The Q&A Archives: Creatures in Soil of Potted Kaffir Lime

Question: I have had a Kaffir lime tree for four years now. I have always grown it in a pot, without the real intention for it to bear fruit. When I received the tree from a California grower, the tree came with some advice. The info mentioned that sometimes this tree can get mite infestations, that are especially attracted to a dusty leaves. So I have always cleaned the tree. In four years I have not had a pest problem. Last week, when I watered the tree, I noticed tiny little bugs, white-ish, running in the soil trying to escape the water. The funny thing about them is they don't seem to be attracted to the nearly dust free leaves. I am concerned that since they were on the soil, there might be root damage, or damage in the future. I haven't been able to track down anyone in Boston to advise me on these little bugs. I do not have a car so I can't get to a suburban nursery. Since I don't plan on eatting the leaves anytime soon, and there aren't any fruit, do you have any idea what I can do?

Answer: The real question is, are these creatures pests? Mites are minute, eight-legged creatures that prefer dry conditions. The crawling things you've seen may simply be soil organisms that enjoy the company of your lime tree. There are some houseplant soil pests, though they tend to be symptoms of a greater threat to plants: overwatering. The list of common houseplant soil-dwellers includes springtails, fungus gnats and symphylans. They aren't a problem unless there are a lot of them, and the soil usually has to be overly-moist for them to thrive in large numbers.

You wouldn't see fungus gnat larvae scurrying on the soil surface, but the other two would appear there. If you have a magnifying glass, you can probably identify them. Here are some images I found on the WWW to help you with i.d.:
springtails (collembola):

If you find either (or both) of them in your soil, allow the soil to dry out well on the surface between waterings. In winter, citrus usually need less water, and a deep drenching followed by a drying-out period is all that's necessary.

If the critters don't fit either description, then it's best to take a sample in a small bottle, and contact your county agricultural extension service (ph# 522-8567 ) to find out where to send them for identification. Once you know what they are, you'll know whether or not they are pests, and if necessary, how to control them. I'd love to hear what you find out! Good luck.

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