This past winter was above-average in temperature. Rarely, if at all, did we have any of those bone-chilling days or nights. As a result of the mild winter, people were asking if we would see more insects this summer.
My answer is usually “time will tell.” There are other factors besides winter temperature that determine insect population during the growing season. Spring temperatures and rainfall play a part. No matter the reasons there are always insects that appear in the spring.
Like last year, we are seeing a high number of vein pocket gall on pin oak leaves. Vein pocket gall causes abnormal swelling of the leaf near the veins.
We also saw an outbreak of oak leaf itch mites last year. This mite feeds on the larvae of the midge fly that actually causes certain types of oak leaf galls. Though the marginal leaf gall is more commonly associated with oak leaf itch mite, the mite can also feed on the larvae in vein pocket galls. However, a large number of vein pocket galls do not necessarily mean we will have an outbreak of oak leaf itch mite like we had last year. This will be a “wait and see” situation.
Actually, there are hundreds of different types of galls, each of which is caused by a specific insect or mite. Insects that can cause different galls on oaks include tiny, non-stinging wasps and flies that cause abnormal growths to develop on the leaves, twigs or branches of oak trees. The galls caused by mites can include growths that are round, spiny, flattened, elongated or star-shaped.
Galls form in response to a chemical that the insect or mite injects into the plant tissue. Eggs laid by a mature female hatch into legless grubs around which the gall forms. The larvae feed, develop, and pupate inside these galls. The adults may emerge either the same season or may overwinter inside the gall, depending on the life history of that specific insect.
Generally, these gall insects do not cause significant damage to their hosts, though some of the leaf galls can cause enough deformity to make a tree unsightly. Also, severe infestations of twig galls can cause twig dieback or, rarely, tree death. However, just because a twig is covered with galls does not mean it is dead. I have seen twigs that looked like a solid mass of galls leaf out in the spring.
Insecticide sprays applied when galls are noticed are ineffective because damage has already occurred. Also, larvae are unaffected because of the protection afforded by the gall. Insecticide sprays can kill emerging adult wasps and flies, but long emergence periods and short residuals of most contact insecticides make this impractical.
Stem and twig galls can be pruned if this is deemed to be practical and necessary. Fortunately, natural predators and parasites usually bring these insects under control , given a year or two. Therefore, the best option is usually to do nothing.
What about the itch mites? That’s more bad news. We have found nothing can effectively kill or repel these mites. The only means of defense is to avoid contact.