Experts to educate residents on protection methods
MISSION — Gone are the days when a homeowner could plant a citrus tree in the backyard and walk away from it until it produced fruit, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist in Hidalgo County.
“Citrus greening is a very serious threat to Texas citrus and it has no cure, so people need to know how to protect their trees,” Barbara Storz said. “We can no longer plant trees and walk away; we need to be vigilant.”
To help residents protect their trees, AgriLife Extension is sponsoring a free educational program on citrus greening, its symptoms and prevention. The training will be held from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Oct. 5 at the Mission Speer Memorial Library, 801 E. 12th Street in Mission.
“Citrus greening is a devastating disease of citrus, but one that can be prevented by understanding the conditions that attract the insect carrier of the disease, the Asian citrus psyllid,” Storz said.
One such condition is the recent rainfall in the Lower Rio Grande Valley that has promoted the flushes, or new growth, on citrus trees that attract the insect.
“Psyllids love new growth with tender new shoots and new leaves,” she said. “And psyllids can carry citrus greening so right now, especially after all the rain we had in September, we need to be on the lookout for psyllids. They are easy to spot once you train your eye on what to look for.”
Citrus greening is a bacterial disease that while not harmful to humans, clogs the trees’ vascular system, prevents fruit from maturing and eventually kills the tree, she said.
“There’s no cure for citrus greening, but there is prevention. And that’s what we’ll be discussing at our meeting in Mission, with more meetings to be scheduled and announced in the future.”
In addition to training homeowners on how to spot psyllids, Storz said the program will advise homeowners about a variety of insecticides, most of them organic, that can be used to fend off psyllid populations.
“There are several promising research projects concerning the disease and the insect disease carrier currently being conducted at the Texas A&M-Kingsville Citrus Center, the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, both in Weslaco, and at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service in Mission,” she said.
One such project is a biocontrol project that involves controlling psyllid populations with a natural enemy, Tamarexia radiata, a tiny wasp that has shown great promise and results, Storz said.
“We’re hoping that we can soon have sufficient supplies of this insect to make them available to the public so they can release them on their properties. We’ll be discussing all of this at our public meeting Saturday and at future meetings.”
Storz said the importance of these meetings cannot be overstated.
“We’re in a struggle to protect and save citrus in the Valley that for so many years has been a way of life here, part of our culture and a very important industry that has provided a livelihood for generations of people. Hopefully, citrus will be a part of our future for years to come, but it will take the efforts and education of all of us.”
For more information on educational meetings, contact Storz at 956-383-1026.
For more information on citrus greening, visit the South Texas Citrus Alert website at http://www.citrusalert.com . A list of chemical controls for the Asian citrus psyllid, including organic controls, is available at http://hidalgo.agrilife.org.