Tag Archives: beneficial insect

Creating beneficial habitat at home: Fall update

The picture on the left was taken on May 2, 2020 and shows a small yard on the side of a house with mostly grass and a few small mulched garden beds with hostas and daffodils growing in them. The picture on the right was taken on August 14, 2020 and shows the same yard next to the house, this time full of blooming flowers and a squash plant.
Having before and after pictures really helps me appreciate how far my beneficial insect habitat (plus a few vegetables thrown in for good measure) have come!

Well, the days are getting shorter, the air is getting cooler, and pumpkins are starting to show up on front porches. I guess it’s time for me to admit that fall is coming. So it seemed like a good time to provide an update on my efforts to establish habitat for beneficial insects around my home. If you need to catch up on this project, you can read more about site selection, plant selection, and weed control in previous posts.

#BeneficialHabitatAtHome in pictures

Overall, I’m pretty happy with how the garden turned out this first year! If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you’ve seen some of these pictures already.

I attracted quite a few pollinators…

A collection of eight pictures in two rows. Pictures in the top row (A-D) show a small bee on a red strawflower, an orange and black monarch butterfly on a zinnia flower that is cream colored with pink speckles, a small bee on a yellow calendula flower, and two bees on a pink cosmos flower. The bottom row shows a smaller green bee on a pink cosmos flower, a bee on a red and yellow blanketflower, a yellow and black striped hover fly visiting a purple bachelor’s button, and a small orange and black butterfly visiting an orange and yellow zinnia.
These are just some of the pollinators that visited my (A) strawflowers, (B) zinnia cultivar ‘Candy Cane Mix’, (C) calendula cultivar ‘Remembrance Mix’; (D) and (E) cosmos, (F) blanketflower, (G) bachelor’s buttons and (H) ‘Persian Carpet’ zinnia.

…and natural enemies.

Four pictures, clockwise from top left: black and yellow ambush bug on a cream-colored zinnia flower flecked with pink speckles; a red ladybug with black spots on a leaf next to a zinnia bud; a pink ladybug with black spots perched on a pale pink and yellow zinnia flower; a translucent yellow-green “worm” amongst black aphids on a plant stem.
Most of the natural enemies I spotted this summer were ladybugs, like the seven-spotted ladybug in B and the pink spotted ladybug in C. But I also saw an ambush bug (A) and a hover fly larva (D). I saw plenty of adult hover flies, but the larvae are a bit less conspicuous.

I also picked a lot of cut flowers!

A small vase of yellow, orange and red zinnia and calendula flowers next to a larger vase of mixed flowers (sunflowers, cosmos, blanketflowers, calendula, bachelor’s button, and zinnias) in red, yellow, orange, pink, and purple.
Admittedly, one of my goals in creating this habitat was to be able to pick cut flowers for myself and others this summer. I was hoping that I could grow flowers that would be attractive both to people and natural enemies of pests. I think I succeeded!

Plant establishment success

This spring, I planted four perennials: arnica (Arnica chamissonis), blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata), echinacea (Echinacea purpurea), pyrethrum daisy (Chrysanthemum coccineum), and ‘Chim chiminee’ rudbeckia (Rudbeckia hirta). I started some blue vervain from seed, but by the time I’d figured out that stratification was needed, it was pretty late in the spring. The seedlings that did emerge didn’t survive. The blanketflowers and rudbeckia bloomed already this first year.

A small mulched garden bed next to a house with yellow and orange rudbeckia flowers blooming on the left and red blanketflowers blooming on the right. There are also some yellow calendula blooming around these plants.
Although they are perennials, the ‘Chim Chiminee’ rudbeckia and the blanketflowers bloomed this first year, and also looked nice as cut flowers.

The arnica, echinacea, and pyrethrum daisy put their energy into vegetative growth, and hopefully they will bloom next year.

Composite showing pictures of three non-flower plants growing on mulch. One has elongated heart-shaped leaves (A), one has leaves like those on a carrot (B), and one has longer, narrower leaves (C).
Three of the five perennials I planted this spring are growing, but haven’t bloomed this year: (A) echinacea, (B) pyrethrum daisy, and (C) arnica. Hopefully next year!

Not surprisingly, the annuals produced abundant blooms. Others have noted that there can be value in  mixing annuals with perennials when you are establishing habitat for beneficial insects. The annuals will provide abundant flower resources right away, while it may take a few years to achieve peak bloom production on perennials.

Eight pictures of different flowers in two rows. Top row left to right (A-D): yellow sunflower, pale pink snap dragon, bachelor’s buttons in various shades of purple, yellow and orange ‘Persian Carpet’ zinnias. Bottom row left to right (E-H): pink cosmos, yellow calendula, red poppy, zinnias in two colors - white with pink speckles and yellow.
A few glamour shots of some of the annuals I grew this year: (A) sunflower, (B) snap dragon, (C) bachelor’s buttons, (D) ‘Persian Carpet’ zinnia, (E) cosmos, (F) calendula, (G) poppy, (H) zinnia.

Fall planting

Hopefully this is not the first time you’ve heard that “fall is for planting”. In preparation for this, I started some butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and columbine (Aquilegia sp.) seeds back in late July so that I’d have some seedlings ready to go in the ground this fall. The columbine benefitted from spending about three weeks in my fridge (after I’d seeded them in moist potting mix) before giving them some light and warmth. (Don’t judge me. The real question is why not reserve one shelf of your fridge for seed storage and germination!) Columbine seedlings will go in my backyard where there’s less sun.

seven small peat pots filled with potting mix, with a few seedlings growing out of each
Some of the seedlings I’m planting this fall.

I also snagged a few seed heads from the golden alexanders and the blackeyed susans (also Rudbeckia hirta, but the straight species) in our beneficial insect habitat research plots. I’m going to plant them this fall, too and hope to see some seedlings next spring.

A mixture of round and elongated seeds in a pile in the middle of a woman’s outstretched hand
I’ll let the winter weather scarify these golden alexander and blackeyed susan seeds, preparing them to germinate in the spring.

Whether I’m working remotely next year or not, I’ll keep providing periodic updates on my efforts to establish habitat for beneficial insects around my house.

 

This post was written by Amara Dunn, Biocontrol Specialist with the NYSIPM program. All images are hers, unless otherwise noted.

This work is supported by:

  • Crop Protection and Pest Management -Extension Implementation Program Area grant no. 2017-70006-27142/project accession no. 1014000, from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture
  • New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets

New biocontrol solution coming to invasive weeds near you? Probably not yet.

Large clump of knotweed with large heart-shaped leaves and clusters of small white flowers
Japanese knotweed is very invasive. Photo credit: Amara Dunn, NYSIPM

At a previous residence, Japanese knotweed was the bane of my backyard gardening endeavors. Masses of these invasive plants can easily stifle native or non-invasive plants. The roots grow deep and even small pieces left in the ground can re-grow new plants. I used frequent hand-pulling and digging in an attempt to keep it in check, and I knew that if I stopped it would just grow back. For more information on this invasive weed, refer to this excellent fact sheet.

Large leaves with smooth edges attached alternately along a red stem.
Close-up of Japanese knotweed leaves. Photo credit: John Cardina, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

I have read that you can cook and eat it, but I haven’t tried. And no matter how delicious it might be, it would still be horribly invasive. While bees will visit the flowers late in the summer, there are better ways to feed the bees.

small white flowers of Japanese knotweed being visited by a wasp
Japanese knotweed can provide food for pollinators, like this wasp.

You may have heard that Cornell researchers led by Dr. Bernd Blossey released the Knotweed Psyllid (Aphalara itadori) in June 2020 in Tioga and Broome counties as a potential biocontrol agent for this invasive weed. This release came only after thorough testing and permission from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, since this insect is native to Japan. You can learn more about the process of using classical biocontrol to manage weeds here. Be assured, many precautions are taken before non-native species are intentionally released in the U.S.

