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Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, 47 acres of botanical bliss fronting the Pacific Ocean

Battling the Fuchsia Mite

An invisible pest that creates havoc!

The fuchsia gall mite, Aculops fuchsiae, comes from Brazil and only feeds on fuchsias. It was first discovered in the Bay Area in 1984 and has spread through California. Mite infestations have also been reported from Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii. These infestations are most common in cool coastal areas where fuchsias are the most vigorous, but can be found wherever fuchsias are grown.

The mite is so small that one needs a microscope to see it; however, the damage is easily recognized. It first shows up at the growing tips (remember that new growth can start anywhere along the stem). As the mite sucks the plant juices, it also injects a poison that causes the fuchsia to produce gnarled and crippled growth, similar to peach leaf curl. Stems, leaves, and flowers swell and become hairy and galled. The affected areas may also look red on brightly colored fuchsias or silvery white on the lighter plants. Within these galls, the mites live and breed, protected from predators. Contact insecticide does not reach them. Here's what to do:

1. Cut off branches at least two leaf nodes below the infected area. Be careful that mites are not scattered onto other plants while you work.
2. Burn the clippings to kill the mites or seal them in a plastic bag and leave them in the sun for a day or two before discarding.
3. Spray all fuchsias in your garden with a spray containing Thiodan or Vendex. Follow instructions on the label.
4. Watch plants closely for reinfestation. Bees and hummingbirds carry the mite, and both eggs and adults can travel on the wind.
5. Repeat steps 1 through 4 if necessary.

Most commonly grown fuchsia varieties will eventually get the mite if you live in an area where the mite is established. There is no sure-fire way to protect them, other than by spraying every six to eight weeks during the growing season. You can reduce the risk, however, by:

1. Spring pruning your fuchsias to the bare wood and spraying with dormant oil.
2. Destroying infested fuchsias that grow unattended in your neighborhood and asking your neighbors to treat or destroy their infested plants.
3. Watching out for the first signs of the mite and taking action before they spread.
4. Growing fuchsias that are mite resistant or immune.

No natural predators of the fuchsia gall mite are known at this time. The following remedies that have been tried with varying results. However, none have worked reliably.

1. Cutting off infested growth.
2. Sulfur compounds.
3. Summer oils.
4. Hot Pepper Wax (may burn leaves).
5. Systemic rose food.
6. Foliar feeding with kelp extract.

It cannot be stressed enough that it is important to inspect your fuchsias regularly. Early detection and fast action are your best tools in the fight against mite. Although some varieties show damage faster or more severely than others, the great majority will eventually become host to the mite, which then spreads through your garden and beyond.