Special contribution from Rosemary Murray with Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
As we enter spring, different strategies should be employed to control your air potato infestation. Vines will gradually begin to emerge from underground tubers and any remaining bulbils that have fallen to the ground should be removed before they begin sprouting. This is a great time to identify the specific location of persistent tubers before the vines become too dense. If you are able, digging up the tubers is the surest way to prevent continued growth. Infestations that have sprung up from the same tuber year after year will be larger. Melon sized tubers have been found under well-established infestations and it’s important to remember that if not all the tuber is removed, vines will continue to sprout from any remaining pieces.
Digging up tubers or cutting vines as they emerge from the ground will keep your infestation managed temporarily, but as we move into summer, vines will sprout more rapidly and this strategy becomes harder to maintain. If or when this strategy becomes unsustainable, it will be time to closely monitor your infestation for signs of air potato beetles. Although the beetles’ elytra are bright red, they are exceptional hiders and tend to drop from the undersides of leaves at the slightest disturbance. Because of this, the best way to tell if you have beetles is to look for hole-punch-like damage to the leaves, especially those on the top half of the plant. Beetles will not emerge from their winter diapause (hibernation) at the same time the vines begin sprouting, so you may not notice this type of feeding damage for at least six weeks after your vines sprout. To date, thousands of beetles have been released across the state of Florida, especially in counties such as Orange, Seminole, Volusia, Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Broward. If you are a resident in any but especially one of these counties, beetles are likely to appear naturally on your infestation.
As a reminder, the air potato beetles will not completely eradicate your vine. They will slow the growth of the vine, allowing the native vegetation to compete. They also reduce the number of bulbils/potatoes the vine produces, slowing its spread. To best manage your vine, please refer to the management guide located on the FDACS website:
The FDACS team is currently working on bringing their beetle colony out of diapause. Once they are fully awake, the beetles will resume feeding and begin reproducing. Several weeks later, a new generation of adults will begin to emerge and our production for the 2022 season will begin.