If your plant leaves look blanched with gray or yellowish spots, it could be a sign of lace bug damage.
These garden pests attack the foliage of azalea, sycamore, avocado, rhododendron, Pieris, and other trees and shrubs. Damage is usually worse in summer when their population peaks.
They can go through several generations per season and can overwinter in some areas, attacking again the next spring. Over a few seasons, this could really harm even the hardiest of shrubs and trees.
This article will provide nine ways to get rid of these leaf-suckers, hopefully for good.
You’ll be able to spot the lace bugs on the underside of your withering leaves. The adults are less than half an inch long and have clear, lace-like wings; hence, their name.
The female lace bug injects her eggs into the leaves of target plants. In the nymph stage their wingless, flat, oval-shaped bodies will be visible.
Their discarded exoskeletons may also stick to the foliage after they’ve molted — another indication of a potential infestation. They insert needle-like mouth extractors into the leaves and suck the juice right out, weakening the plant.
What’s an organic gardener to do? Don’t panic.
Here’s How to Get Rid of Lace Bugs Naturally
The internet abounds with information; some useful, some downright detrimental. The nine natural control methods listed below will help you create a plan of attack.
Some of these remedies suffocate the bugs, while some dislodge them and create an inhospitable environment. Others will eliminate the lace bug infestation, along with other garden pests.
1. Natural Predators
Introduce and/or encourage natural lace bug predators, such as ladybugs, lacewing larvae, minute pirate bugs, and of course, assassin bugs (which will also devour any aphids hanging around).
Assassin bugs live for about two months, long enough to break the lifecycle of the critters. These beneficial insects can be purchased online and released strategically wherever you see an infestation.
2. Hose Them
This is an easy and inexpensive lace bug control method. You could simply hose them off in order to provide an inhospitable environment for them.
However, exercise caution as you may damage the leaves/flowers. You might also just knock them onto nearby plants, causing further spread.
Cut the infested foliage off and burn it. You could also seal the foliage in a plastic bag and throw it out. However, do not put it in your compost bin. The last thing you want is a lace bug breeding ground if your pile isn’t hot enough.
4. Rake Up Leaves and Debris
Again, going back to making the environment inhospitable. You don’t want to give the lace bugs anywhere to mate, lay eggs, or hide from harsh sunlight or cold weather.
Burn the debris if you can, or bag it in plastic and tie it tight so the buggers can’t escape.
5. Neem Oil
Dilute the Neem oil in a sprayer and spray the underside of the leaves to control lace bugs and other pests.
Neem oil will kill the lace bugs present at the time of spraying. Therefore, this method will need to be repeated as new lace bugs emerge (and to catch the ones that got away).
Another benefit of this treatment is that it’s also a fungicide.
6. Insecticidal Soap
Recipes abound for homemade insecticidal soap for pest control. Will soapy water kill lace bugs? Yes, it will. It will smother them.
The simplest recipe is combining 4 to 5 tablespoons of mild liquid soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s, with a gallon of water. Mix thoroughly and spray affected plants.
You can also include other ingredients that are distasteful to pests, such as cayenne pepper and garlic. Alternatively, purchase a premixed version, such as Bonide.
This natural pest control product works by paralyzing the bugs, causing them to die within 1 to 2 days. Another benefit of this lace bug treatment is that it breaks down in sunlight, so this makes it a great choice for your garden.
Unfortunately, Spinosad is toxic to bees, so this would probably be used as a last resort. Following directions on when and how to apply can lessen the impact on bees.
Spray Buster-O on your plants to kill lace bugs on contact for immediate satisfaction. However, like Spinosad, this organic pesticide is also toxic to bees.
It contains pyrethrins, and should not be used indoors. With those warnings, you’ll want to use it with care when applying.
9. PyGanic Pyrethrin Spray
Moreover, it breaks down so quickly in sunlight that fruits and vegetables can be harvested safely within a few hours of use.
Once you’ve decided on your course of action, follow the directions and follow through. Give your first attempt time to work; remember lace bugs have a short life cycle.
Up the ante with each attempt. If the infestation is so bad even natural predators can’t keep up, and you’ve tried using the garden hose, pruning, and raking, give neem oil or insecticidal soap a try.
If the lace bugs are still winning, go big with Spinosad, Buster-O, or PyGanic pyrethrin spray. Besides, there are many other home remedies that can eliminate bugs in your garden.
The critters can overwinter if conditions are right, so you’ll be starting all over again in the spring if you don’t take care of them now.