There are numerous species of ants present in citrus orchards, however, the most common are the Argentine ant (southern and coastal California), the native gray ant (San Joaquin Valley) and the southern fire ant (statewide). The red imported fire ant has been found in Southern California, but is not yet established in citrus orchards. It is important to identify the primary ant species in the orchard, because management tactics depend on which ant species is present.
The Argentine ant, is a small, uniformly deep brown ant. Worker ants travel in characteristic trails on trees, the ground, or irrigation lines and build their nests underground. Ant populations peak in mid-summer through early fall.
The southern fire ant is light reddish brown with a black abdomen. These ants build nests of loose mounds or craters near bases of trees, do not aggregate in colonies as large as those of the Argentine ant, and will sting and bite.
Native gray ants are gray and considerably larger than the other two species. They nest in topsoil or under rocks and debris and move in irregular patterns. In contrast to Argentine and fire ants, the native gray ant is solitary and its importance in disrupting biological control is often underestimated.
Red imported fire ant is new to California and can make large, dome-shaped mounds. They feed on almost any plant or animal material.
Most ant species feed on honeydew excreted by various soft scales, mealybugs, cottony cushion scales, whiteflies, psyllids, and aphids. As part of this relationship, they protect these pest insects from their natural enemies, thus interrupting biological control. They also protect some non honeydew-producing pests, such as California red scales.
Argentine and native gray ants are the most common ant species that aggressively protect pest insects. In addition, Argentine ants and fire ants can plug up irrigation sprinklers. Fire ants directly damage citrus by chewing twigs and tender bark of newly planted trees; they also sting people working in the orchard and may cause allergic reactions.
No effective natural enemies of ants are known.
Skirt prune trees, i.e., remove branches within 12 to 30 inches of the ground, and apply sticky material to the trunk to prevent access to the trees by ants. Use polybutenes, as oil-based materials may cause phytotoxicity and should not be used.
The application of sticky polybutene materials directly to the trunk of citrus trees can cause bark cracking, especially if multiple applications are applied to the same area of the trunk, the area is exposed to sunlight (topworked trees), or both. The sticky material can be applied on top of a tree wrap or a base layer of latex paint. Young trees, which have a very thin cambium layer, are most susceptible to damage.
Sticky material should last from 1 to 4 months and will also prevent the access by Fuller rose beetles. If the sticky material contains tribasic copper sulfate, it will also control brown garden snails. The persistence of sticky material can be increased by applying it higher above the ground to reduce dust and dirt contamination and to decrease irrigation wash-off.
Argentine ant adults are liquid-feeding only and have physical digestive "blocks" in the mouth and gut to prevent them from swallowing and digesting solid food particles. They may bring back solid food to the colony to feed the brood (but solid-food digestion not been confirmed in Argentine ant brood), or harvest the bodily fluids inside of insect prey/moisture in food items. Dry insects or food items are of little use to them, even though they may pick these things up. Feeding studies have shown ants feed several times faster on liquids than gels and gels than solids. This faster feeding resulted in much higher toxicity with liquid. Gel was intermediate, and solids provided the lowest control.
Put out bait in the shade to increase feeding and overall kill. You do not need to obscure it. The soil temperature and moisture are going to be more moderate in the shade, particularly under the canopy. This is the environment the ants will prefer to feed in. There will be less evaporative loss in the shade, as well. Sometimes when the toxins become too concentrated they are less attractive to the ants. The other issue is that many toxins (like borax products) may photodegrade at a faster rate in direct sunlight.
A call from a small grower, surprised at the sudden decline of the avocado trees. It must be a disease was the grower's thought. Well driving up to the site, there were numerous trees with canopies indicating drought stress. In fact most of the trees looked like they had had the water turned off. When I got to the orchard, all the trees had a similar look (see photo below). The fringe of the canopy had turned brown/red where the leaves had collapsed rapidly, while the interior leaves were often still green. All the trees had a similar cast. It turns out the water district had required a cutback just when temperatures were going into the 100's. NO water, no cooling effect of transpiration and the outer fringe of leaves collapsed. This is called the “clothesline” effect. It's like a sheet on a clothesline where the margins of the sheet dry first and gradually the body of the sheet dries. The same thing happens in a canopy. The outside leaves are the first to dry out and then the rest of the canopy goes. When you see a whole orchard go down suddenly, that does not fit into a disease pattern. There's usually an epicenter where it starts – where it's colder, wetter, dryer, hotter, more overgrown, etc. and spreads out from there if it is going to spread. It turns out that the automatic irrigation system had gone down and the grower hadn't noticed until too late. When you see reddish tinged leaves, it means the leaves went down fast. When they are brown, it means they slowly went down over weeks or months.
With all the dead points in the tree, it is now open to disease – twig/leaf blight caused by one of the Botryosphaerias. These decay fungi are everywhere in an orchard decaying organic material on the orchard floor. With the dead material in the tree, now the tree becomes a potential feast for the fungi. The dead stuff has to come out, or the fungus will start eating into the tree. I suggested that instead of pruning out all those little points of death, that they cut back the whole canopy to major scaffold branches. In doing so, it would rapidly and cheaply remove the dead material and reduce the water demand.
At a recent meeting the question came up about the fate of nitrogen fertilizer applied through the irrigation system. If it is applied as urea, how long does it take to convert it to nitrate? If applied as ammonium, how long does it take to convert to nitrate? Urea and nitrate pretty much move wherever water moves and is very susceptible to leaching. Because of the positive charge on ammonium, it is not as mobile as nitrate, but once bacteria transform it to nitrate, it moves with water.
