Termite damage to citrus trees is caused by a specific set of circumstances that do not commonly arise. Termite damage to citrus trees can cause severe decline and death, though unlike other pests, termites do not seek out citrus trees as host plants. If you are planting citrus in a new grove, do your research first to make sure you have chosen a pest-free site.
Eastern subterranean termites (Reticulitermes flavipes) are colony-forming insects that exist as soldiers, workers and reproductives like the kings and queens. Soldiers display yellow heads and measure approximately 1/4 inch in length. With large jaws, soldiers defend their colonies against invasion. Displaying cream/white bodies, workers are also approximately 1/4 inch in length, feed on wood, and are most responsible for damage to citrus trees. The king and queen display near black bodies measuring 3/8 inch to 1/2 inch in length, according to the Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences.
Eastern subterranean termites can continue to feed over a long period of time. Termites feed on tree debris like fallen branches, roots and stumps, and usually attack dead material instead of live trees. Their feeding on dead organic matter helps break it down for natural re-entrance back into soil, according to the University of Florida IFAS Extension. When termites attack live citrus trees, they do so out of need. When water heights increase, most often during the summer season, termites turn to citrus plant parts beneath soil, leading to decline and death.
Termites attack citrus trees not because they seek out citrus as a host, but because they were already infesting the land before the creation of a new grove. Primarily infesting pines and buildings constructed of pine, eastern subterranean termite populations continue to inhabit areas after buildings and trees are cleared. As many as 1,000 termites can inhabit a single square yard of your citrus grove, according to the University of Florida IFAS Extension.
Prevention is key to avoiding a problem as termites can create advanced damage to your citrus trees without any visible symptoms. When creating a new citrus grove, remove all wood debris. When possible, avoid choosing a site previously inhabited by pine. Since younger citrus trees are more susceptible than established trees, outgrowing the problem is one aspect of control. Keep your trees as vigorous as possible through proper care for healthy growth.
For termite control, create a chemical barrier around your grove to keep termites out, or apply it to soil to rid your grove of a problem. Since different regions vary in their chemical needs and because termiticides are not recommended for home use, contact a licensed professional for termiticide application. Effective chemicals include, but are not limited to, those with the active ingredient bifenthrin or permethrin.
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: 2010 Florida Citrus Pest Management Guide: Plant Bugs, Chewing Insect Pests, Caribbean Fruit Fly, and Thrips
- USDA Forest Service: USDA-FS Termiticide Report Termiticide Efficacy Results for 2008
- Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences: Eastern Subterranean Termites
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