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Rhododendron leafhopper causes little direct damage, but can be a problem as it is thought to spread a fungal disease known as bud blast that kills flower buds.
Bud blast on rhododendron flower buds
Rhododendron leafhopper is a sap-sucking insect that is active on rhododendrons from late spring to autumn but is most noticeable when the brightly coloured bluish- green adults are present in late July-October.
Bud blast spoils developing flower buds, it is a fungal infection thought to be associated with the activities of the leafhopper.
The nymphs of rhododendron leafhopper are creamy white wingless insects that live on the underside of rhododendron leaves. The adults are 8-9mm long and have pale yellow heads with a bluish green thorax. The wings are folded back along the body and are bluish green with two orange stripes. The adults often rest on the upper surface of the foliage in sunny weather but readily leap off when disturbed. White cast skins shed by the nymphs may be seen attached to the underside of leaves.
The feeding activities of the adults and nymphs have no obvious adverse effect on the appearance of the foliage or the plant's vigour. There would not be a problem if the females did not make egg incisions in next year's flowers buds in late summer-autumn. A fungal disease, known as bud blast (Seifertia azalea), may infect the buds through the egg wounds, although some recent research has placed doubt on this assumption. Infected flower buds turn brown and die.
There are no easy non-chemical measures for the leafhopper. However, flower buds infected with bud blast should be picked off and disposed of to reduce the amount of fungal spores being released in the vicinity of the plants. This may only be feasible on smaller plants.
Pesticides for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining pesticides available to gardeners)
Rhododendron leafhopper has one generation a year and it overwinters as eggs that are laid during late summer-autumn in developing flower buds. It is during the egg-laying period that flower buds probably become infected with bud blast. The eggs hatch in late April-May and the wingless nymphs feed by sucking sap from the underside of the leaves. The nymphs reach the adult stage in late July-August.
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