Tiny brown insects perched on a large smooth leaf and a small folded up leaf
Tiny psyllids released in Tioga County in an attempt to control invasive Japanese knotweed. Photo credit: Bernd Blossey, Cornell University

Unfortunately, attempts to establish this insect in both the United Kingdom and Canada have not been successful. Preliminary results from the NY releases suggest that this psyllid will not be the biocontrol solution we need for Japanese knotweed. Most of the insects that were released do not seem to have survived and even when the insects were protected in cages put around the knotweed plants, they didn’t reduce the growth of the plants.

It seems that if we are going to solve this weed problem with biocontrol, we will need to find other insects from the native range of Japanese knotweed. Assessing these insects prior to release in the U.S. will be a lengthy process, so in the meantime keep using other IPM tools for this invasive weed.

If you’d like to learn more about this project, the New York Invasive Species Research Institute is hosting a webinar on September 30, 2020 at 11:00 AM.

 

This post was written by Amara Dunn (NYSIPM) and Dr. Bernd Blossey (Cornell Department of Natural Resources).

Beneficial habitat at home: Weed control and mid-summer update

Red and black lady beetle on zinnia leaf
With all the Japanese beetles I’ve been pulling off my zinnias, it was a pleasant surprise to find a more friendly beetle!

It’s been two months since I since I wrote about the plants I selected to provide habitat for beneficial insects around my home. Today I’ll talk a bit about weed control and how my spring transplants are doing.

Weed control

I have mentioned before that managing weeds turns out to be far more than half the battle when it comes to establishing perennial wildflowers as habitat for beneficial insects. Based on the results from the habitat plots we planted on the edges of our Christmas tree research field, I decided to use mulch for weed management in my home gardens. While mulch does add extra cost, after you make the initial investment of time to spread the mulch, it really cuts down on the time required to manage weeds during the rest of the season. I had a relatively small area to mulch, and was able to purchase some relatively inexpensive mulch made from the brush and leaves picked up by my city. Also, while I haven’t tested the organic matter content of my soil, just digging up some of the grass told me that my soil could use more organic matter. The mulch will eventually help with that as it breaks down. One downside to mulch is that it could block access to the soil for ground-nesting bees. There are some spots of bare ground in other parts of my yard, and perhaps next year I will be a little more deliberate about keeping some areas bare to support these pollinators.

Several freshly-mulched garden beds with small seedlings alongside a house
I decided to use mulch for weed control in my home beneficial insect habitat.

If mulch isn’t for you, you can read more about different weed management strategies we are demonstrating in our habitat plots.

How are things growing?

Like many (but not all) New Yorkers, I have found myself frequently wishing for more rain this summer. According to the closest NEWA station, we only got 1.3 inches of rain in May, 1.44 inches in June, and 1.48 inches in July (so far). This spring and summer is an excellent illustration of why experts recommend transplanting perennials in the fall, and not in the spring. Hot and dry are not ideal conditions for young seedlings just trying to get started. We often get more rain in the fall, and the cooler temperatures mean the transplants are subjected to less stress.

I started my plants from seed, and most of my seedlings were pretty small when I transplanted them the first week of June.

Three seedlings surrounded by mulch just starting to produce their second set of true leaves
This picture was actually taken about 2 weeks after I transplanted my seedlings. They were a little on the small side.

I admit that I also didn’t harden off my seedlings exactly the way you are supposed to. After losing some un-protected plants to marauding bands of squirrels, and lacking a protective structure that would let me keep my seedlings in full sun, I hardened them off on my screen porch. Moving from this environment to the south side of my house in full sun was a bit of a shock, especially when it got so hot and dry so soon after transplanting. I’ve done a lot of watering over the past month and a half, and I still lost more of my perennial seedlings (and some annuals) than I had hoped.

One seedling, surrounded by mulch
There were supposed to be three echinacea plants in this picture. At least one of them survived!

In spite of these obstacles, quite a few of my transplants survived. The blanketflowers (Gaillardia aristata) are the only perennials that look like they will bloom this season. If I had bought seedlings from a local nursery, they might have been bigger and might have established faster. But I can be patient.

Plant with scalloped leaves and a very young flower bud forming at the top
I think I can see the beginnings of a flower bud on this blanketflower.

You already saw the echinacea. Here are some of the other perennials.

Two seedlings with oblong and very hairy leaves on the left (rudbeckia); one seedling with leaves that look like a carrot on the right (pyrethrum daisy). All are growing surrounded by mulch.
Some of the surviving rudbeckia (left) and pyrethrum daisy (right) seedlings.

Not surprisingly, the annuals have grown faster. (Remember, they’re in a race to reproduce and pass on their genes before winter returns!)

Japanese beetles are eating the common zinnias.

Several Japanese beetles crawling over zinnia leaves with many holes
A small consolation is that the Japanese beetles seem to like my roses even more than they like the zinnias. The roses are functioning as a sort of trap crop.

But they are leaving the ‘Persian Carpet’ zinnias alone. It turns out these are a variety of Mexican zinnias (Zinnia haageana), which is a different species than the common zinnias (Zinnia elegans).

Small yellow and red zinnia flower growing on a plant with small, narrow leaves
‘Persian Carpet’ zinnias have smaller flowers, smaller leaves, and no Japanese beetle damage, even though I planted them right next to my roses.

I’ve been picking the Japanese beetles off by hand (knocking or tossing them into a yogurt container of soapy water, then adding them to my compost bin after they drown). I found the beetles to be more sluggish in the evenings (although admittedly I wasn’t out at the break of dawn), and a colleague recently shared this article with me that suggests that hand-picking Japanese beetles in the evening is indeed the best option. This strategy has not prevented all damage (especially on my roses), but I think my plants will survive. And I admit I haven’t picked them every single day.

Looking down into a yogurt container half-filled with water and many dead Japanese beetles
Japanese beetles picked off of my plants and into some soapy water.

The snap dragons have started blooming.

Pink, peach, and white snap dragon flowers in bloom
I planted snap dragons mostly because I like them as cut flowers, although I have seen reports that they support bees.

And so have the calendulas.

Plant with yellow flowers starting to open
Calendula in bloom.

I’ve seen hover flies on the bachelor’s buttons. Remember the adult hover flies are pollinators, while their larvae are voracious aphid predators.

Pink and purple flower with a black and yellow striped fly visiting it
I’ve seen a few hover flies visiting the bachelor’s buttons.

The cosmos and sunflowers (that survived the squirrels and a local rabbit) haven’t started blooming yet, but they’re looking good!

Sunflower and cosmos plants growing well next to the chimney of a house
The squirrels must not have found my first planting of sunflowers, because they and the cosmos planted with them look great!

This spring I ran out of space to start seeds indoors, and since fall is a better time for planting I saved a few perennials for the fall. Last week I seeded butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and some columbine. In the absence of grow lights, and since I’m not an expert transplant producer, I wanted to give these seedlings a good two and a half months to grow before I transplant them.

 

This post was written by Amara Dunn, Biocontrol Specialist with the NYSIPM program. All images are hers, unless otherwise noted.

This work is supported by:

  • Crop Protection and Pest Management -Extension Implementation Program Area grant no. 2017-70006-27142/project accession no. 1014000, from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  • New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets

Creating habitat for beneficial insects: We planted it. Did they come?

Woman wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap is emptying blue and yellow bowls filled with soapy water and dead insects into a deli cup.
Here I am collecting insects from our yellow and blue pan traps last September.

Hopefully you’ve been following along with a project I’m working on with Betsy Lamb and Brian Eshenaur to establish (and document the impacts of) habitat for natural enemies of pests and pollinators (collectively, beneficial insects). In December, I wrote about how the plants were growing, and in February I wrote about the time and money we’d invested in the project so far and the success of our weed management strategies. I promised an update on insect sampling, and here it is!

First of all, let me clarify that we were collecting more than just insects. Insects only have six legs. We also collected arachnids like spiders (and harvestmen), which usually have eight legs, and pillbugs, millipedes, and centipedes, which have many more than eight legs. All of these “bugs” could be correctly called arthropods. But there’s more! We also counted earthworms (which are annelids) and slugs and snails (which are mollusks). Hopefully the entomologists in my audience will pardon my use of the term “insect” to include creatures that crawl or fly but may have more (or less) than six legs throughout the rest of this post.

