HLB and Young Trees: A New Twist

Ernie NeffHLB Management

Mike Irey

Southern Gardens Citrus is attempting to curtail HLB infection in young trees by focusing on spraying for HLB-spreading psyllids in mature trees. Mike Irey, the company’s director of research and business development, discussed the effort at the January Florida Citrus Show in Fort Pierce.

“The goal of most of the strategies to protect young trees is to get them as big as you can before they get infected, Irey says. “And a lot of people are trying different things, one of which is spraying. And so we were … spraying as often as we could (in young groves) … and it wasn’t enough.” He says most young groves still became 100-percent infected with HLB within three or four years of planting. “And then that puts the brakes on them (trees) and they don’t get much bigger,” he adds.

Southern Gardens started looking at different ways to deal with HLB. “What we found was that it (HLB) was coming long distance and it was coming as primary spread from outside,” says Irey. “So, maybe we were doing it backwards. We’re spraying the young trees and not the old trees. What would happen if we did it just the opposite: Spray the old trees?”

The company conducted mathematical modeling in conjunction with University of Florida researchers. The modeling indicated that spraying mature trees could reduce infection in nearby young trees dramatically. “We have a large planting that we’re attempting it in and we’re just now collecting the data, so it’ll be another couple years before we know for sure” if it works, Irey say. “But in theory it works, the modelers stand by their data, and I think it’s right.”

“What you have to do is break the (psyllid) life cycle,” Irey explains. “So if you have mature trees and you’re not spraying them very often, there are psyllids reproducing there and they are moving all the time and can move long distances … You want to prevent them from moving into the young plantings.”

Irey points out that trees in young plantings are healthy when they come from nurseries. “If you can just prevent them (psyllids) from coming in, then half the battle’s over,” he says.

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About the Author

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large