Lace bugs, known formally as Tingidae, refers to any of over two thousand species of a small North American insect that thrives on flowering plants. Lace bugs are tiny, often no more than an eighth of an inch in length. Under magnification, the wings of these bugs have a lacy pattern, hence their name. Similar to many other tiny garden pests, lace bugs damage plants by feeding on their vital internal juices.
Dealing with a Lace Bug Problem
Female lace bugs lay eggs which will mature into adult lace bugs within approximately six weeks. The eggs of lace bugs are not laid on top of or underneath leaves, or on stems, as they are with most other bugs. Rather, lace bugs will inject their eggs into the leaves of plants. This way the newly hatched larvae will have an immediate food source available. Because of this, both eggs and immature lace bug larvae are nearly impossible to identify with the unassisted human eye.
Lace bugs tend to feed on plants and shrubs that produce flowers. Any flowering crops planted in sunny areas of the garden could be susceptible to a lace bug infestation. It is relatively simple to identify the damage that these insects cause. Some of the signs of lace bug damage include a change in leaf color, including yellow or white stippling on the plant’s leaves. Curling or browning of the leaves during growth is another sign of lace bug activity, as is dropping of leaves. If you notice any of these signs of damage, inspect your plants carefully.
Getting Rid of Lace Bugs
As with many other small, flying insects, the key to treating lace bugs is to treat just the insects we want to get rid of, without harming our beneficial insect populations, which are also helpful in limiting damage to crops. In order to maintain this protection, never use commercially-available chemical insecticides in your organic garden or greenhouse. This is because these harsh ingredients will penetrate the soil for decades.
Instead of harsh insecticides, we recommend treating any plants affected by lace bugs with insecticidal soap, following the directions available on the container. In addition to this treatment, make sure that your plants and soil are otherwise in good health. Add compost and a healthy layer of mulch if needed, and consider incorporating soil amendments for the overall benefit of your crops.
If you find that the insecticidal soap treatment is not strong enough to get rid of all of the lace bugs, spraying every two weeks with neem oil is another highly recommended organic treatment for lace bugs and many other common garden insects. Neem oil also has many other uses outdoors and around the home.
Finally, if you still haven’t had luck getting rid of lace bugs, try treating the affected plants with a solution containing Spinosad. Use caution when using this ingredient and do not use during the plant’s flowering phase.
Thankfully, lace bugs are not known to be a pest to totally destroy too many crops. If you find that you need to trim back some of your plants’ leaves in order to get rid of the lace bugs entirely, that is okay. Generally speaking, focus on maintaining the overall health of your soil and garden. Then, expect your plant to return to full vigor the following spring. Additionally, remember that a quality layer of mulch is helpful for maintaining soil health through the winter.