By Ashley Robinson
Several mite species have been reported as pests of Florida blueberries. According to Oscar Liburd, professor of entomology at the University of Florida (UF), southern red mites and false spider mites are especially high on growers’ radars this year.
SOUTHERN RED MITES
Currently, there is little known about the management of southern red mites in southern highbush blueberries.
“Five years ago, mites weren’t a pest seen in blueberries. However, within the last few years, they’ve shown up quite regularly,” Liburd says.
Southern red mites have caused 80% to 100% losses in some blueberry plantings and have caused some growers to abandon their plantings due to major losses. The mites insert their chelicerae into the plant, preventing the plant from developing normally and impacting crop yields.
According to Liburd, the first step growers should take to manage mites is to monitor their fields and properly identify the pest. Southern red mites are easy to identify due to their larger size and reddish-brown coloring.
FALSE SPIDER MITES
The False spider mite, or flat mite, is known to be an economically important plant-feeding mite in citrus. However, recently this mite was found to feed on southern highbush blueberries.
False spider mites are much smaller in size compared to southern red mites and can’t be clearly seen without a microscope. These mites harbor underneath the leaf along the mid-vein and are brick-red to yellow in color.
Two miticides have recently been labeled for use in southern highbush blueberries – Magister and Portal.
Liburd has several recommendations for organic producers.
“Organic growers have the option to use sulfur or they can remove weeds from nearby host plants to reduce the number of mites. Also, water management to reduce plant stress is highly recommended as well as periodically releasing predatory mites can reduce populations,” Liburd said.
According to Liburd, farmers can also expect to see some new miticides soon, as well as some new and promising products for organic growers. In addition, Liburd expects to see new blueberry cultivars being developed that are resistant to these mite populations.