In the short days of winter, many of your fruit trees look as though they aren’t doing much of anything. Other than collecting chill hours and working to stay alive, that would be mostly true. As the days begin to lengthen, leaf and flower buds start to swell. But, sometimes, those swellings are something else entirely.
Also known as the almond and plum bud gall mite (Acalitus phloecoptes), this pest is native to Europe and the Middle East. As of January 2019, it made its way to California, threatening tens of thousands of plum, pluot, almond, apricot, and many other fruit and nut trees.
What are plum bud gall mites?
Plum bud gall mites are a type of eriophyid mite. Eriophyid mites are a family of microscopic plant parasites. These pests enter stems and buds through lenticels and injury points, and then overwinter under the bark. Very little information is available about this new pest, but knowing what to look for can help you to stop it from spreading.
Plum bud gall mite identification
In late winter, galls begin to form around these tiny invaders. By spring, adults emerge from their protective galls. At 1/100th of an inch in length, these mites are too tiny to see with the naked eye. If you have a 20x hand lens, you may be able to see them, if you look very closely. They can be a translucent yellow, pink, white, or purple, with two pairs of legs up near the head. You are more likely to see galls on new shoots and fruit spurs that plants produce in response to these invaders. Galls are warty, bumpy growths that don’t look like normal tissue.
Controlling plum bud gall mites
Treating your trees with wettable sulfur in March or April, when plum bud gall mites first start to emerge from their protective galls, has been effective in controlling these pests in other regions. Treatments may need to be repeated, depending on the level of infestation. Note that apricot leaves are very sensitive to sulfur, so you can only treat apricot trees with sulfur before leaves emerge. Because these particular eriophyid mites are new to the region, we do not yet know what sort of an impact native predatory insects will have on controlling plum bud gall mite populations.
If you happen to see this new pest on your trees, please contact your County Extension Office right away.
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