Q: What is causing the new leaves on my ficus plants to fold in half? I have been told they are thrips.
A: After talking to you about bringing a sample in a sealed plastic bag to the office, I was able to determine they were most likely weeping fig thrips, Gynaikohrps uzeli. Since the plants at your nursery were originally brought in from South Florida, it was important for me to notify the Florida Division of Plant Industry plant inspector about spotting this insect pest. We do not want these insects to become established here as it is quite possible for the insects to feed on other landscape plants which could lead to some serious issues. Weeping fig thrips is a very large thrips compared to the flower and chili thrips we are more accustom to seeing in this area. They are dark black and can be plainly seen without the aid of a stereoscope or eyepiece whereas flower or chili thrips are best seen using magnification aids. Weeping fig thrips typically feed on the new leaves and cause them to fold onto themselves, covering the thrips. The feeding causes blotches on the leaves and can lead to pre-mature leaf drop. Chemical control is difficult but professionals have chemicals available with the appropriate pesticide license. Such products as Merit and Safari can be used as a soil drench (poured around the root area of the plant). This will allow the chemical to be absorbed through the roots and then the chemical will move to other parts of the plant eventually reaching every leaf. When the insects feed on the leaves they will take in the chemical and you should see some control in your nursery setting.