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Lace Bugs: What Are They And How To Get Rid Of Them

Do your plants suffer from the plague of lace bugs? If you notice reddish-orange spots on the undersides of some of the leaves of your shrubs and trees – probably!

lace bug

images: wikimedia commons – Forest & Kim Starr lace bug for scale | right – Sycamore lace bug

These very small insects are everywhere, and mostly found in leaf surface. They can simply destroy the appearance of your plants. In this article, we will describe and discuss lace bugs and provide some sound advice on ridding your yard and garden of these troublesome pests. Read on to learn more.


Lace Bugs Are Ubiquitous

The lace bug hails from the family, Tingidae, and within that family you’ll find many different kinds of lace bugs. Each type is a specialist such as sycamore lace bug only eating undersides of the sycamore plant leaves.

Other specific lace bugs that only eat a certain plant include:

…to name a few. The list goes on and on to include a wide variety of plants, shrubs and bushes. The various species are typically named after the type of plant they consume. Luckily, dealing with lace bugs successfully uses similar methods for their control


How Do You Know If Lace Bugs Are Causing The Problem?

Lace bugs go through three life stages. They go from eggs to nymphs to adults, and all on the bottom sides of plant leaves.

Adult females lay very tiny, oblong eggs in the tissue of a leaf surface. The eggs hatch into nymphs which shed their skins about five times before becoming adults and starting the cycle all over again.

It’s easy to identify these little devils. Even as adults, they are extremely tiny. In fact they never exceed 1/8th inch in length. Winged adults look “lacy” with tiny, clear cells covering the thorax and wings.

The wingless lace bug nymphs, dark in color and oval in shape are even smaller than adults. You can find both nymphs and adults clustered together on the undersides of the leaf on your shrubs, bushes and other plants.

When you look at the lower sides of your plant leaves and see dark, shiny spots, tiny black bugs and tiny, fly-like insects with lacy wings, you know you are dealing with lace bugs.

Recognizing Lace Bugs Video:


What Do Lace Bugs Do?

Both the nymphs and the adults suck the fluid from plants (like the scale insect pest and spider mites) through the undersides of the leaves. This interferes with photosynthesis and causes stippling and discoloration of the leaf. You will usually see this severe damage in the later weeks of summer.

Before the damage occurs, you may notice the spots of dark, shiny excrement on the undersides of your plants’ leaves. In very heavy infestations, this can actually drip onto the ground beneath the plants.

When you see these symptoms, you can be fairly certain that you are dealing with lace bugs; however, some other types of pests also cause this kind of damage. Among them are mites, thrips and true bugs.

If you are uncertain, use a magnifying glass to examine the damage and look for clues. If spider mites cause the infestation, the dark, shiny droppings will not be present. Additionally, mites cast webs and they also shed their skin with great frequency. You will see tiny mite skins cast about with a spider mite infestation.


Will Lace Bug Damage Kill My Plants?

Lace bug damage is unsightly, but not fatal. Your plants, shrubs and trees will have an unattractive appearance due to the discoloration of the leaf and the dark, ugly spotting, but will not die.

If your plants suffer heavy infestation for a long time, they may drop their leaves. This can cause a reduction in fruit production for some types of trees. Also, a dearth of leaves can allow the sun to damage fruit.


The Best Defense Is A Good Offense!

You cannot undo the damage caused by lace bugs, but there are lots of ways to get rid of the bugs so the new growth can come in undisturbed next spring. Keeping plants strong and healthy will help repel the pests and prevent infestation.

#1 – Attract Natural Predators!

You don’t really need to completely eradicate lace bugs to keep damage under control. Cultivating a good population of desirable fauna in your garden will help. Lace bugs have a number of natural enemies, including:

Here’s more detailed look at how these insects help gardeners combat lace bug infestation.

Lady bug species actually feed on lace bugs as well as other insects that destroy plants.

Pirate Bugs, another natural enemy of lace bugs measuring about 1/5 inch in length, love feeding on other insects and the eggs of their prey and are probably the most beneficial insects for controlling lace bug infestation.