I described the ways that we collected insects in an earlier post. As a quick refresher:

  • Pan traps catch flying insects, especially those attracted to the colors yellow and blue.
  • Pitfall traps catch insects that crawl along the soil surface.
  • Sweep nets catch insects that are flying or hanging out on plants.
The left picture (pan traps) shows a yellow and a blue plastic bowl sitting amongst grass and weeds. Each contains a rock and is filled with soapy water. The middle picture (pitfall trap) shows a deli cup buried in the ground to its rim and filled with liquid. A clear plastic dinner plate is held above the deli cup by wire legs. The picture on the right (sweep net) shows a woman wearing a t-shirt, jeans and a baseball cap sweeping a large white canvas net just above the ground as she walks through a field.
Different methods used for sampling insect from our habitat plots included pan traps, pitfall traps, and a sweep net.

Below is a quick reminder of our treatments. You can read all the details here. Except for Treatment H. These are “new” plots that we added in 2019. I just measured out four, 23-foot long sections of grass planted between rows of Christmas trees in the middle of the field. These row middles are mowed by the excellent Field Research Unit staff at Cornell AgriTech, where our research field is located. The grass mixture was seeded right after the Christmas trees were planted in Spring 2018, but it does include some blooming weeds from time to time (dandelions and clover, especially).

Treatment Description
A Spring transplant, no mulch
B Spring transplant with mulch
C Spring direct seed
D Buckwheat cover crop, then fall transplant
E – control Whatever was growing there, just keep it mowed
F Soil solarization, then fall direct seed
G Herbicide and tillage, then fall direct seed
H – control Mow seeded orchard grass mix
Mowed grass between rows of small Christmas trees
Mowed grass between rows of Christmas trees in the middle of the field is a second control treatment for insect sampling.

And one last note before we get into the actual results. These are still preliminary results. Many, many thanks to Jason Dombroskie and Paige Muñiz for helping us with insect identification. Identification and number crunching of the data are still ongoing.

 

Ok, ready to see some cool insects (etc.)? Here we go!

 

Spiders and harvestmen

On the left, a harvestman with a plump body lacking distinct segments. In the middle, a spider with two distinct body segments. These two pictures were taken by David Cappaert, and are available on Bugwood.org. On the right, a black and yellow garden spider.
Spiders and harvestmen both have eight legs and are useful predators to have in a field or garden. The garden spider on the right was probably the largest arachnid I spotted in our habitat plots. The left and middle pictures were taken by David Cappaert.

We caught a lot of spiders and harvestmen, mostly in pan and pitfall traps. What’s a harvestman? You might know it by the name daddy long legs. It looks a lot like a spider, but instead of having a distinct narrowed “waist” (actually where the two body segments of the arachnid meet), their bodies just look like single “blobs”. Both spiders and harvestmen are predators and will eat many other insects (including some pests). They may also eat nectar and pollen. Very few spiders you are likely to encounter in New York are venomous, so welcome these eight-legged biocontrol agents to your fields and gardens without fear!

A bar graph showing numbers of spiders and harvestmen caught in each treatment (mostly in pan and pitfall traps). The most spiders and harvestmen were caught in treatments C (spring seeded) and H (grass control). Treatment B (transplanted and mulched) had the fewest spiders and harvestmen.
I added up all of the spiders and harvestmen we caught in each plot, then took the average of these summer-long counts from the four plots of each treatment in our field. The black lines stretching above and below the top edge of each bar show one standard error (measure of variability amongst the four plots) above and below the mean value.

We caught a lot of spiders and harvestmen, but it looks like there were fewer in the plots that were mulched at transplanting or solarized prior to seeding.

Carabid beetles

Top: several tiger beetles with brown backs but iridescent green bellies; Bottom: picture of a black ground beetle taken by Mary C. Legg and available at Bugwood.org
We caught a lot of tiger beetles (top picture) in our plots last summer, but carabid beetles come in many shapes, sizes, and colors.

You may not notice carabid beetles (also called ground beetles) because they crawl along the surface of the soil and are usually more active at night. Also, many of them move very quickly. They are great predators of insects (and other arthropods), as well as mollusks like slugs. Some also eat seeds.

 

 

 

A bar graph showing numbers of carabid beetles caught in each treatment (mostly in pitfall traps). The most carabid beetles were caught in treatments D (fall transplant after buckwheat), F (fall seed after solarizing soil), and G (fall seeding after using tillage and herbicide to control weeds). The fewest carabid beetles were caught in the control plots (E and H).
I added up all of the carabid beetles we caught in each plot, then took the average of these summer-long counts from the four plots of each treatment in our field. The black lines stretching above and below the top edge of each bar show one standard error (measure of variability amongst the four plots) above and below the mean value.

From these preliminary results, it looks like we tended to catch more carabid beetles in the fall-planted treatments (whether they were transplanted or direct-seeded). We’ll have to see if this turns out to be a consistent pattern. There were generally fewer carabids in the two control treatments.

Rove beetles

Two pictures of insects. The one on the left has an arrow pointing to the short wing covers visible on its back (labeled ‘elytra’). The one on the right is courtesy of Joseph Berger, and can be found at Bugwood.org.
Rove beetles come in different sizes, but they all have short wing covers called elytra.

We did not catch very many rove beetles (only 55 in all of the plots for the entire summer), but like carabid beetles these predators live at the soil surface or in the soil. Some also scavenge things that are already dead or eat seeds. You can recognize them by the short wing covers (called elytra) on their backs. I think they look like mini capes.

Hover flies

Left: black and yellow hover fly on a bright yellow coreopsis flower; Middle: a different kind of adult hover fly perched on a person’s skin; Right: a larval hover fly that looks like a small translucent caterpillar on a leaf near a green aphid. This picture was taken by Ken Wise.
Adult hover flies (left and middle pictures) have only two wings and big eyes, even though they are often black and yellow striped like bees. The visually unimpressive larva in the picture on the right is about to eat an aphid.

Hover flies (also called syrphids) come in many shapes and sizes and get their name from the way the adults hover in the air when traveling between flowers. Many look like bees, but if they hold still long enough and you look closely, you will see that they only have two wings (bees have four), and they have very large eyes. The adults feed on pollen and nectar and are also pollinators. The larvae are predators, eating aphids, whiteflies, and scales.

A bar graph showing numbers of hover flies (syrphids) caught in each treatment (mostly in pan traps and sweep nets). More hover flies were caught in direct-seeded treatments (C, F, and G), treatment D (buckwheat during the summer, transplanted in the fall), or the weedy control (treatment E). Fewer hover flies were caught in the spring transplanted treatments (A and B) or the grass control.
I added up all of the hover flies we caught in each plot, then took the average of these summer-long counts from the four plots of each treatment in our field. The black lines stretching above and below the top edge of each bar show one standard error (measure of variability amongst the four plots) above and below the mean value.

We were surprised to see similarly low numbers of hover flies in the two spring transplanted plots (in which deliberately-planted wildflowers were largest and produced the most flowers) and in the mowed grass control. More hover flies were collected from the weedy control, all the direct seeded plots, and the fall transplanted plots (which had smaller wildflowers with fewer blooms). We don’t know why.

Lady beetles

Spiny black and orange larval lady beetle on a green leaf.
Although lady beetles are familiar as natural enemies of pests, their larvae (like this one) are not always so easily recognized. Larvae are often (but not always) elongated, look a bit spiny, and are orange and black.

Lady beetles may be the most well-recognized biocontrol agent, but they were not the most abundant one collected in our sampling. We only collected 65 larvae or adults from all plots over the entire summer. Both life stages are predators, but adults of at least some species will also eat pollen and nectar. We identified the species of each adult (but not the larvae), and a picture of each is below.

