidor 2SC Mitecide (spirodiclofan)

Eggs, Motiles

Good

3-4 weeks

S

Thiazoles***

Savey 50DF, Onager, Hexygon DF (hexythiazox)

Eggs, Larvae

Good

3-4 weeks

S

Carbazates

Acramite 4SC, Floramite SC, Sirocco (bifenazate)

Eggs, Motiles

Good

4 Weeks

M

Sulfite esters

Omite (propargite)

Motiles

Good

3-4 weeks

S

Organotins***

Vendex (fenbutanin)

Motiles

Good

4-6 Weeks

S

Horticultural oils****

Damoil (mineral oil), Purespray 10E, Purespray Green (petroleum   oil)

Eggs, Motiles

Good

2-6 Weeks

S

Quinolines 

Shuttle (acequinocyl)

Eggs, Motiles

Good

3-4 Weeks

M

Quinazolines

Magister, Magus (fenazaquin)

Eggs, Motiles

Good

3-4 Weeks

M

Pyridazinone

Sanmite (pyridaben)

Eggs, Motiles

Good

3-4 Weeks

M

Insect growth inhibitors

Apollo SC (clofentazine)*****

Eggs, Larvae, Nymphs

Good

3-4 Weeks

S

Insect growth regulators

TetraSan (etoxazole)

Eggs, Larvae, Nymphs

Good

4 Weeks

M

*Motile forms include mite larvae, nymph and adult stages.
**S-relatively safe to mite predators, M-moderately toxic, H-highly toxic.
***Avermectin, organotin, and thiazole miticides are slower acting so growers should not be surprised if mites appear alive following application, it may take 7-10 days to see complete mortality.
****Horticultural oils can cause phytotoxicity, particularly when used in the summer, and can lighten the blue coloring in blue spruce trees.  A 1% concentration of a highly refined horticultural oil is usually a safe rate to spray anytime of the year, but a 2% or higher concentration may damage bloom on glaucous varieties of spruce, and cause other undesirable symptoms.
*****The Apollo label should be read and followed carefully to ensure proper use and slow the development of insecticide resistance.

Pyrethroids, organophosphates and the avermectins all have good knockdown activity and residual control against the motile life stages of spruce spider mites, but their lethal effects on predatory mites makes them poor choices for treatment. The use of these materials often necessitates continued treatments during the season as natural enemy and predatory mite populations are depleted, leading to spruce spider mite population flares. Neonicitinoids containing imdacloprid as the active ingredient are also a poor choice for spruce spider mite control and in some cases may actually contribute to spider mite outbreaks. The carbazates, quinolones, pyridazinones, quinazolines and the insect growth regulator etoxazole all show good efficacy against spruce spider mite and are moderately toxic to predatory mites when compared to the aforementioned materials. Use of these materials presents a lower risk of mite flaring and provides three to four weeks residual control against all lifestages of spruce spider mites (with the exception of etoxazole which has limited activity against adults).

The tetronic acids, thiazoles, sulfite esters, organotins and horticultural oils also show good efficacy against spruce spider mites with variable lengths of residual control. There is a risk of phytotoxicity and chlorosis with horticultural oils, so growers should proceed with caution with new products or when using on previously untreated species. The tetronic acids, thiazoles, sulfite esters, organotins and horticultural oils also have the important added benefit of being relatively safe to predatory mites and have a low potential to cause mite flaring.

Growers may find that more than one treatment is necessary, particularly under high population pressure or when utilizing an insecticide that isn’t active against all life stages. Growers are encouraged to note the presence or absence of the different life stages while scouting to help them select the best material and maximize efficacy, this is particularly important in the spring when targeting eggs is an important strategy. To delay the development of miticide resistance, growers are encouraged to follow label suggestions limiting the number of applications of a given product in a season and also to select miticides from more than one class of insecticides. For example, growers may apply a dormant oil application in the spring, followed by a tetronic acid application as populations begin to rebound, the next application should be from a class other than tetronic acids.

Changes in pesticide regulations occur constantly and the information provided in this article does not supersede label directions. To protect yourself, others and the environment, always read and follow the label. For additional information on spruce spider mites, read the full article at christmastree.for.msu.edu

Dr. Smitley’s work is funded in part by MSU‘s AgBioResearch.

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