They use their beak or proboscis for piercing the bodies of their victims and sucking out their fluids causing death.

Although very beneficial for controlling lace bug infestation, be careful when using them since ornamental plants, shrubs, corn, small grains, and growing tomato plants attract them.

They can feed on the juices and pollen of the plants that they favor in your garden. Luckily, this only happens when prey is unavailable.

On another note, pirate bugs can bite humans during late summer and the bites are said to be rather painful. The presence of pirate bugs is seasonal and many homeowners prefer using them in the springtime when the lace bugs cause the greatest damage.

Predatory Mites love consuming harmful plant-eating insects such as lace bugs. However, unlike pirate bugs, they don’t damage plants or bite humans. Related to ticks and spiders they look nearly identical to spider mites.

Predatory mites use tiny mouth parts that extend from the top of their pear-shaped bodies to attack, pierce, and kill their prey. Typically, predatory mites will disperse once they finish consuming all the available prey.

Lacewing Larvae can ruthlessly destroy many of the bugs in your garden by injecting venom and sucking fluid from their victims. A handful of lacewing larvae like these can aid in the control of lace bug infestation and protect the garden from various other insects including aphids. Lacewing larvae can consume up to 200 plant-eating bugs every week, making them highly beneficial insects.

Assassin Bugs typically brown, reddish, or black bugs and when mature usually measure about 0.75 inch. These predators feed on insects but some assassin bug species actually feed on the blood of mammals.

While adult assassin bugs may not be the best of fliers, they can sufficiently stalk lace bug prey. Once assassin bugs get into contact with lace bugs or other insects such as caterpillars or aphids, they usually inject them with a deadly venom.

Attract these beneficial allies to your garden and you will need little or no pesticides.

#2 – Plant With Care!

Planning carefully when planting your yard and garden will also help prevent lace bug infestation. Examples of good planning include:

Don’t plant a mono-crop. Plant a wide variety of plants, shrubs and trees and mix them up so that lace bugs will not have a chance to become firmly established.

Avoid planting in very hot, dry, sunny areas as this is where lace bugs thrive. Try to choose plants that like partial shade and position them in such a way that your plants receive light shade and/or afternoon shade every day.

Be sure your plants are well watered and keep soil evenly moist by applying mulch.

Prevent lace bugs taking hold in the springtime by examining your plants late in the winter. If you notice any lace bug presence, take action to eradicate them before they can begin reproducing.


Getting Rid Of Lace Bugs

The lace bug critters can be very hard to get rid of because they are capable of over-wintering on their host plants in a number of ways.

  • Adults can hide out under bark plates.
  • Eggs and adults may find shelter in debris and fallen leaves under host plants.
  • Nymphs and adults infesting an evergreen plant can handily survive a mild winter.
  • Eggs inserted into evergreen plant tissues can survive winter and hatch in the springtime.

There are lots of natural ways to tackle lace bugs, and it’s a good idea to practice all of them all of the time. An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure when it comes to dealing with these tenacious little invaders. Here are a few smart biological control or natural ideas you can try:

#1 – Knock them off with water. Early in the spring, give the undersides of your plant leaves a good dousing with the garden hose. A forceful spray will knock off nymphs and adults and wash the unsightly droppings off your plants’ leaves.

#2 – Prune vigorously and dispose of the cut leaves properly. After washing down your plants, cut off damaged leaf or leaves and seal them up in a plastic bag to be taken away with the trash.

#3 – Rake up debris, leaves and old mulch from beneath affected plants and dispose of it properly. Replace it with a sterile commercial mulch or with mulch not made from a type of plant that attracts lace bugs.

#4 – Choose plants that will do well in your location. While it may be tempting to plant unusual and exotic types of plants, this is really asking for lace bug problems. Healthy, hardy, native and naturalized plants that thrive with ease in your conditions are far more likely to fight off lace bugs.

#5 – Cull out poor performing plants and replace them with hardier varieties.

