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While out last week traveling around I noticed a lot of azaleas in our area with lacebug damage. This isn’t something most people notice until their azaleas are in bad shape, but you may want to take a look at yours. Azalea lacebugs are 1/8” long with light brown bodies. They prefer evergreen varieties but attack deciduous varieties and mountain laurels but will eat all types of azaleas.
Lacebugs feed by sucking sap from leaf tissue and all generations from nymph to adult feed this way. The signs of lacebug feeding are spotting on the upper sides of the leaves, however leaves will turn white and drop off in heavy infestations. Many times the lacebugs may not be noticed until it is too late. If you look on the undersides of the leaves where feeding has taken place there will be a build up of tarry excrement stuck to the leaves.
Controlling lacebugs isn’t that hard, it’s all about timing. Most people don’t notice anything is wrong with their azaleas until it is too late. Generally a good spraying with Malathion or Orthene once a month from May until August will give you control and peace of mind. Usually I wouldn’t recommend spraying without waiting for damage; however with lacebug it is usually too late by the time damage is noticed. If you don’t want to spray pesticides, insecticidal soap will give you reasonable control.
One last thing about azaleas, keep them as healthy as possible by controlling lacebugs and by giving them adequate water if we have a dry spell. Usually one inch per week is adequate. It’s also not a bad idea to mix a tablespoon of “Miracid” per gallon of water and poor it around each azalea periodically from now until August. Stop fertilizing in August but continue to water as needed.