Keeping it green: Year end pest wrap-up

As we head toward the end of 2018, I thought it might be a good time to review some of the year’s major pest problems and the outlook for 2019. To ensure fair coverage of problematic pests, we’ll briefly explore a representative from the ‘Big Three’ categories; insects, disease causing organism, and weeds.

The pest problem that sucked up all the attention this year was the spotted lanternfly (SLF). Across the state numerous articles, interviews, and such were utilized by Penn State Educators and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture regulators to alert citizens of the Commonwealth’s battle against this invasive insect.

And what a battle it has been so far. While information is necessary to combat this problem, it is the strategies being utilized to keep it within the quarantine zones. All stages of SLF are being hounded as citizen scientist and professionals are scrapping eggs masses, banding trees (sticky tape that traps immature and mature SLF), applying insecticides, and removing their favorite host plants.

The idea is to buy time for further research into control measures that are effective in reducing the spread and population. One metric that shows the success so far is the movement (or lack of) since its first found within Pennsylvania. SLF was first detected in Pennsylvania in 2014 and its spread has been pretty much limited to the southeastern part of the state. Contrast that to South Korea, which is the only other country in which SLF is an introduced pest. Roughly the same size as Pennsylvania, SLF tore through that country in three years.

Quickly, name the most popular plant in our landscapes. You would think something showy like azalea or hydrangea would be at the top of the list. But according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, boxwood is the top selling woody plant sold in the U.S. Its usage is unlimited; screening, background for other plants, topiary, planter boxes, and foundation plantings.

Because of its overwhelming popularity, there is concern within the industry with the emergence of boxwood blight, a fungal disease that causes sudden leaf loss and death.

Much research has gone into management methods plus inspecting production sites before material moves into the trade. If you think this might be present in your boxwoods, bring a sample to your local Penn State Extension Office or visit the Penn State Plant Disease Clinic website to learn more about collecting and sending plant samples.

Giant hogweed seemed to be the plant pest of 2018 as it received a lot of press on its spread and human hazards (use your favorite search engine to confirm). While it was first found in New York several decades ago, it has become well established in Pennsylvania. The major concern is not so much its ability to displace native plants but rather the sap that makes human skin become sensitive to the sun (think blisters and burns). If it comes into contact with the eyes, blindness can ensue.

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Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at 570-726-0022.

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