By Danielle Sprague & Dr. Xavier Martini

Citrus is one of the most cherished fruit trees in the Panhandle. Citrus owners are well aware that every year the main damage to their trees come from citrus leafminer (CLM). CLM is a small moth and its larvae feeds between the tissue layers of new leaf growth, causing serpentine mines to form under the leaf cuticle (Fig. 1). The feeding damage results in leaf curling and distortion, and severe infestations of CLM on young trees can retard the growth of trees. Another threat concerning CLM in Florida is that the mines provide an open wound for citrus canker to enter, a bacterial disease that has been found recently in the Florida Panhandle, Georgia, and Alabama.

Citrus leaf miner adult (picture Lyle Buss). (B) Citrus leaves with citrus leafminer mines (picture: Xavier Martini)

Chemical Control

Most commercial growers deal with CLM in young trees by a soil application of systemic insecticide before the flush season, followed by a foliar insecticide when the systemic drench’s toxicity is declining. Homeowners, however, have limited access to these chemistries. Garden systemic insecticides that include imidacloprid (Bayer’s Tree & Shrub Insect Control™, Merit®, etc.) and dinotefuran (Greenlight Tree and Shrub Insect Control™, Safari®, etc.) are among the few options for CLM control. For the best efficacy, those insecticides should be applied two weeks before the start of the flushing season to allow time for the insecticide to move from the roots into the canopy. To avoid leaching of insecticide away from the root zone, soil applications should be made within a 24-hour period without rain. Citrus trees usually have several flushes per year, depending upon cultivar, climate, and crop load. However, in the Florida Panhandle, most citrus cultivars have two major flushes in May and September.

Importantly, systemic insecticides are only efficient against CLM for small immature trees; therefore, the only products labeled for use against CLM on mature trees are foliar sprays. Horticultural oils or insecticides with spinosad (such as Monterey® Garden Insect Spray) are some options available for homeowners. However, achieving leafminer control with foliar applications on mature trees is challenging due to unsynchronized flushing of trees. Foliar applications should be timed with the appearance of the first visible leaf mines. In any case, be sure to READ THE LABEL and follow all the label directions.

Cultural practices, and non-insecticidal methods.

For isolated trees in a backyard, cultural practices and control through mass trapping are usually sufficient to control CLM and insecticide use is not recommended, especially for mature trees. One of the basic cultural practices is to remove any stems that grow below the bud union or from the rootstock, also called ‘suckers’ (Fig. 2). Those rootstock shoots compete with the scion shoots and are great reservoirs for CLM; removing them will help reducing CLM population. On isolated trees, mass trapping using CLM pheromone provide good results (Fig. 3). The mass trapping method is constituted of a delta trap baited with a lure that emits a large quantity of CLM sex pheromone. CLM males are attracted by the odor and are captured in the delta trap’s sticky liner. Those traps are commonly used by growers to monitor CLM populations, but for homeowners they are sufficient to control CLM on a single tree. This trap and a lure method should protect a single tree for approximately 3 months. Finally, the last option is the use of biological control.  Several natural enemies are predators or parasitize CLM. In some case, biological control can reduce CLM populations by 90%. Primary predators of CLM include ants, lacewings, and spiders, as well as a parasitic wasp, Ageniaspis citricola that was introduced into Florida and has become established (Fig. 4).

New growth from the rootstock (called ‘suckers’, red arrow) are a source for CLM infestation and should be removed.
Baited pheromone trap for citrus leafminer (picture Danielle Sprague).
Citrus leafminer serpentine mine parasitized with Ageniaspis citricola larvae (picture Lyle Buss).

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