Calla Lily bulb with white insects

bug_girl(17)January 22, 2008

I accidently dug up a calla lily bulb, and it looked healthy. But, it was crawling with hidious white insects. I discarded it, because I was afraid it would infect other plants. Any advice? It was one of those colored fancy bulbs, and I know they are not real bulbs, but because the root was the part that was sick, I thought I would ask here.

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I'm a bit confused by your post - the bulb you dug up looked healthy but later you say it (or the root, actually a tuber) is sick. Was the tuber hard and firm? Did the calla grow and flower well last season? If yes to both, then there is nothing wrong with your calla tuber and you can replant it. All manner of insects and other little creepy-crawlers live in the soil and the vast majority of them are not harmful. In fact, a good many of them are essential to the health of the soil and to your plants' well-being. Many live off of decaying organic or plant matter and all plants (calla tubers included) will shed old roots or bits of other underground parts as part of their natural life cycle. That's not to say the insects you saw were necessarily good guys and it certainly won't hurt to brush or wash them off before replanting the tuber, but if the tuber itself is firm and apparently healthy then you really have no need to worry about replanting it and contaminating the rest of your plantings.

Good growing conditions - a healthy, biologically active soil, proper drainage and sufficient but not too much water - will typically result in strong, healthy plants that are able to withstand the onslaughts of most harmful insects. And the harmful ones ARE in the minority, as they are the ones most likely to be on the menu of the beneficial soil organisms and other soil dwelling creatures.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2008 at 9:34AM
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These were bad insects, I am familar with benefisical ones and these were not. They looked like termits. The bulb was healthy. I compost all my own kitchen scraps. I know a good insect.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2008 at 6:37PM
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honeybunny442(z6 TN)

Calla lilies form a new bulb on top of the old one. When you dig the bulb up, often there is a little bit of the old bulb left stuck to the bottom, it looks kind of shriveled and is sometimes soft. This old bulb section often falls off once the bulb dries.
Now, scavengers in the soil look for decaying organic matter, and if you leave callas in the ground long enough, worms and other ickies will start to go after the old bulb section.
Maybe this is what you saw?

    Bookmark   January 23, 2008 at 7:00PM
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I wish it had been that. If it had I would not be upset, but the bulb was not broken, it was huge and big like two inches by three inches, and round and fall, and was in perfect health, no decay, and the insects were white and spawning like termites. I looked up many photos of termites, but they all had big heads. These do not have big heads. And they were not grubs, this is very abnormal to me. I have been growing colored calla for years, and I never saw this before. I though of washing the bulb with organic plant cleaner, called Jungle Rain, but I was wondered the infection would still be present, and all my bulbs would be ruined, so I did not even try that. Maybe it was not a calla even? I just don't know. It had not broken into pieces like a calla normally does. But, I can't remember anything there but calla lilies. Maybe it was some kind of bonus bulb that I planed upside down, and never sprouted? I planed more bulbs in the area, some tulips that I had to move to the front, because my stupid dog keeps digging them up. I am waiting to see if these also get the white insects on them. There were no worms in the bulb or anything. I just hope I am not dealing with a major infectation. It on the side of the house in front, so it can't containment, the rest of the garden which is mostly a back yard garden.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 11:29AM
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It had to be a termite nest. I found out they can live on bulbs. The king and queen live inside the bulb, and it would have been a total disaster to have saved the bulb.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2008 at 12:15PM
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(It probably was one of your calla lilies.)

I [think] I know exactly the bugs that you are talking about because I have had them myself. I think they are a type of bug known as "springtails". Google that name and then filter for images only. I am betting you will find I am correct. They are "mostly" harmless, but.... well, just keep reading. I amend my clay soil, and I have a patch that hasn't been clayey for a very long time. They actually take up residence in the area that drains much more freely. And I have had them take residence in the bulbs that grew really well too. It is hit and miss for me though. Some bulbs manage to get away. Either way - the little white bugs are slow eaters. My solution is to plant my summer-flowering bulbs in the spring and dig them up after the first frost has killed the foliage. And to plant my spring-flowering bulbs in the fall and dig those up after the summer heat has killed the foliage. This way the little white bugs usually eat less than the bulb grows and they aren't left to keep eating when the bulb is not growing and dormant. I do hypothesize that a small amount of rot is a window for their entrance though. The springtails actually love to eat the already rotting material. This is why they don't burrow into the bulb, but rather eat layer after layer of the rotting outside material. They are actually a sign of good soil health. If the bulb experiences no rot at all, then they do not take up residence. But if the bulb has some rot and the bugs make a colony there then I am betting that their activity keeps the rotting process moving along - it would make sense evolutionarily since they are going to need to keep eating. I hypothesize that they produce some kind of enzyme or chemical that keeps the rotting process moving along which is normally good for decaying matter in the soil, but not so good for your bulbs once they are crawling all over the rotten outer layer. SO: in conclusion, make sure your soil drains at least decently so you are preventing or slowing the rotting process to begin with, and pull them out of the ground once the foliage dies so the critters cannot keep eating and undo all the work that the plant has done storing energy in the bulb.

I hope that helps :)

    Bookmark   October 22, 2012 at 12:05PM
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The "springtails" that live exclusively in the ground have often evolved away from their springs because that defense mechanism is no longer necessary. There are thousands of species of them with thousands more estimated to be discovered. I think that it is NOT wise to spray any chemicals to get rid of them since they are a sing of GOOD soil health and form one of the core species of an ecosystem.

Here is an article:

    Bookmark   October 22, 2012 at 12:15PM
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    Bookmark   October 22, 2012 at 12:28PM
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honeybunny442(z6 TN)

Very good explanation gardengal48, thank you.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 5:28PM
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