From left to right: Pink lady beetle with black spots on a dandelion flower is the pink spotted lady beetle (Coleomegilla maculata); red lady beetle with black spots crawling on a plant stem is a seven-spotted lady beetle (Coccinella septempunctata); another red lady beetle with black spots - including two elongated spots near its rear end that look like parentheses – is the parenthesis lady beetle (Hippodamia parenthesis) whose picture was taken by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University and is available on Bugwood.org; another red lady with black spots is the variegated lady beetle (Hippodamia variegata) and its picture was taken by Frank Peairs from Colorado State University and is available at Bugwood.org; the final lady beetle has a black and orange-yellow checkerspot pattern and is the checkerspot lady beetle (Propylea quatuordecimpuctata) whose picture was taken by Ken Wise with the NYSIPM Program.
We collected adults of these five lady beetle species in our plots during Summer 2019.

Lacewings

Top picture is a magnified picture of an elongated larval lacewing with prominent pincher-like jaws; bottom picture is a green lacewing feeding on pollen from a white buckwheat flower.
Lacewing larva (top) and adult (bottom). Adults may also be brown, but will have a similar shape.

All lacewing larvae are predators, and the more easily recognized adults of some species are also predators. Others eat pollen as adults. We did not catch very many in our plots; only 40 all summer from all plots.

Minute pirate bugs

Small black and white insect, magnified.
Minute pirate bugs may be small, but they are mighty predators!

This may be one of my new favorite natural enemies. They are definitely minute (no more than a quarter of an inch long) but feed on small insect pests like aphids, mites, scales, and thrips, as well as pollen and nectar. We only collected 19 from all plots over the whole summer. At home, I sometimes find them running across my table after I’ve brought freshly cut flowers inside. In this video, you can see one exploring the map of a corn maze. Actually, it was looking for thrips to eat.

minute pirate bug on corn maze map

Bees

Six pictures of different bees. Some are large like bumble bees or carpenter bees, some are smaller, and one is green.
When we think of bees, sometimes we think of just honey bees and bumble bees. But many different bees utilized the pollen and nectar from the wildflowers we planted. Just a few are pictured here.

Interestingly, while we collected a lot of bees of many different kinds over the summer (at least 18 different genera), very few were the iconic honey bees or bumble bees. I have been told by a bee expert that the pan traps tend to catch bees other than honey or bumble bees, and we did set these traps about twice as often as we used sweep nets. So this may have impacted the types and numbers of bees we collected. Nevertheless, these data are a reminder that there are lots of bees out there besides the ones we’re most familiar with. I encourage you to learn more about wild bees of New York.

A bar graph showing the average number of bees caught in each treatment (mostly in pan traps) summed over the entire summer. The most bees were caught in spring-planted treatments (A, B, and C) and the least bees were caught in the grass control treatment (H). The bars contain very small orange (for honey bee) and yellow (for bumble bee sections) sections. The vast majority of bees caught were other wild bees (green).
We caught quite a few bees last summer! However, the vast majority of them were not honey or bumble bees. Importantly, we don’t have bee counts for all sampling dates, yet.

Butterflies

At the beginning of this post, I listed three methods we used to collect insects. Well, actually there was a fourth method, but it was used to count insects rather than to collect them. We did a Pollard Walk through each plot once a month by simply walking along the side of the plot and counting the number and type of butterflies we saw. We counted very few butterflies during these walks, but here are pictures of the species that did visit our plots (either in the adult or caterpillar life stage).

Collage of six different butterflies (Milbert’s tortoiseshell, viceroy, clouded sulphur, red admiral (photo by Daniel Herms, The Ohio State University and available on Bugwood.org), cabbage white (photo by Mary C Legg, available on Bugwood.org), and painted lady) and two caterpillars (monarch and swallowtail).
These are the butterflies we observed in our beneficial insect habitat plots during Summer 2019. Some, like the monarch and swallowtail we only saw as caterpillars; never as adults.

So that’s it for the beneficial insects I’m going to write about today. We also caught some not-so-beneficial insects (and mollusks).

Tarnished plant bugs

Three pictures of tarnished plant bugs, feeding on the stem of a yellow flower, up close, and sitting on a white aster flower.
Tarnished plant bugs have a distinct pattern on their backs, and also benefit from the same floral resources that support beneficial insects.

These are generalist herbivores, feeding on leaves, fruits and flowers of many plants. They can be damaging pests on some fruits (like strawberries) and vegetables. In our plots, I think they caused some damage to the coreopsis flowers. We’re not too worried because they aren’t pests of Christmas trees, but we were disappointed to find the largest numbers of tarnished plant bugs in the more mature habitat plots (those started by transplanting, as opposed to direct-seeding). Other researchers also reported that planting wildflower strips adjacent to strawberries could increase tarnished plant bug populations.

A bar graph showing numbers of tarnished plant bugs caught in each treatment (mostly in sweep nets, but some in pan traps). More tarnished plant bugs were caught in treatments with transplanted wildflowers (A, B, and D), and also quite a few in the weedy control. The fewest tarnished plant bugs were caught in the grass control plots.
I added up all of the tarnished plant bugs we caught in each plot, then took the average of these summer-long counts from the four plots of each treatment in our field. The black lines stretching above and below the top edge of each bar show one standard error (measure of variability amongst the four plots) above and below the mean value.

Leafhoppers

Two different leafhoppers (one yellow and one green) magnified to clearly show their pointy heads and bristled back legs.
There are many different species of leafhoppers out there, but they all have pointy heads that are flattened and bristles on their back legs. The bristles are much easier to see with magnification, as in these pictures.

Leafhoppers are another insect that we aren’t too concerned about with Christmas trees, but can be a pest of other crops. I learned that you can distinguish this group of insects by their pointy flattened (top to bottom) heads and the bristles on their back legs. The spring transplanted plots in which wildflower plants were most mature and produced the most blooms also had fewer leafhoppers than other treatments.

A bar graph showing numbers of leafhoppers caught in each treatment (mostly in pan traps, but many in pitfall and sweep nets, too). Although we caught a lot of leafhoppers, we caught fewer in the treatments where wildflowers were transplanted in the spring (A and B).
I added up all of the leafhoppers we caught in each plot, then took the average of these summer-long counts from the four plots of each treatment in our field. The black lines stretching above and below the top edge of each bar show one standard error (measure of variability amongst the four plots) above and below the mean value.

 

Slugs

Slimy slug being held next to a ball point pen for size comparison. The slug is about one third the length of the pen.
Biggest slug of 2019 insect sampling!

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, slugs are mollusks, not insects (or even arthropods) and they can be pests of many different crops. The picture above is definitely the largest slug that we collected during 2019. Interestingly, there seemed to be fewer slugs in the plots where we solarized the soil during the 2018 growing season. I was interested to learn that soil solarization is known to kill slug eggs, and I wonder if we’re seeing that effect here. I don’t know how far slugs move from where the eggs hatch, and it will be interesting to see if this effect persists in future years.

A bar graph showing numbers of slugs caught in each treatment (mostly in pitfall traps, but some in pan traps). We caught fewer slugs in the plots that were solarized and had wildflowers direct seeded in the fall (treatment F) than in other treatments.
I added up all of the slugs we caught in each plot, then took the average of these summer-long counts from the four plots of each treatment in our field. The black lines stretching above and below the top edge of each bar show one standard error (measure of variability amongst the four plots) above and below the mean value.

Believe it or not, this is not the full list of insect (or arthropod, mollusk, or annelid) groups we collected and counted. Also, I will remind you again that these data (especially the bee data) are preliminary. Although I’m sad to be unable to collect insects this summer due to COVID-19, I’m looking forward to finishing the analysis of the 2019 data and getting ready to hopefully collect insects again in 2021. In the meantime, you can see pictures of what’s happening in these plots throughout the summer on my Twitter and Instagram accounts. And I will write at least one more post about this project later this year.

 

This post was written by Amara Dunn. All pictures or videos were taken by her, unless otherwise credited.

This work is supported by:

  • Crop Protection and Pest Management -Extension Implementation Program Area grant no. 2017-70006-27142/project accession no. 1014000, from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  • New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets
  • Towards Sustainability Foundation

Choosing plants for Beneficial Habitat At Home

light pink flower with a fuzzy bee crawling on it
A bee gathers pollen from a cosmos flower.

