Q: A friend of mine gave me this plant and I hate to see it doing poorly. What is wrong?
Q: The leaves on as few of my plants are looking wrinkled and puckered. A friend of mine gave me this plant and I hate to see it doing poorly. What is wrong?
A: The cause for the change in your plants could be caused by a number of things. I am glad you brought in a few samples so I could identify the problem. It was surprising, to say the least, to find your plants covered with southern red mite (SRM), Oligonychus ilicis. This pest is typically a problem on evergreen plants but is found on 34 different species. Their favorite plants are azaleas and camellias.
Numerous generations of the southern red mite occur each year, but population densities are highest during the cooler months of spring and fall during periods of prolonged high humidity. The species overwinters as red eggs on the undersides of the leaves. Most of the population is dormant during the summer heat. The puckering is caused by the feeding of the mites on the vascular tissue (veins). The mites pierce into the plant and draw out fluid therefore the tissue is reduced. You could use horticulture oil or insecticidal soap to manage mites. Over the counter products labeled for mites can also be purchased at local garden centers. As always, be sure to read the label on any pesticide product.
If the plant is completely damaged by these mites you might consider removing the plant out of the landscape. I know your friend gave you this plant but the infestation is extremely high and the damage is permanent. Consider the amount of time and effort required to keep this plant healthy, it may not be worth it. One other important note: mites are not insects. They have two body parts (not 3) and 8 legs (not 6). Passing that fact on to you was just the teacher in me – I can not help myself!