Lace Bug Infestation in a Garden

Eggplant lace bug (Katja Schulz via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0)

Lace bug infestations are a common problem in gardens and can cause significant damage to ornamental plants, especially those belonging to the laurel family. These small insects feed on the sap of plants and can cause yellow stippling on the leaves, leading to a general discoloration and wilting. If left untreated, lace bug infestations can cause serious damage to the plant and even death.

Lace bugs are most active during the spring and summer months, when they lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves. The eggs hatch into nymphs, which look similar to adult lace bugs but are smaller and have no wings. The nymphs feed on the sap of the plant and mature into adult lace bugs, which continue to feed and lay eggs. This cycle can repeat several times in a single growing season, leading to a rapid buildup of lace bug populations and increased damage to the plant.


It’s important to take quick action to control lace bug infestations, as they can cause significant damage to ornamental plants in the garden.

  • Yellow speckling or stippling on the upper surface of leaves: This is the most common symptom of lace bug damage and is caused by the bug’s feeding on the sap of the plant. The yellow spots can eventually turn brown and cause the leaves to wilt and die.
  • Discoloration of leaves: Over time, the yellow spots can spread and cause the leaves to become discolored and dull. The leaves may also become curled or misshapen.
  • Leaf drop: Severe lace bug infestations can lead to leaf drop, which can leave the plant looking bare and unsightly.
  • Stunted growth: Lace bugs can cause damage to the plant’s leaves and sap-sucking feeding can reduce the plant’s energy reserves, leading to stunted growth and a general decline in plant health.
  • Black excrement or honeydew: Lace bugs produce a sticky, black excrement known as honeydew, which can cover the leaves and nearby surfaces. This honeydew can attract other pests such as ants and can also promote the growth of sooty mold.

What is a Lace bug

It’s important to be able to identify lace bugs so that appropriate control measures can be taken to prevent damage to ornamental plants in the garden.

  • Size: Lace bugs are small insects, typically measuring between 1/16 to 1/8 inch in length.
  • Shape: They have a flattened and oval shape, with a slightly convex upper body.
  • Wings: Lace bugs are named for their distinctive lace-like pattern on their wings, which can range in color from brown to black. The wings are held roof-like over the body when at rest.
  • Legs: Lace bugs have long, thin legs that are used for crawling and feeding.
  • Antennae: Lace bugs have long, slender antennae that are almost as long as their body.
  • Color: The color of lace bugs can range from brown to black and they are often mottled or speckled in appearance.
  • Location: Lace bugs can be found on the undersides of leaves and are often accompanied by a sticky, black excrement known as honeydew.

Treating a Lace Bug Infestation

Lace bug infestations can be prevented or controlled by regular monitoring of ornamental plants and taking appropriate action as soon as symptoms are detected. By taking a proactive approach, gardeners can protect their plants from damage and keep their gardens looking beautiful and healthy.

It may be necessary to use multiple methods to effectively control a lace bug infestation in a garden. For example, physical and cultural control measures can be used in conjunction with chemical and biological control measures to achieve the best results. It’s important to carefully assess the severity of the infestation and the susceptibility of the plant before choosing the best control measures. By using a combination of methods, gardeners can effectively control lace bug infestations and protect their plants from damage.

Physical Control Methods

  • Pruning: Pruning away infested leaves and branches is an effective way to reduce the population of lace bugs and prevent the spread of the infestation. It’s important to prune carefully to avoid spreading the bugs to other parts of the plant. Pruned material should be disposed of in a sealed bag to prevent the bugs from spreading.
  • Hosing: Hosing off the undersides of the leaves with a strong stream of water can help to remove lace bugs and their eggs from the plant. This method should be repeated regularly, especially during the spring and summer when lace bugs are most active, to keep the lace bug population under control.

Cultural Control Methods

  • Proper plant care: Proper care of ornamental plants, including proper watering, fertilization, and sunlight exposure, can help to reduce the damage caused by lace bugs and make the plants less susceptible to infestations. Healthy plants are less attractive to lace bugs and are more able to recover from damage.
  • Avoid over-fertilizing: Over-fertilizing with nitrogen-rich fertilizers can promote lush growth that is more attractive to lace bugs. Gardeners should avoid excessive nitrogen fertilization and instead focus on providing the right balance of nutrients for their plants.

Chemical Control Methods

  • Insecticides: Using insecticides, such as horticultural oils, neem oil, and pyrethroids, can help to control lace bug populations. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and to apply the insecticide at the right time to achieve the best results. For example, horticultural oils and neem oil are best applied when the bugs are in the nymph stage, while pyrethroids are most effective against adult lace bugs.
  • Systemic insecticides: Systemic insecticides, which are absorbed by the plant and distributed throughout its tissues, can provide long-lasting protection against lace bugs. Systemic insecticides are a good option for plants that are heavily infested or for gardeners who want to prevent infestations.

Biological Control Methods

  • Beneficial insects: Encouraging beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps, to thrive in the garden can help to control lace bug populations. These insects feed on lace bugs and their eggs, helping to keep the population under control. Gardeners can encourage beneficial insects by planting flowering plants, providing shelter, and avoiding the use of broad-spectrum insecticides that can harm beneficial insects.