Why are the leaves on my hackberry turning brown and falling to the ground?
The browning of the hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) leaves is probably due to lace bugs. Lace bugs are sap feeding insects commonly found on the leaves of shade and ornamental trees in Iowa. Trees most commonly affected are hackberry, sycamore, and oak. Adult lace bugs have attractive wings that are beautifully sculptured with an intricate pattern of veins resembling lace, hence the common name.
Lace bugs feed on the underside of the leaves. They pierce the leaf epidermis with their sucking mouthparts and cause the characteristic pale yellow, scorched or “bleached” discoloration on the upper leaf surfaces. The underside of heavily infested leaves will be speckled with small, black, shiny “varnish spots” (excrement). While lace bugs are present throughout the summer, damage symptoms usually don’t develop until August or September.
Lace bug damage varies greatly from year to year, mainly in response to variations in natural controls and weather conditions. Severe feeding may cause premature leaf drop, but healthy, well-established trees are not seriously harmed. Spraying infested trees with an insecticide in late summer is of little or no benefit to the trees. Further, spraying when it is too late for effective control may cause more harm than good by killing the insect’s natural enemies.