Insecticide safe if used properly

Published 11:44 pm Sunday, September 3, 2017

While I am no longer with the Adams County Extension Service or coordinator of the Adams County Master Gardeners, I feel compelled to respond to a recent letter written about the Master Gardeners and treatment of downtown trees.

I read with interest the article by Jim Waddill concerning the loss of his bees. I am sorry for his misfortune.

However, I do not believe it was possible for his bees to depart the day after the Adams County Master Gardeners treated crape myrtles for Crape Myrtle Bark Scale (CMBS) as a soil drench with imidacloprid and blame imidacloprid. It takes at least two weeks for the material to move from the soil to within the plants vascular system and control.

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Yes, imidacloprid is a neonictinoid insecticide and toxic to bees along with most other insecticides such as Malathion which is what most cities use to treat mosquitoes that carry multiple diseases, including here in Natchez. Neonictinoid insecticides are an effective tool for control of most scales and other sucking insects in trees and shrubs. In fact, imidacloprid is one of the chemicals that dog owners use to control fleas and ticks when applied to the dog’s skin. Imidacloprid is not labeled as a foliar application on crape myrtles but does have a soil applied label that even allows the product to be applied to the plant when blooming, contrary to what Mr. Waddill stated. The best application window is in the spring (late April through June) just after the crape myrtles begin to put on leaves and before blooming and if applied properly treatments should last about a year.

Natchez is in a crisis situation along with a handful of other cities in Mississippi. CMBS is a serious new, non-native pest of crape myrtles that was first detected in Mississippi in spring of 2015 and in Natchez last year. In four generations, one CMBS can have eight to 12 million offspring.  This pest can move from plant to plant via insects, birds, wind, squirrels, etc.

It is important to treat before CMBS has its first generation offspring in the spring and before blooming. Uncontrolled infestations of CMBS build to heavy populations that produce large amounts of “honeydew,” causing infested trees, as well as other nearby plants, patio furniture, vehicles and anything under these trees to be covered with the “sticky” nature of the honeydew as well as “black sooty mold.”

I personally witnessed several downtown backyard patios covered in black sooty mold to the point homeowners could no longer sit in chairs outside. These infested trees are unsightly and have fewer blooms and grow poorly.  Heavy sustained infestations of CMBS can also kill trees. This has also occurred here in Natchez.

If crape myrtle bark scale is to go untreated the pest will be all over Mississippi and many more bees will possibly suffer as a result due to misapplication. Crape myrtle bark scale cannot be washed off as Mr. Waddill stated in his letter. He implied that the LSU AgCenter said cleaning off the sooty mold would control the insect, but this is incorrect. You might be able to wash off the black sooty mold that is a consequence of CMBS with soap and water and lots of elbow grease but the insect will still be there.

Another point to make is that there are several other factors besides imidacloprid that can affect bees such as Colony Collapse Disorder, Varroa mites and just abscond. Talk to any bee keeper in the area and they will tell you they occasionally lose hives all the time for various reasons. Varroa mites are a non-native pest that preys on developing immature bees and spread a virus that, if left untreated, can cause the entire bee colony to decline and die.

Ideally CMBS should be treated annually in early spring before bloom by soil injection so to lessen the exposure to bees and other non-target pest. Fall applications of imidacloprid can also be beneficial when there are fewer blooms present and helpful in reducing the over wintering population of CMBS.

Let me finish by saying I have never in my life seen a more dedicated group of volunteers than the Adams County Master Gardeners. Their impact is greater than anyone in the general public can possibly understand. From maintaining natures trails at Historic Jefferson College and the Indian Village to Pruning trees at Co-Lin Community College or the Natchez City Cemetery. Then you can find them helping landscape the gazebo (bandstand), downtown streets or even schools.

They have educational gardens at local public schools, work with numerous local nonprofits, and participate in local events all the time. Their members are a rare breed of hard-working gardening enthusiast who often put the love of their hometown and its beauty as a priority in their life. We should all be grateful for their efforts.

Now let’s all work together with them to make Natchez a great and beautiful tourist attraction.
David Carter is the District 2 supervisor of Adams County.