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John Fulton

John Fulton
Former County Extension Director

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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis
potato leafhopper damage on red maple

Red Maples Turning Red Early? Could be Potato Leafhopper Damage

Posted by John Fulton -

The effects of the potato leafhopper on ornamental shade trees are very striking at this time – particularly on red maples. The red maples are among the most severely injured trees by the leafhopper. Other trees affected include oaks, other maples, red mulberry, red bud, cottonwood, birch, apple, dogwood, hawthorn, euonymus, black locust, and cherry. Infection most likely began in May and June, and the effects are now visible.

The leafhopper is a small wedge-shaped insect, which is light green. Their length is about an eighth of an inch, and they are attracted to light at night. At times of very large numbers, they look like a fog around outdoor lights. Young leafhoppers look like the adults, but they can't fly. They suck plant sap, then inject a toxin back into the plant leaf. They feed at "points" on leaves, meaning the tips or the lobes. That is where you find the damage beginning.

Damage appears as curled, stunted, mottling, and in the case of red maples in particular, the red coloration is the standout part of the damage. Other discoloration can also appear with lighter leaf areas or brown or black areas. There is often a "v" shaped area at the point of feeding with it progressing from yellow, brown, then black, then tattered out by wind and rain.

Treatment is probably only justified on young and nursery stock, and at this time of year, the damage has mostly been done. It would have taken preventative insecticide sprays much earlier in the season to prevent the damage we are now seeing.

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