Recall from this post that I’m creating habitat for beneficial arthropods (including insects, spiders, predatory mites, etc.) around my house this spring. Because more of us may be doing this while we’re staying home to keep each other safe, I’m sharing my experiences here (as well as on Twitter and Instagram). The previous post covered site selection. Today I will talk about the species I’ve chosen (and why).

What I’m planting in my yard

Sunny yard alongside a house with several freshly-dug garden beds
My side yard faces south and gets the most sun. But it’s a pretty small area and I want it to look reasonably tidy. I’m still building rapport with my neighbors.

The front and side yards get plenty of sun (because they face south and west), so I’m looking for plants that thrive in full sun. And I’ll admit that I’m interested in more than just supporting beneficial arthropods. I also want my front and side yards to look reasonably nice. (I don’t want to make enemies of my new neighbors!) And I want to grow flowers for cutting. So I am not sticking strictly to native plant species or to perennials. Some plants I picked just because I thought they looked nice. For example, I was beguiled by ‘Chim Chiminee’ Rudbeckia. The pollen and nectar produced by the native species may have been bred out of this variety. I’ll find out. I also just love ‘Persian Carpet’ zinnias.

Plants growing in a large clump with smaller flowers in combinations of yellow, orange, and red.
I grew these ‘Persian Carpet’ zinnias in my garden last year. I love the mix of colors and the abundant blooms that last well when cut.

I’ve started a lot of plants from seeds I had in my fridge (e.g., snap dragons, echinacea, bachelor’s buttons). Others I will direct-seed outside (e.g., sunflowers, zinnia, cosmos), and I may also purchase some transplants from local nurseries (many have great strategies for safe curbside pick-up!).

Several small seedlings growing in paper pots.
I’m starting some plants from seed at home. Using paper pots means that I can compost them when I’m done, and not worry about carrying pathogens over from year to year on plastic pots that I would have to wash very thoroughly after use. Once a plant pathologist, always a plant pathologist!

Choosing plants for beneficial arthropods – the basics

Which plant species to grow to support beneficial arthropods (whether it’s pollinators or natural enemies of pests, or both) is a common question. The answer is both straight-forward, and also complicated. In addition to shelter and protection from pesticides, all beneficial arthropods need something to eat. In general, plants that provide plenty of nectar and pollen help to provide this food. Many natural enemies of pests will also eat pollen or nectar (e.g., at certain life stages, or as a supplement to the pests they eat). Even if they don’t, the pollen and nectar will often attract small arthropods that natural enemies can feed on. So, the simple answer is that a plant that produces lots of pollen and nectar, will thrive in the setting where you want to plant it, and is not invasive is a good choice for supporting beneficial arthropods. Plants that are marketed as supporting pollinators are easy to find and are likely to also support natural enemies.

Bright purple flower with three petals with a yellow and black striped fly perched on it
This Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) in our beneficial arthropod habitat plots is being visited by a hover fly. Hover fly larvae are excellent aphid predators!

But, of course, it’s not exactly that simple…

Choosing plants – natives, cultivars, and more

Many people ask if they should only grow native plant species, or if it’s ok to plant cultivated varieties of native species, or non-native species. (Hopefully it’s obvious that you should never plant an invasive species in your yard!) Annie White at the University of Vermont wrote a 254-page dissertation on the topic. These two sentences from her abstract summarize her findings nicely: “Our study shows that many insect pollinators prefer to forage on native species over cultivated varieties of the native species, but not always, and not exclusively. Some native cultivars may be comparable substitutions for native species in pollinator habitat restoration projects, but all cultivars should be evaluated on an individual basis.” You might also want to take a look at this article from the University of Maryland and this one from the Xerces Society. In summary, I would say it’s up to you whether you want to plant exclusively native species, or not.

According to David Smitley from Michigan State University, perennials are usually better choices for bees than annuals, but this article includes a list of annuals that are attractive to bees. Alyssum is an annual that definitely supports natural enemies, but many of the other annuals on this list may also support natural enemies.

Deep orange sunflower with a bee visiting it, starting to gather pollen
Although they are annuals, sunflowers are still very attractive to bees. Also, I like them as cut flowers.

Choosing plants – attracting specific arthropods

If you are trying to attract very specific natural enemies (e.g., parasitoid wasps, lady beetles) your plant choice can also get more complicated. Some great work has been done by researchers at Michigan State University documenting which arthropods (pollinators, natural enemies, and some pests) visited different plant species native to Michigan. They also offer a simplified summary. “Habitat Planning for Beneficial Insects” from the Xerces Society includes notes in the charts at the end about which beneficial insects are particularly attracted to the species listed. This resource from Oregon State University describes some specific plants and the arthropods they support. Finally, although this study was conducted in the United Kingdom, there might be some relevance to the Northeast U.S.

Update: During Summer 2020 (while I was doing less field work), I reviewed the literature I could find on the value of specific plants for specific natural enemies. Here is the spreadsheet I compiled.

Lists and searchable databases

In addition to the resources already listed, you may find the following helpful in selecting plants:

If you want to focus on native plants, there are many organizations committed to supporting local native plants…too many to list here, but some online searching may turn up an organization that is local for you.

My current plant list

This table lists what I either have already seeded (inside or outside), or am planning to direct seed outside when it gets a little warmer. In addition to the common, scientific, and cultivar name of each plant and whether it is a perennial or an annual in NY, I also included information about why I chose it. I only marked plants as supporting bees or natural enemies if I could find documentation of that fact in the resources above. It may be that more of the plants on this list support beneficial arthropods. If you have additional information on these plants, please let me know! In some cases (for example, zinnia) the species is reported to support beneficial arthropods, but I don’t know if the cultivars I’m growing will. In many cases, the decorative value of the plant was a big part of why I chose it. The arnica? Well, I just saw that in a seed catalog this winter and ordered some on a whim.

Common name Scientific name Cultivar Annual or Perennial in NY Bees Natural enemies Decorative
Arnica Arnica chamissonis perennial
Bachelor’s buttons Centaurea cyanus annual X X
Blanketflower Gaillardia aristata Burgundy perennial X X X
Blue vervain Verbena hastata perennial X
Calendula Calendula officinalis Remembrance Mix annual X X
Celosia Celosia argentea cristata Red Flame annual X X
Cosmos Cosmos bipnnatus Dwarf Sensation annual X X X
Echinacea Echinacea purpurea perennial X X
Marigold Tagetes erecta Senate House annual X X
Poppy Papaver somniferum Frilled White Poppy annual maybe X
Poppy Papaver sp. seed saved by a colleague annual maybe X
Pyrethrum daisy Chrysanthemum cocineum perennial X
Rudbeckia Rudbeckia hirta Chim chiminee perennial maybe X
Snap dragon Antirrhinum majus annual X X
Strawflower Xerochrysum bracteatum annual X
Sunflower Helianthus anus Mammoth Greystripe annual X probably X
Sunflower Helianthus anus Evening Sun annual X probably X
Sunflower Helianthus anus Sonja Dwarf annual X probably X
Zinnia Zinnia elegans Queen Lime with Blush annual maybe X
Zinnia Zinnia elegans Candy Cane Mix annual maybe X
Zinnia Zinnia elegans Benary’s Wine annual maybe X
Mexican zinnia Zinnia haageana Persian Carpet annual maybe X

 

This post was written by Amara Dunn, Biocontrol Specialist with the NYSIPM program. All images are hers, unless otherwise noted.

This work is supported by:

  • Crop Protection and Pest Management -Extension Implementation Program Area grant no. 2017-70006-27142/project accession no. 1014000, from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  • New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets
  • Towards Sustainability Foundation

Compatibility: Pesticides and natural enemies of pests

Green insect with lacey wings
Lacewings (especially larvae; this one is an adult) are great natural enemies of pests. You want to keep them happy and healthy!

