Yesterday I found the first azalea caterpillars of the year. These tiny caterpillars had just hatched from the white eggs you see
Newly hatched azalea caterpillars. Notice white eggs on the leaves in the background. Photo: SD Frank
in the background. You can scout for these bright eggs in August before the caterpillars hatch and remove them. I think these caterpillars are worth having though since they are very beautiful. Actually the caterpillars are prettier than azaleas tend to be this time of year and they will eat all the leaves stippled by lace bugs! You can read more about these caterpillars that feed on azaleas and blueberries in a post from last August.
Azalea lace bugs (Stephanitis pyrioides) are one of the most damaging pest of evergreen
Azaleas planted next to HVAC equipment that blow hot air. The azaleas always get lace bugs first and worst. Photo: SD Frank
azaleas. They overwinter as eggs in azalea leaves and begin hatching around now. I found the very first ones yesterday. I found them near HVAC units that blow hot air behind our administration building. This is my monitoring spot for azalea lace bugs because they always hatch here first. In addition the high temperature always leads to greater abundance and damage too.
The first lace bugs of the year. Photo: SD Frank
This is a great example of how high temperature increases advances pest phenology and increases development rate leading to more generations per year. It is also partly why azaleas planted in full sun have so many more lace bugs than those in the shade (where they belong). In shaded places on campus and in my yard I rarely find lace bugs. You can see our research on how urban warming affects scale insect abundance here.
You can actually scout for lace bugs any time of year since azaleas keep their leaves. You will see damage from the previous year even in winter and fecal spots on the underside of leaves. Lace bugs overwinter as eggs so if they were there last year they left eggs waiting to hatch this year. Monitor these plants just by flipping leaves to look for tiny new nymphs.
Control is best targeted early in the season when nymphs are present for two reasons.
Azalea lace bug damage on leaves from last year with new leaves above. Photo: SD Frank
First, nymphs are easier to kill than adults and if you kill nymphs before they mature and lay eggs you have a better chance of clearing up the infestation. Second, the longer azalea lace bugs are on your plant the more damage they do. On evergreen azaleas this damage sticks around for a long time so plants may be permanently damaged. So scout your azaleas and get those lace bugs cleared up before damage occurs. Again though the best tactic is not to plant azaleas in full sun (or next to HVAC units) where is is too warm and where natural enemies like green lacewings, spiders, and minute pirate bugs are rare.