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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Bindweed Controlling Mite Offered Free to Public

TUCUMCARI - A microscopic mite that is taking a bite out of field bindweed infestations in New Mexico and Texas is now available to the public at New Mexico State University's Agricultural Science Center in Tucumcari at a price that won't take a bite out of farmers' pocketbooks: free.

The bindweed gall mite (shown magnified) feeds exclusively on field bindweed, an invasive weed found throughout New Mexico. Because of the mite's effectiveness at controlling bindweed, researchers in the Tucumcari area have established nurseries where mites are being produced for public distribution. (05/03/2002) Photo courtesy of USDA ARS Archives

Researchers introduced the European mite, commonly called bindweed gall mite, to several bindweed-infested sites at or near agricultural science centers around New Mexico in 2000, after the insect had proven effective in stunting the plant's growth and stopping its spread in controlled releases in Bushland, Texas.

The mite feeds exclusively on the bindweed, attacking the areas necessary for nutrient transport and inhibiting flower development. The insect overwinters in the weed's root system where it feeds on the root and stem, preventing the plant from spreading.

The mite's effectiveness in the Tucumcari area enabled the establishment of nurseries where mites are being produced.

"In 2000, we introduced the mite to 20 different places in Quay County," said Leonard Lauriault, a forage agronomist at the Agricultural Science Center at Tucumcari. "The introduction was effective in all but two sites. In one of those sites, which was intensively managed to help the mites spread, the bindweed was effectively controlled in less than one year. Those are results I don't think anyone can ignore."

Bindweed, a particularly invasive and noxious plant, is abundant throughout New Mexico. The vine has an extensive root system and produces many seeds, allowing it to compete with desirable plants for light, moisture, nutrients and space. Bindweed seed can remain viable in soil for up to 50 years.

Mite populations should be established now, prior to summer droughts, to be most effective. "Dry summer conditions cause the tops of the weed to dry out, which forces the mites to crawl down to the root system," Lauriault said. "It's there where the mite can do the most damage."

Effective mite establishment requires some dedication from the producer or homeowner. Because the mite cannot fly and can only crawl about one foot, it must be harvested and introduced by twisting vines that contain mites around healthy bindweed.

Mite colonies usually establish within 10 days and will need to be mowed with a rotary mower 14 days after the initial introduction to help spread the mites. Continued mowing at two-week intervals can ensure maximum effectiveness and encourage spreading.

While bindweed can be a hassle to many homeowners and gardeners, farmers are the most economically affected when the plant invades. "Some herbicides can be helpful in protecting their crops, but they're expensive and have to be repeated every year," Lauriault said. "The mite control is natural and doesn't cost anything."

The mite populations at other state monitoring sites are still not large enough to offer insects to the public, but NMSU entomologists said they hope these sites will also eventually serve as insectaries to provide mites to the public.

The mite has still not been introduced in many New Mexico counties. Establishment efforts in these counties will be given priority in mite distribution so that the mite's adaptation patterns can be better studied and understood.

Appointments to collect mite-infested vines in Tucumcari can be made by calling Lauriault at (505) 461-1620.