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Winter Tree and Shrub Insects and Mites, Undercover Killers of Your Landscape

9 min read

While winter is not the time of year that most of us think about our landscape maintenance, there may be some undercover action taking place that could be potentially destructive to your trees and shrubs.

Unbeknownst to you, winter tree insects are hiding in tiny cracks and crevasses on your plants, just waiting to strike when the time is right. You may not notice anything now, but by spring and summer, these pests will multiply and wreak damage on your landscape.

We know there is a tremendous amount of value in the trees and shrubs growing on your property. You can’t just restore a plant that has been growing for a decade or longer. It not only holds irreplaceable sentimental value, but it’s been increasing in monetary value during its growing years as well.

healthy trees and shrubs around house

Take an average shrub that was planted for $50 when it was around 18 inches tall. After years of growing you could spend $500-$1,000 to try and find a shrub of that size--if you could even find something that mature. Alternately, if you replace it with something smaller, the overall look and appeal of your landscape will be forever downgraded.

Fortunately, you have some defensive options. The best defense is a proactive approach from a tree service that provides plant health care solutions. You must be on top of the threat before it’s too late.

Common Winter Tree Pests

There are a number of winter tree or shrub insects and mites that can be hidden amongst your trees and shrubs without you even knowing. Many of these pests "overwinter", meaning they aren’t killed off by the cold.  While some adult pests overwinter, they also lay many eggs on plants that also overwinter. Like sleeper cell agents, they’re just biding their time and waiting to attack come spring.

Though we have a number of potential tree insects and mites in the Cincinnati, Dayton and Northern Kentucky area, here are five common pests that we’ve been seeing a lot of lately causing substantial damage to trees and shrubs.

1. Scale Insects

These small, oval insects have a shell-like covering. Some are as large as a ladybug, while others as small as a mark you would make with a sharp pencil. Scale insects damage trees and shrubs by sucking out their fluids. They often go unnoticed until foliage wilts and branches begin to die.

Winter tree insects and mites - Scale Insects

These sneaky pests are good at hiding. At first glance they simply appear to be bumps on the branches that you may ignore. All the while, they are doing serious damage with their piercing/sucking mouthparts which are used to suck out the tree or shrub’s vital nutrients.

2. Hemlock Woolly Adelgid

These insects feeds on Hemlocks. The most distinguishing characteristics of the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid are the white filaments of cotton-like wax produced by the females.

Winter tree insects and mites - Hemlock Woolly Adelgid

The overwintering females are black and oval and often conceal themselves underneath their characteristic white waxy mass. Severe infestations can lead to premature needle drop, stunted growth, or even the ultimate death of the tree.

3. Spider Mites

This greenish/yellow pest has eight legs and bears resemblance to a spider, hence its name, but is incredibly tiny. In fact, at only 1/64-inch long, you could be standing next to your tree or shrub and not even spot these pesky mites. In fact, you would need a strong magnifying tool to even see them scurry about.

Winter tree damage from spider mites

But that’s not to say they won’t do a lot of damage as they feed on its leaves. You can try to scout for mites in your trees and shrubs by holding a white piece of paper under the leaves and gently shaking them. Run your hand across the paper and if there are streaks, you’re crushing and smearing live adults.

Because mites have piercing/sucking mouthparts, when they feed, it creates small, discolored dotting on the leaves. If it is severe, the leaves will look stippled and dull in appearance. In our region, spider mites are hitting boxwoods, burning bushes, spruces, and junipers particularly hard.

4. Bagworms

The bagworm gets its name from the bag that it constructs with silk and pieces of the plant’s foliage. This brilliant adaptation actually allows them to look as though they are part of the tree itself. While the adult bagworm larvae pupates and turns into a moth in fall, female moths then lay up to 1,000 eggs in each bag, which overwinter and hatch the next spring.

Winter tree insect and mite damage - Bagworms

While the young larvae of next year are only ¼ inch when they first hatch, after they voraciously feed they can grow to be a full inch. Unfortunately they are often missed until plants begin to brown from the unrepairable damage in late summer.

5. Lace Bugs

These tiny, flat bugs grow no longer than ⅛  inch long and feed on the undersides of leaves so they are often not seen. Their wings have a see-through-like appearance that gives them their lacey name.

Winter tree insects and mites damage - Lace Bug

Though they lay dormant in eggs through the winter, they are ready to hatch and attack come spring. Their damage is similar to that of mites and you may see stippling. This is mostly an issue on azaleas, pieris, and cotoneaster shrubs, though it may appear on some other trees and shrubs as well.  

Your Best Winter Tree Pest Defense

If your property is regularly addressed with a proactive plant health care program then you most likely don’t need to worry much about these winter tree and shrub insects and mites. This approach of strategically-timed treatments addresses trees and shrubs in order to keep pest populations low enough so your plants aren’t damaged.

till, tree and shrub insect and mite control doesn’t mean treating anything and everything. Responsible applications are so important. That’s because nature exists in a balance and getting rid off everything will only create more problems. For instance, a broad spectrum insect control material will also destroy beneficial insect predators.

You might get rid of the aphids feeding on burning bushes, but now that the plant has no natural protectors, and you could aggravate a spider mite problem. You don’t want an approach that gets rid of them all as it will only lead to more trouble. That’s where a professional knows the right material, the right rate, and the right time to treat specific pests.

It’s all a matter of balance. A well-trained professional will take a customized approach to plant health care so that they’re leaving the good insects and mites while handling the destructive ones.

Unfortunately, this is not the methodology that every company employs. Many companies take the easy route, treating an entire landscape with the same broad spectrum materials. However, there are tree service companies that take the time to customize their approach.

The Oasis Plant Health Care Difference

Oasis Turf & Tree is committed to providing the best possible plant health care to not only responsibly take care of pests, but to improve the health of your trees and shrubs.

With every landscape that we work with, our approach is a targeted one. We adjust products and methods so that we’re not destroying helpful pests that build a natural defense system against tree and shrub pests.

Shrub inspection for insects and mites

Our program also promotes overall soil health, to grow more self-sustaining trees and shrubs. Healthy plants and shrubs can definitely build up natural immunity to some of these most troublesome pests.

You can also rest assured that you’ll always be kept in the loop of what we’re doing. When it comes to plant health care, our technicians go above and beyond in communication. On each visit, your plant health care technician will:

  • Leave behind detailed notes that let you know what they did or any problems that they may have spotted, and explain this in easy to understand language.
  • Give additional recommendations as to what can be done to improve the health of your trees and shrubs.

With a well-trained eye on your property, you can have the peace of mind that our technicians are spotting problems that you may not see and handling them before they wreak havoc. Winter tree and shrub pests are tricky, but we know what to look for.

At the end of the day, you must protect your investment. Trees and shrubs cannot be easily restored and oftentimes when you begin to see damage, it may be too late. A program that takes a targeted and proactive approach can do just that, and give you peace of mind in the process.

Don’t give winter pests a chance to become like sleeper cell agents in your trees and shrubs. Oasis Turf & Tree offers solutions for the Cincinnati, Dayton, OH and Northern Kentucky. Check out the pricing of plant health care, request a free consultation or call us at 513-697-9090 if you have any questions.

Check Out Our Tree & Shrub Care Program & Cost!


Image Sources:  scale insects, woolly adelgid, spider mites, bagworms, lace bugs

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