by Michael Wren
“Pests can be managed, they cannot be controlled,” said Dr. Lily Calderwood during a recent presentation. Dr. Calderwood, Cornell Cooperative Extension Commercial Horticulture Educator, explained different ways to implement insect pest management (IPM).
The first and most important task when undertaking successful pest management is to go out and look at your plants at least once a week — every species, every week. Using traps to catch the adult forms of pests can also be a good indicator of which insects are accosting your plants. Many problems can be contained or resolved much sooner and easier with earlier detection. Be sure to check the underside of leaves and the base of the plant as well for insects or disease. Dr. Calderwood also recommends to water and feed your plants regularly because healthy plants are more resilient to pests and diseases, with the exception of downy and powdery mildew, which thrive on healthy plants. When growing outdoors it is also important to keep weeds and grass under control in order to allow more airflow under the plants. This leaves pests exposed and dry and less likely to take up residence.
Once the issue is discovered and the species of insect pest is identified, there are several ways to begin solving the problem. While most growers already know the traditional methods of applying pesticides, this article will focus on the organic and passive solutions to pest control.
Introducing predatory and parasitic insects is a good way to control pesky insects while not involving the use of pesticides. Insects such as ladybugs, lacewings and parasitic wasps will help control aphid populations while Mesoseiulus longipes and Neoseiulus californicus feed on the egg, nymph and adult stages of pest mites. Once you determine what insect is bothering your plants and what insect preys on these pests, you can either order them from insectaries, or you can provide a habitat that fosters the nesting and growth of beneficial insects.
Releasing biocontrol organisms into your growing areas will not solve the problem overnight in the same way that the problem doesn’t occur overnight. The beneficial insects take time to grow and reproduce the same way the pests do. However, once predatory and parasitic insects are in place they will ebb and flow in population the same as the pests. As pest insects increase in numbers so will their enemies, creating a balanced ecosystem among your plants.
The use of banker plants among your inventories will help to ensure that your beneficial insects stay with your plants instead of being sold to your customers. Keeping a few strategically placed plants that you do not sell will allow the good insects a place to stay and breed, ensuring their place among your plants. Another way to keep the insects in your area is to offer alternative food sources for beneficial insects so that they will remain with you even after the pest insects are gone.
Fostering natural enemies of pests is a clean and sustainable way to manage your insect problems. This makes the old adage ring true, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Some pesticides can kill or ward off the good insects as well, thereby necessitating the continual use of pesticides, which can get expensive.
Keep in mind, the best way to ensure the best pest insect management is to detect the problem early, get an early start and plan ahead.