Natural enemies of pests are going to help you out with pest control, so when you are applying pesticides, it’s in your best interest to choose products that will have the least impact on them. Two quick points before we get into details for where to find this information:

  1. Remember that the information in this post is not a substitute for a pesticide label. The label is the law, and you must read and follow the label of any pesticide you are using. Laws and labels change. It is your responsibility to use pesticides legally. Trade names used here are for convenience only; no endorsement of products is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products implied. For questions about pesticide use, regulations, and safety, contact the Cornell Pesticide Management Education Program: pmep_webmaster@cornell.edu.
  2. A great way to protect natural enemies is by following the steps for IPM. Preventing pests (e.g., through cultural strategies and exclusion), scouting to detect pests early when populations are low, and proper identification of pests will help you reduce your need to use pesticides and can save you money. Win win!

Ok, let’s assume you’re doing good IPM and you’ve gotten to the point where you need to choose a pesticide. How do you make the best choice for protecting natural enemies? Here are a few options. (Note that I did post about this about 2 years ago. I’ve learned more, so I thought an update would be in order.)

Read the label

This should go without saying. You should be doing this anyway when you are considering using a pesticide. The label may contain information about the compatibility of a pesticide with either natural enemies or pollinators. And of course it will contain important information about how to minimize risks to yourself and the environment when you use it.

EIQ

EIQ stands for Environmental Impact Quotient. You can read more details on the NYSIPM website, but in a nutshell the EIQ puts a number on the risks of pesticides at the rates they are applied in the field. You can use the EIQ calculator on our website to compare these numbers for different pesticides. The higher the number, the higher the risk. There are different components to the EIQ; risks to consumers, workers, and the environment (ecological). The ecological risk will include risks to natural enemies (as well as fish, birds, and bees).

Pocket IPM Greenhouse Scout App

The Greenhouse Scout app provides information for doing IPM in greenhouses, including pest insects, beneficial insects, application technology, and pesticide interactions. It also gives you a place to record scouting results and track product applications.
A screenshot from the home screen of the Pocket IPM Greenhouse Scout App. You can find information about compatibility with natural enemies under either “Beneficials” or “Pesticide Interactions”.

Especially if you are growing in a greenhouse and releasing a lot of natural enemies, you may find this app helpful. In addition to providing information about compatibility of pesticides with arthropod natural enemies you may be releasing, you can also use it to help you keep records of scouting and product applications.

 

Cornell Guidelines

If you are a commercial producer, hopefully you are already utilizing the Cornell Guidelines, as they are a wealth of information on many subjects. At least some of them also include information on the toxicity of different pesticides to natural enemies. For example, if you have the grape guidelines, check out Table 4.2.2 for insecticide toxicity to natural enemies.

Websites and apps from companies that produce natural enemies

Companies that sell natural enemies (especially predatory and parasitoid arthropods for greenhouse pest control) have an interest in making sure that customers don’t inadvertently kill the natural enemies they buy with pesticides they are applying. I am aware of searchable databases or charts describing pesticide compatibility from four companies that sell (mostly) arthropod and nematode natural enemies: Agrobio, Biobest, BioWorks, and Koppert. If you know of some I’ve missed, please let me know! There are of course other companies that supply natural enemies. Here I’m focusing on resources that help you choose pesticides to conserve natural enemies.

Agrobio

This website is also available as an app for Android (but not Apple) devices. To use it, start by clicking Organisms selection and choose the natural enemies you want to conserve. Then, click Ingredients selection and choose the pesticides you are thinking about applying. You can only search active ingredients, not product names. Finally, click Query. Use the legend to help you interpret the table that’s produced.

Biobest

This website is also available as an app for Android and Apple devices. Use either the Active ingredient or the Commercial product tab to select pesticides by active ingredient or trade name. Then, search for the name of the Beneficial organism you want to conserve. Note that there are a lot of pesticide/natural enemy combinations for which toxicity data just aren’t available. If you select a pesticide, then natural enemies for which no data are available will be grayed out in the Beneficial organism list. As you check boxes next to pesticides and natural enemies, a chart is automatically generated. The legend includes keys for information on toxicity (to natural enemies and bumble bees), application methods, and persistence of the product. You can generate a pdf of your results, but it won’t include the legends.

BioWorks

Check out this resource that summarizes the compatibility of BioWorks biopesticides with arthropod and nematode natural enemies.

Koppert

This website is also available as an app for Android and Apple devices. Start by entering the name of the Beneficial organism you want to conserve. You can search by either the Koppert product name, or the Latin (scientific) name, but you can’t select from a drop-down menu. Just start typing. Then, choose the Agent (pesticide you are considering applying), by either trade name or active ingredient. Again, you need to know the name; you can’t select from a drop-down list. Start typing, and then check the box next to the product you are interested in. Click Results and be sure to click on ‘Legend’ at the bottom to help you interpret the table. There is also a more complete explanation of information in the legend under Info.

Some caveats about these websites

Admittedly, finding information about conserving natural enemies that are not commercially available for release (e.g., in greenhouses) has some challenges. These websites tend to focus on what you can buy and release, rather than on what may be naturally occurring in a field. Although sometimes there is some overlap. These apps/websites don’t include all natural enemies, and data aren’t available for all natural enemy/pesticide combinations. Also, these websites/apps usually list natural enemies by scientific names. Do you know what the scientific name of a lacewing is? I didn’t before I started this job!

To help with this last barrier, I created a chart (also below) to help you figure out what scientific names you should look for on these websites/apps if you want to conserve a particular natural enemy. It also includes information about which pests the natural enemies target, whether they are commercially available, and whether they are naturally occurring (not necessarily native) in NY.

Arthropod and nematode natural enemies

Can I buy them? Found in NY? If I want to conserve this beneficial arthropod… (whose scientific name is…) that helps me control… I should look for these names on the compatibility apps: 
yes yes aphid midges Aphidoletes aphidimyza aphids Aphidoletes aphidimyza
some yes beetles that are predators (for example, rove beetles, ground beetles, and others) Coleoptera is the scientific name of the insect group that includes all beetles. The following families are generally predatory: Coccinellidae (lady beetles), Carabidae (ground beetles), Staphylinidae (rove beetles), Cantharidae (soldier beetles), Melyridae (flower beetles) many insect pests Coleoptera is a beneficial insect listed on at least one compatibility app. However, some coleoptera are pests. And, since this is such a broad group, the compatibility information provided may not be correct for all beneficial beetle species.
yes hover flies, syrphid flies Syrphus spp, and many, many others aphids Syrphus spp.; Syrphus corollae; Episyrphus balteatus
some yes lacewings Chrysoperla spp. and some others aphids, insect eggs, small larvae Chrysopa carnea = Chrysoperla carnea; Chrysoperla spp.
some yes lady beetles Coccinellidae aphids, mites, small insects, insect eggs Coccinelidae, Coccinella 7-punctata, Hippodamia convergens
some yes minute pirate bug Orius insidiosus insect eggs, small caterpillars, thrips, mites, aphids Orius laevigatus may be a reasonable proxy; Orius spp.; Orius insidiosus
yes yes nematodes Steinernema spp., Heterorhabditis spp. thrips, fungus gnats, shore flies, some grubs Nematodes (note that this is a very broad category and it’s possible there are differences among species), Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, Steinernema, Steinernema feltiae, Steinernema carpocapsae
some yes parasitoid wasp Aphidius spp. aphids Aphidius spp., Aphidius colemani, Aphidius matricariae, Aphidius ervi
some yes parasitoid wasp Eulophidae, Diglyphus spp. leafminer larvae Diglyphus isaea
yes yes parasitoid wasp Braconids, Dacnusa sibirica leafminers Dacnusa sibirica
yes parasitoid wasp Aphelinidae, Aphelinus semiflavus aphids on potatoes Aphelinus abdominalis or Aphelinus mali may be reasonable proxies
yes yes predatory gall midge Feltiella acarisuga spider mites Feltiella acarisuga
some yes predatory mites Amblyseius (= Neoseiulus) fallacis, Typhlodromus spp., and probably others thrips, whitefly, pest mites; may vary among natural enemy species Amblyseius californicus, Amblyseius cucumeris, Amblyseius swirskii, Phytoseiulus persimilis are sold commercially and may be good proxies for the pesticide compatibility of naturally-occurring predatory mites
yes yes spined soldier bug Podisus maculiventris many immature insects, including many species of caterpillars Podisus maculiventris
 

some

some trichogramma wasps Trichogramma spp. moth eggs Trichogramma spp., Trichogramma brassicae, Trichogramma cacoeciae, Trichogramma evanescens, Trichogramma pretiosum

Other species of interest…

Can I buy them? Found in NY? If I want to conserve this beneficial insect… (whose scientific name is…) that helps me control… I should look for these names on the compatibility apps: 
yes yes bumble bee Bombus spp. NA – pollinator Bombus spp., Bombus terrestris
yes yes European honey bee Apis mellifera NA – pollinator Apis, Apis mellifera

Notes:

Different strains or populations of these natural enemies are sold by different companies and each population may differ from natural populations. Each company is most likely to report compatibility data that applies to their population. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

When the first word in the scientific name of an insect (e.g. Trichogramma) is followed by the designation ‘spp.’, it means multiple species that all belong to the same genus. Some compatibility information is given for only the larger group (e.g., Aphidius spp. or Syrphus spp.).

