Insects on Ficus Tree

soundgarden(z8/ New Orleans, La)July 29, 2008


I have some insects on my ficus tree but I can't figure out what they are.

They are very small and either black or dark brown.

They seem to live in the soil.

They suck the juice out of the new leaves causing them to fold in half like a taco shell and then they get withered looking. I've tried pulling off the effected leaves (with bugs in them) but as soon as new leaves grow, the bugs are back. What can I do to treat the soil (if that is where they live) and what can I spray on the leaves to make them less appetizing?

Thanks, Annie

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Annie, sounds like Fungus Gnats. FG's are fast-moving. When soil is watered, they have a silvery hue. Does that sound like the insect you're seeing.

FG's dote on wet soil and a dry environment.
For starters, water less. Second, it's important the pot your Ficus is in has drainage holes. Does it?

I don't use chemicals, (someone here might know of a chemical or organic to rid these insects) so if it was my plant, and if dry soil and more humidity didn't help, I'd repot in fresh soil, and a clean pot.
Third, soil should be well-draining. Heavy soils remain wet for long periods. Again, constantly wet soils attract fungus gnats and other pests/diseases.
After repotting, set your Ficus in the shower/sink and hose foliage. Then water your plant with water that's been sitting out about 24 hours.

There's a non-chemical spray called Insect Wax. It contains Capsicum, (hot pepper) Most insects detest its taste and deter them from plants.
I bought a bottle from MI Bulb several years ago..

One other thing. For the time being, isolate your Ficus..keep away from other plants.
If you can place you tree outdoors in a very shady spot that would help. Good luck, Toni

    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 6:00PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I don't see anything in your description that leads me to believe that you have fungus gnats. If they are fungus gnats, the adults (the flying gnats) do no damage at all to your plants. You should not apply anything to the foliage prevent what cannot happen. The larvae of fungus gnats are small, white-ish, maggot-like critters and can cause some damage by nibbling at tender new rootlets.
These larva can easily be seen after a thorough watering, when they come up to the surface of the pot.

So, let's have a better description of this critter. Do they fly? What makes you think that they live in the soil? How do you know that they are sucking plant juices from the leaves?

Can these icky critters be removed from the foliage or are they sort of attached?

    Bookmark   July 30, 2008 at 12:59PM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

It sounds like Cuban Laurel thrips. A common leaf-damager of various Ficus trees.

Here's some info. (once there, use the link at lower left -- Back to thrips page -- for further info.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2008 at 1:59PM
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I mentioned FG's from Annie's description. But as I stated above, 'It sounds like FG's) not 'it IS FG's.)
Also, the advice offered would not hurt Annie's Ficus.

It's true, Fungus Gnats, when controlled, don't harm plants, but when they're in big numbers, groups, they can/will start eating roots.
Check out, Fungus Gnats: do it Toni

    Bookmark   July 30, 2008 at 5:23PM
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watergal(z6/7 Westminster, MD)

Are they long, narrow shaped bugs? Do they congregate in these folded leaves? If so, I would propose thrips. It looks like Jean forgot to put in the link to info, but I bet you can google Cuban laurel thrips to find some.

First of all, keep removing all folded leaves as soon as you notice them.

Is the tree indoors or out? If it is outdoors, or if you can move it outdoors, treat it with one of Bayer's products that lists imidacloprid on the label (I believe that included Rose & Flower Spray, 3-in-1 Spray, or Tree & Shrub Drench - check label to be sure and follow directions carefully). All of these MUST be used outdoors only, but they work.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2008 at 9:41PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Some of the Bayer products are not intended for container plants, so be sure to read the label before you purchase the product.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2008 at 3:37PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Doesn't sound at all like fungus gnats to me, either. Pure, cold-pressed Neem Oil is very safe - indoors and out - for use around birds and mammals, and is very effective against thrips. If you're interested, you can follow the embedded link for more info.


    Bookmark   July 31, 2008 at 5:10PM
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soundgarden(z8/ New Orleans, La)

hi, thanks for all of the responses. It turns out that it is Cuban Laurel Thrips. I've dealt with these in the past (with no luck) and I couldn't remember the name.
It's funny, I did a search on the pest forum and I came across an old post, from over a year ago, of a person having the same problem and I thought "Man, this person sounds just like me!" and when I got to the bottom of the post, it was me! Well, hopefully I'll have more luck this time. I ended up losing an eight foot tree and a ten foot tree. Very sad.
Well, Thank for your help. I guess I better get to spraying now.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2008 at 12:24PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Those little Havana cigars they smoke are always such a dead giveaway. ;o)


    Bookmark   August 1, 2008 at 3:07PM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

Sorry about forgetting to add the link. But it seems you found what you need.

Beyond that, I don't understand why you "lost" a previous tree to these thrips because, although they make the leaves look nasty, they don't kill the tree.

They typically attack new growth. So, in outdoor plantings, people simply lightly prune to remove the damage. But if you prune too hard, or too often, you'll always have new leaves which, as said, are what the thrips attack.

If you're still interested, here's one of the links I found

Here is a link that might be useful: Cuban laurel thrips - IFAS

    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 8:21PM
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watergal(z6/7 Westminster, MD)

Isn't that funny when you find an old post, and read it, and then realize you wrote it? I've had that happen - read something, thought "gee that's great advice and so well written, too" and then noticed my name! Boy do I feel embarrassed!

    Bookmark   August 3, 2008 at 7:22AM
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