This is an important question, since if more water is applied than is needed by the plant, the nitrate is going to move out of the root system and no longer be available to the plant and ends up heading to ground water. Reading the literature, growers get the sense that all this transformation takes time, maybe a long time.
It turns out that soils in coastal California have a pretty rapid conversion of nitrogen. Francis Broadbent at UC Davis did a bunch of studies back in the 1950's and 60's and found enzyme hydrolysis of urea to ammonium occurring within hours. Other researchers have looked at nitrification, the conversion of ammonium to nitrate by soil bacteria, occurring within days and much of the conversion occurring within a week depending on soil temperature (see chart below).
So there is all this nitrate present and the key is what happens to it. It turns out that most plants when actively growing absorb nitrate at about 5 pounds of nitrogen per day. So with a 100% efficiency, applying 20 pounds of nitrogen, all of it would be taken up in four days. Of course, nothing in nature is that efficient. But the point is a big slug of nitrogen applied is not going to be taken up immediately and if more water is applied after that than is needed by the crop, it likely is pushed out of the avocado root zone.
Of course all the nitrogen a plant uses does not come from applied fertilizer. The bulk is coming from soil organic matter that is slowly decomposing. This nitrogen is being released at a rate that is probably in balance with the growth of the tree.
The applied fertilizer, however, is much more unstable and needs to be handled accordingly. The rule of thumb is to break the irrigation application into thirds. In the first third, run the irrigation to fill the lines and wet the soil. In the second third, run the fertilizer. This spreads it through the system and onto the ground. The last third is clear the irrigation system of the material and to move the fertilizer into the root zone. Then given time, the tree will take up the applied nitrogen. At the next irrigation then the bulk of that nitrogen will have been taken up and little will be pushed through the root system.
Low and High Nitrogen Avocado Leaves
Chart showing rapid conversion to nitrate with soil temperature
Calls are coming in about leafminer. It's there on the new growth, twisting and distorting it. In fact, it' been there most of the year. It was working new growth all winter long, because it was a warm winter. Right now, though, they are more active and more damage is being seen. So the question is what do you spray?...................................Nothing. Studies have been done that show little or no yield is affected by the infestation. It looks horrible and calls you to do something, but there's little that can be done. A trial we did 10 years ago involved almost weekly sprays of rotational materials on mature trees and it was impossible to keep the damage down. It happened. On young trees there are some possibilities, but even in this case it is tough.
Citrus leafminer larvae feed by creating shallow tunnels, referred to as mines, in young leaves. It is most commonly found on citrus (oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, grapefruit and other varieties) and closely related plants (kumquat and calamondin). The larvae mine the lower or upper surface of the leaves causing them to curl and look distorted. Mature citrus trees (more than 4 years old) generally tolerate leaf damage without any effect on tree growth or fruit yield. Citrus leafminer is likely to cause damage in nurseries and new plantings because the growth of young trees is retarded by leafminer infestations. However, even when infestations of citrus leafminer are heavy on young trees, trees are unlikely to die.
- Author: Georgios Vidalakis and Greg Douhan
Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0122, USA. and University of California Cooperative Extension, Tulare County, Tulare, CA 93274-9537
The Citrus Clonal Protection Program (CCPP) has its roots in the 1930s, when Professor H. Fawcett of the University of California (UC), Citrus Experiment Station in Riverside, discovered the graft-transmissible and viral nature of the citrus psorosis disease. In 1956, following a request from the California citrus industry, UC Riverside established the “Citrus Variety Improvement Program” which in 1977 became the CCPP. Today, the CCPP stands as a cooperative program between the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the citrus industry of California as represented by the California Citrus Nursery Board and the Citrus Research Board.
Since 2009, the CCPP has also been part of the National Clean Plant Network (NCPN) for specialty crops. The purpose of the CCPP is to provide a safe mechanism for the introduction into California of citrus varieties from any citrus-growing area of the world for research, variety improvement, or for use by the commercial industry of the state or any citrus hobbyist and enthusiast. This comprehensive mechanism includes disease diagnosis and pathogen elimination, followed by maintenance and distribution of true-to-type citrus propagative material. The potential problems resulting from the introduction of pathogens into a country or citrus area cannot be overemphasized. Likewise the need for pathogen-tested citrus propagative materials is recognized as basic to the establishment and maintenance of a sustainable and profitable citrus industry. The presence of graft-transmissible pathogens such as viruses, viroids or bacteria in citrus propagative materials can be deleterious to tree survival and fruit production for both existing and future citrus plantings.
Realizing that the availability of pathogen-tested, true-to-type propagative materials are critical for citrus and other vegetatively propagated crops, three USDA agencies (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Agricultural Research Service, and National Institute for Food and Agriculture) came to an understanding in 2005 to create a national network to support the use of clean propagative materials. The NCPN, came into being in 2008 with the mission of "providing high quality asexually propagated plant material free of target plant pathogens and pests that cause economic loss.”
Incorporation of citrus into the NCPN began in 2007 and a charter was adopted in March, 2010 for a "Citrus Clean Plant Network" (CCPN). The CCPN currently has centers in California, Florida, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Hawaii, Maryland, and Puerto Rico. In a typical year, NCPN Citrus centers conduct over 75,000 diagnostic tests, distribute over 600,000 pathogen-tested plant materials, perform therapeutics on hundreds of plants, and maintain hundreds of foundation plants.
NCPN Citrus has established and enhanced quarantine, germplasm, and extension and education programs in all of the major and minor citrus producing regions. This has facilitated the importation, testing, therapy, and release of pathogen-tested citrus to nurseries, growers, and the public both regionally and globally.