Natural enemies that are pesticides (active ingredients are microorganisms, i.e., fungi, bacteria, viruses)

If I want to conserve this microbial natural enemy… (whose scientific name is…) that helps me control… I should look for these names on the compatibility apps: 
Bt Bacillus thuringiensis (various strains are available, and they control different pests) many caterpillars and some immature beetle and fly pests (target pest varies by strain) Bacillus thuringiensis
entomopathogenic fungus Paecilomyces fumosoroseus = Isaria fumosorosea, Beauveria bassiana, Metarhizium anisopliae (= M. brunneum) (various strains) many insects (target pest depends on fungal species and strain) Paecilomyces (=Isaria) fumosoroseus, Beauveria bassiana, Metarhizium anisopliae (= M. brunneum)
fungi that attack plant diseases there are multiple species, including Trichoderma harzianum (several strains) Plant pathogens (the target pathogen depends on the fungal strain) Trichoderma harzianum T-22 is the only fungal natural enemy I found on these apps, so far. It is unlikely that its compatibility is representative of other fungi that are natural enemies.

Notes:

Different strains or populations of these microorganisms are sold by different companies and each of these populations may differ from natural populations. Each company is most likely to report compatibility data that applies to their population. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

In these apps/websites, microbial active ingredient may be listed as the natural enemy (e.g., Paecilomyces fumosoroseus on Biobest website), but sometimes it’s only listed as a pesticide active ingredient. For compatibility of biopesticides with chemical pesticides, you should start by reading the label, then seek information provided by the manufacturer.

All tables were assembled by Amara Dunn, NYSIPM using information from Natural Enemies of Vegetable Insect Pests (Hoffman & Frodsham) and were last updated January 2020.

Give it a try!

Imagine you were considering using one of the following active ingredients:

abamectin

acequinocyl

fenpyroximate

…to control spider mites. (Of course, before you did this, you’d read the labels and be sure that the use you were considering was legal!) If you were concerned about hurting parasitoids that help with aphid control (for example, the species Aphidius colemani and Aphidius ervi) which of these active ingredients would be the best choice (from a compatibility standpoint)?

 

Go ahead!

 

Look it up!

 

A note about microorganisms as natural enemies

Green leaf with blue rectangles with smiling faces representing microbes as natural enemies of the pest microbes (yellow rectangles with shocked faces). The blue microbes are producing blue droplets (representing antimicrobial compounds).
Microbes used to control pests are biopesticides. In this conceptual diagram, the happy blue microbes are producing antimicrobial compounds that are killing the plant pathogens (represented by yellow rectangles with shocked faces).

There are a few “natural enemies” on this chart that are actually biopesticides, and I have listed them separately. Remember that microorganisms (fungi, bacteria, viruses) that are natural enemies of pests are biopesticides. A few of them can be found in the websites/apps summarized above. There are two compatibility questions when it comes to using biopesticides with living microorganisms as active ingredients: (1) Will this biopesticide harm other natural enemies (e.g., predators and parasitoids)? and (2) Will the living microbe in this biopesticide be killed by other pesticides I might use? The websites/apps have some information about the compatibility of biopesticides with arthropod natural enemies. If you’re wondering about the compatibility of biopesticides with other pesticides, that may be a topic for another post (so many posts to write, so little time!). I’ll just offer two quick pieces of advice here:

  1. Read the label of the biopesticide. If it doesn’t contain compatibility information (for use with other pesticides) or doesn’t answer your questions about compatibility with other natural enemies, contact the manufacturer to get your questions answered.
  2. If you happen to be using one of their products, BioWorks describes the compatibility of their products with other pesticides, and this information is linked to individual product pages.

And what about the bees?

Take a look at the resources created by the Pollinator Network @ Cornell. They have prepared decision-making guides for several crops already, with more to come.

 

This post was written by Amara Dunn, Biocontrol Specialist with the NYSIPM program. All images are hers, unless otherwise noted.

Conservation biocontrol in the time of COVID-19

rows of small Christmas tree seedlings in a field on a sunny day, with a pond in the background
I was so excited to check on our Christmas tree and beneficial insect habitat plots on this sunny May day!

Thanks to everyone who’s been following the project I’ve been working on with Betsy Lamb and Brian Eshenaur to establish (and document the impacts of) habitat for natural enemies of pests and pollinators (collectively, beneficial insects) around a research planting of Christmas trees! For many people, life does not look the same as it did in January, and we are no exception. Don’t worry, we and the excellent Field Research Unit staff at Cornell AgriTech will be maintaining our research beneficial insect habitat plots (and the Christmas trees around them) so that we can continue to do research here in future years. But, in the interest of keeping people safe and working remotely as much as possible, we won’t collect insects this season. I will be going out about once a week to take pictures of both plants and insects (by myself, with a mask on hand just in case). You can see these pictures on either my Twitter or Instagram accounts.

Clusters of still-closed yellow flower buds
Zizia aurea (golden alexander) is the earliest-blooming plant species we have in our beneficial insect habitat plots. And it wasn’t blooming yet the first week of May.

There’s also a new project you can follow this spring and summer (here, and on Twitter and Instagram)! I recently moved into a new house, and was already planning to put in a (mostly flower) garden, including plants that support beneficial insects. Since many people are doing more things at home, this seemed like a good year to share my experience establishing habitat for beneficial insects in a home garden.

First step? Site selection. My backyard is a bit shady (and I suspect it will be shadier when the leaves come out). You can’t tell from this picture, but the ground also tends to be a little squishy after it rains.

Lawn with shadows from nearby trees
Even before the leaves have come out, I can tell that my backyard is not going to be the sunniest.

The front and side yards face south and west and are drier.

Lawn along the side of a house that is mostly sunny
The side yard at my house faces south, and gets more sun (except first thing in the morning).

In my experience, the list of plants that support beneficial insects is longer if you have plenty of sun and reasonably dry soil. This doesn’t mean that you can’t support beneficial insects in a wet and/or shady spot. But you need to choose plant species carefully. You will be more successful if you choose plants that will thrive in the conditions you have. More on plant selection in a later post.

In addition to simple aesthetics, another important part of site selection around the home is knowing what’s underneath the ground. My local utility company provided information about getting water, gas, electric, and internet service lines on my property marked before I start digging. They recommended marking these lines even if I’m just planning to dig by hand with a shovel. If you are planning to use larger equipment, this is even more important (and may be required, depending on where you live). Better safe than sorry. Call before you dig!

Sunny lawn with a stripe of yellow paint and and a yellow flag marking the buried gas line
My buried gas line runs through the side yard. I got it marked before I started digging.

Out of an abundance of caution, I’m going to use the location of the buried gas line on my property as a good place to locate a path (rather than a flower bed that requires digging).

I’ll talk more about weed control in a future post, but when you are selecting a site (and deciding how big an area you want to plant), you should also be thinking about how you are going to manage weeds. I am planning to get mulch. But I have resigned myself to the fact that I may be doing some extra hand weeding this summer. It will be a good activity to get me out of the house in the evenings and on the weekends.

