How to Manage Pests
UC Pest Management Guidelines
Branch and Twig Borer
Scientific name: Melalgus (=Polycaon) confertus
In this Guideline:
Description of the Pest
The branch and twig borer, also known as the grape cane borer, occurs throughout California. Adult borers are dark brown beetles, cylindrical in shape with a pronotum that is wider near the head than the posterior end. Females are about 0.7 inch long; adult males are smaller, about 0.3 to 0.4 inch long. Larvae have white bodies that are typically curved in a C-shape and enlarged at the anterior end; the head is brown. Branch and twig borers have one generation per year. Adult emergence starts in March and continues through April. Larvae spend up to 10 months in tunnels they excavate.
Both adults and larvae injure grapevines. Larvae bore into wood at dead or dying parts of vines, often in old pruning scars. Adults burrow into fruiting canes at the base of the bud or shoot, or they burrow into the crotch formed by the shoot and spur. Feeding is often deep enough to completely conceal the adult in the hole. Feeding at the base of shoots on spurs will cause shoots to wilt (flagging) and fall. This pest is most serious in cane-pruned vineyards where feeding on canes can cause them to break when shoots reach a length of 10 to 12 inches, if a strong wind occurs. Shoot wilting can also be caused by Botrytis.
Establishment of branch and twig borer in a vineyard may be attributed to one or two factors: (1) proximity to habitat suitable to the insect, such as riparian or woodland areas, old orchards, or unmaintained vineyards, and (2) failure to destroy or adequately remove dead or damaged parts of vines that may have resulted from disease (such as Eutypa and Pierce's disease) or cultural practices such as T-budding, lowering the vine head, or mechanical pruning.
Chemical control is normally not necessary if good cultural controls are practiced. April treatment of carbaryl for cutworms offers some measurable control of adult borers but may cause mite outbreaks later in the season.
The many species of general predators found under the bark of grapevines may assist in maintaining lower populations. Treatments with commercial formulations of the entomopathogenic nematode Steinernema carpocapsae, which can move through frass tubes to infect larvae, may be of some benefit.
The best way to manage branch and twig borer in vineyards is to prevent invasion and establishment of the beetles through cultural methods. Wood and brush piles of any kind of tree or shrub should be completely removed from the vineyard or burned before emergence of adult beetles in March. Remove dead or dying portions of vines and destroy them with other prunings. Do not leave grapevine prunings in the vicinity of the vineyard. All prunings must be removed from berms on the vine rows and destroyed to optimize sanitation. If mechanical cane chipping or cutting is used for pruning disposal, the residue should be incorporated into the soil or composted before adult emergence. Good vine health is important for reducing sites of borer establishment in vineyards.
Organically Acceptable Methods
Biological and cultural controls are organically acceptable, including the use of beneficial nematodes.
Monitoring and Treatment Decisions
Look for shoot wilting (flagging) and drying leaves when you monitor your vineyard during the period of rapid shoot growth. In coastal regions, adults continue to emerge through April. Examine the base of these shoots for a 0.4 inch diameter hole. If no holes are present, another possibility is a Botrytis infection. Cut the shoot in half and look for brown discoloration.
After pruning, examine old pruning scars and dead parts of vines for brown frass and fine wood dust filling the holes that were made by borer larvae. Borer holes are detected more easily during the dormant season. No control action thresholds have been established. It is unlikely that borer injury in cordon-pruned vineyards would ever justify chemical treatment if good vineyard pruning and sanitation is practiced. Cane-pruned vineyards with a history of borer injury may require treatment.
UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines: Grape
Insects and Mites
L. G. Varela, UC IPM Program and UC Cooperative Extension, Sonoma County
Acknowledgment for contributions to Insects and Mites:M. C. Battany, UC Cooperative Extension, San Luis Obispo County
J. Granett, Entomology, UC Davis
P. A. Phillips, UC IPM Program, Ventura County
A. H. Purcell, Environmental Science, Policy and Management, UC Berkeley