"Southern red mites are cool-season pests," said Beverly Sparks, an Extension Service entomologist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "They're most active in early spring and fall."
Mites are tiny creatures. They don't look as sinister as their spooky cousins, the spiders and scorpions. In fact, they look mostly like they're not even there.
Pests in Prominent Places
But Southern red mites are a common pest of azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons and hollies. They sometimes invade junipers, too. So they're found in some pretty prominent places in many Georgia landscapes.
"You can see them against a white background," Sparks said. "If you shake them off on a piece of paper, for instance, you can see them. But they're tiny. Adults are about the size of a pinhead."
But these tiny bugs can do some big-time damage to plants. Their feeding shows up on the upper side of leaves as stippling -- tiny white specks -- or as a bronzing of the leaf surface.
Look Under the Leaves
You won't find the mites themselves up there on top of the leaf, though. They're eating away on the underside.
"They have mouthparts that enable them to suck out the contents of individual cells in the leaves," Sparks said. "In high numbers, they can do some serious damage. I have seen some dieback in severely infested plants."
Even when the mites don't kill branches, the stippling and bronzing of the foliage can make the plant pretty ugly. And that's not what you planted it there to be.
To get rid of Southern red mites, Sparks said, treat infested plants with an insecticidal soap, horticultural oil or a miticide. Sparks recommends the use of products containing kelthane or diazinon.
Key to Making It Work
Whatever you use, she said, the key to making it work is covering the underside of the leaves.
"That's not easy to do," Sparks said. "Hollies and camellias, especially -- with their cupped, waxy leaves -- can be hard to cover. But good coverage is critical to getting good control."
Any coverage at all, though, is more than Southern red mites often get. "Most people," Sparks said, "just aren't looking for pest problems in the winter."
(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)