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Thrips attacking California roses (but not ours)

Chilli thrips vs. citrus thrips; what's the difference?

Damaged rose
This rose shows damage from chilli thrips.
(Courtesy of the San Diego Rose Society)

What’s in a name? When it comes to tiny thrips, the difference can be huge.

Right now, Southern California rose growers report a massive outbreak of chilli thrips. (Yes, that's with two lower-case L's.) As the name implies, these thrips prefer to dine on peppers, but they also find autumn roses irresistible.

Enjoying warm autumn weather, chilli thrips attack the buds and blooms, causing deformed flowers and ugly scarring. These thrips also can cause disfigured and distorted foliage and fruit.

The chilli thrip outbreak in Southern California was so severe, the American Rose Society put out an alert to rose growers and gardeners throughout the state.

But not here (yet). The thrips doing similar damage in the greater Sacramento area are a different species and (thankfully) not quite as voracious. Citrus thrips, another crossover pest, have been found in the greater Sacramento area. (But they shouldn’t be confused with yet another thrip, the much more common Western flower thrip.)

Originally native to India, chilli thrips have been a problem in several parts of the United States for years (Florida in particular), but only recently have started invading California.

“I was the one who discovered it,” said Sacramento’s Bug Man, Baldo Villegas. Now retired, the former state entomologist confirmed the chilli thrips as far north as Bakersfield and Wasco in 2016.

Chilli thrip
This is a chilli thrip, Scirtothrips dorsalis, which has not
yet been seen in Northern California. (Photograph
courtesy the University of Florida)

“Right now, they’re not here yet,” Villegas said. “We have citrus thrips, not chilli thrips. The damage looks very similar but not as bad.”

Citrus thrips, considered a threat to California’s citrus industry, attack fruit as it’s forming, causing scarring and deformities. In roses, citrus thrips also cause deformed buds and flowers. Fortunately, this thrip can’t stand cold and tends to disappear when temperatures stay below 58 degrees F.

Both thrips are tiny – under 2 millimeters long. Chilli thrip eggs are microscopic. This pest inserts its eggs into the buds of flowers.

If those blooms are destined to be cut flowers, those bouquets help move this pest around the world.

Which brings this reminder: Be careful where you get your flowers – and cuttings. To keep pests away, stay local.

Unfortunately for thrip control, rose hobbyists like to take and share cuttings in order to add new roses to their gardens. Villegas cited a rose conference at the Huntington Library’s famed rose garden, where several participants took cuttings and brought them home to Sacramento.

“I would discourage taking cuttings (of roses) in Southern California,” Villegas said. “If you do take a cutting from anywhere right now, I would disinfect it before bringing it home.”

Villegas suggested stripping off the leaves, dipping the cutting in soapy water and, just to be sure, spraying it with a systemic pesticide. That will kill invasive thrips – chilli, citrus or otherwise – and prevent introducing them to your own garden.

For more on thrips:

Chilli thrips:

Citrus thrips:

Western flower thrips:


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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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