#6 – If you have plants severely affected last spring, between the months of December and February, keep the ground beneath them bare and clean. Rake up leaves, debris and mulch and cultivate the soil several times during these late winter months. This will expose and kill any eggs, nymphs or adults lurking in the soil.


Keep A Strong Cadre Of Friendly Fauna

Take great care when using broad spectrum insecticides as these products will kill off your friendly fauna. If you kill  lace bug predators, you will soon find yourself dealing with a spider mite infestation.

Keeping a healthy population of natural predators in the landscape plays an important part of long term pest control of many different, undesirable insects. If you find that natural predators cannot keep up with the lace bug infestation, use only a non-persistent, contact insecticide treatment.

Apply these types of products directly and carefully to the lasce bug infestation. Their short term actions will carry effect on your beneficial fauna.

Some of the best products to use include:

Spray the undersides of leaves with one of these products once every two weeks until the problem clears up. Plants will still look ragged, but the infestation under control. Taking preventative steps through the winter months, allow plants to recover and grow back nicely in the springtime.

Chemicals

Use chemical treatments sparingly and as a last resort. They can cause more damage than benefit in your garden. Commercial insecticides can:

  • Kill off valuable pollinators such as bees and butterflies
  • Result in the increase of other pest (e.g. spider mites)
  • Poison lace bugs’ natural enemies
  • Contaminate water supplies

If you do resort to chemical treatment, be sure to read the label instructions carefully and follow them to the letter.

Some effective chemicals when used correctly include these non-residual contact insecticides:

These types of insecticides carry a low toxicity to humans and domestic animals.

When applied judiciously and with great care, they will have limited negative impact on natural insect predators and pollinators.

If your lace bug battle goes on for a couple of seasons without effect, apply one of these products carefully to the undersides of leaves in early spring. Repeat the treatment bi-weekly. This will do away with adults and emerging nymphs on a regular, ongoing basis.


What About Systemic Insecticides?

Plant’s absorb systemic products and spread the “poison” throughout the plant’s circulatory system. Typically, the application of these products gets delivered through foliar spray, trunk injection or soil drench.

Depending upon the type of poison and the type of plant, you may need to hire a pest control service to help you with this.

Some of the systemic insecticides commonly used against lace bugs: include

  • Organophosphate Acephate
  • Neonicotinoids
  • Imidacloprid

In severe cases, a single application of one of these powerful products may eliminate the lace bug problem. Unfortunately, it may also do away with the pollinators and your beneficial fauna.

You may have heard that bees are dying off at alarming rates around the world. This is because of the use of neonicotinoids. Bees are essential to life on earth, so killing them off in mass numbers is sheer folly.

When poured into the ground (soil drench) or applied as a foliar spray, systemic insecticides can travel to plants other than the target plant. If they translocate to flowering plants and are consumed by pollinators in nectar and pollen, massive deaths will result. Furthermore, use of systemic insecticides is very likely to result in spider mite infestation.


Don’t Use Broad Spectrum Insecticides

Avoid broad-spectrum insecticides and those that leave persistent residues. Specific products to avoid include:

  • Pyrethroids, such as permethrin, fluvalinate and bifenthrin
  • Nonsystemic organophosphates, such as malathion
  • Carbamates, such as Sevin and carbaryl

All of these are extremely poisonous and can decimate your population of natural insect predators and pollinators. Additionally, when you poison insects, you are also poisoning other wildlife that eats them, such as birds, toads, lizards, box turtles and so on.

Furthermore, these poisons don’t just stay politely in your garden poisoning your only your wildlife. Rain and watering cause them to run off into storm drains and streams where they cause damage to aquatic life and eventually contaminate drinking water.

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Consistent Application Of Natural Deterrents Makes For A Win-Win!

All-in-all, it’s best to simply avoid using these powerful and potentially dangerous products. When you choose hardy plants, position them in your yard carefully and tend to them well, they are unlikely to become infested with lace bugs. If you do have a lace bug problem, a tenacious effort using natural or less hazardous methods will surely be effective.