Stay tuned for more updates on this project!

 

This post was written by Amara Dunn, Biocontrol Specialist with the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program. All pictures in this post were taken by her.

This work is supported by:

  • Crop Protection and Pest Management -Extension Implementation Program Area grant no. 2017-70006-27142/project accession no. 1014000, from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  • New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets
  • Towards Sustainability Foundation

Creating habitat for beneficial insects: Time, money, and weeds

On the left is a picture of a woman in a sundress and straw hat standing in the middle of a sunny sunflower field with her arms raised in the air. Written at the top of the picture is the title “What I thought establishing habitat for beneficial insects would be like…”. On the right is a picture of three people, either on their hands and knees or bending over, pulling weeds (including dandelions) that are several feet tall. This picture has the title: “What it’s actually like.”In December, I updated you on how perennial wildflowers and grasses were establishing in our beneficial insect habitat plots during the 2019 growing season. As I wrote that post, I quickly realized that there was too much good information for just one post. So here’s the rest of the story when it comes to plant establishment – time, money, and weeds.

Before I get started, below is a quick reminder of what our treatments were. You can read all the details here.

Treatment Description
A Spring transplant, no mulch
B Spring transplant with mulch
C Spring direct seed
D Buckwheat cover crop, then fall transplant
E – control Whatever was growing there, just keep it mowed
F Soil solarization, then fall direct seed
G Herbicide and tillage, then fall direct seed

Weed control

One thing that has surprised me about this project (although others certainly gave me fair warning) was how big a role weed management plays in establishing habitat for beneficial insects. It’s definitely still a struggle in our plots.

Bryan Brown did weed assessments for us in May and September of 2019. The graph below shows the average percent of the area of each plot covered by either weeds (orange) or beneficial habitat flowers and grasses (blue).

Bar graph shows the average percent of plots covered with either weed or beneficial habitat plants in May 2019. Weed control in the treatment (B) where transplants were mulched had the best weed control. The worst weed control was in treatment D, where seedlings were planted in Fall 2018 after a buckwheat cover crop.
Mulching provided the best weed management when plots were assessed in May of 2019. Each bar shows the average of four plots per treatment, and has an error bar showing variation among these plots (one standard error above or below the average for the treatment).

This was before we did any hand-weeding. By far, the plots that were mulched in Spring 2018 (treatment B) had the fewest weeds compared to beneficial habitat plants. You’ll also notice that in May there were still relatively few weeds in the plots where we tried to deplete the weed seed bank in the soil through solarization (treatment F) or repeated herbicide and tillage (treatment G).

Picture on the left is of treatment B (Spring transplant and mulch) and shows small wildflower plants surrounded by mulch and few weeds. The middle picture shows treatment C (spring direct seed), a weedy plot. The picture on the right shows treatment F (solarization and fall direct seed), where you can still see at least 50% of the plot is bare soil, although many small and a few larger weeds are visible.
What some of the plots looked like on May 16, 2019 when Bryan did the weed assessment.

By September 2019, the spring transplant treatments looked even better. Our wildflowers grew well during 2019 (with the help of some extra hand weeding). The plants we transplanted in Fall 2018 are still struggling and not nearly as large as the wildflowers in treatments A and B. I think this may have more to do with the weed competition they experienced that first fall (when we couldn’t plant for a few weeks after the buckwheat was mowed) than transplant timing. Hopefully they will catch up.

Picture on the left is of treatment A (spring transplant, no mulch) and shows tall wildflower plants with some weeds. The middle picture shows treatment B (Spring transplant and mulch), full of large wildflowers and few weeds. The picture on the right shows treatment D (buckwheat and fall transplant), where the wildflower plants are much smaller, there are more weeds, and some bare ground is visible.
What some of the plots looked like on September 19, 2019 when Bryan did the weed assessment.

There are still a lot of weeds in the direct-seeded treatments (C, F, or G). Remember that our weed management strategy in these plots is repeated mowing to control annual weeds. Over time, the perennial wildflowers and grasses should take over. But it’s not supposed to be a quick method.

Bar graph shows the average percent of plots covered with either weed or beneficial habitat plants in September 2019. Weed control in the treatment (B) where transplants were mulched still had the best weed control. The worst weed control (besides the control plot where no beneficial habitat plants were planted) was in the three treatments using spring or fall direct seeding (C = spring direct seeding, F = soil solarization and fall direct seeding, G = herbicide and tillage with fall direct seeding).
Spring transplant treatments (A and B) looked the best after their second full growing season. The fall transplants (D) had more weeds, but these plants also have been in the ground for one less growing season. I’m still hoping they will catch up. Each bar shows the average of four plots per treatment, and has an error bar showing variation among these plots (one standard error above or below the average for the treatment).

Effort

Most of the treatments we are comparing required much less work in their second year (2019) than in their first (2018). The exception is that we spent a lot more time hand weeding treatment D (buckwheat cover crop followed by fall transplanting) in 2019. Although we weeded the two spring transplanted plots the same number of times in 2019 (twice), it took longer to hand weed the plots without mulch. I’m not surprised. If you’re looking for the right establishment method for your project, you really need to ask yourself how much help you have available and when. If you can get a lot of people excited about helping you install the planting, but worry about getting consistent volunteers year after year, mulch may be the right choice for you. In the direct seeded treatments (C – spring; F – fall following solarization; G – fall following herbicide and tillage), the time input for 2019 was mowing, which was relatively quick. And we did just a little hand weeding of perennial weeds.

Bar graph shows time (in person hours) spent on each treatment for both 2018 (in blue) and 2019 (in orange). The tallest bars are for treatments A, B, and D, but most of the bar for treatment B is blue (representing transplanting, mulching, and hand weeding in 2018). For treatment D, half the bar is orange (representing hand weeding in 2019). Treatment A shows more orange than treatment B, but less than treatment D.
Transplanting (treatments A, B, and D) still takes more time than direct seeding, but the extra time we spent mulching in 2018 paid off in 2019 when we spent less time hand weeding (treatment B compared to A and D).

Costs

Nearly all of our costs were incurred in the first year of the project (2018). The only additional costs from 2019 were for gas to run the mower. We did replace a few plants in transplanted plots in Fall 2019, but we used some extra plants we had purchased in 2018. Below is the total cost of the plants and other supplies for each treatment. Transplanting will always be more expensive than direct seeding.

Treatment Costs
A $417.12
B $539.29
C $18.83
D $390.55
E $3.40
F $149.10
G $23.12

 

You may remember that we were also collecting insects. I promise I will write more about the insects we caught in another post. If you are tired of looking at snow and bare trees outside, you can see pictures of some of the insects we caught in my post from August 2019.

This post was written by Amara Dunn. All pictures were taken by her, unless otherwise credited.

This work is supported by:

  • Crop Protection and Pest Management -Extension Implementation Program Area grant no. 2017-70006-27142/project accession no. 1014000, from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  • New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets
  • Towards Sustainability Foundation

Creating habitat for beneficial insects: How are things growing?

Planting of purple, yellow, and white flowers with blue sky in the background
Lots of flowers bloomed in 2019 in our habitat plots. Some we had planted, and some we hadn’t.

Obviously, nothing is growing right now, but I thought this would be a good time to update you on the success of our beneficial insect habitat plots during the 2019 growing season.

When things bloomed

Recall that the goal is to have at least one plant blooming all season long. We choose wildflower species accordingly, and it worked! The following table shows which months each species bloomed in 2019 (at least in the transplanted plots). An ‘X’ means the species was blooming during that month.

Wildflower May June July Aug Sep
Golden alexanders X X
Catmint X X X  X
Lanced-leaved coreopsis X X
Tall white beard tongue X X
Ohio spiderwort X X
Anise hyssop X X  X
Echinacea X X  X
Orange coneflower X X  X
Boneset X X X
Wild bergamot X X
Common milkweed X
NY ironweed X  X
Showy goldenrod  X
New England aster  X
Blue false indigo

You may notice that the blue false indigo never bloomed in 2019, which was disappointing. Most of these plants are still alive (as you’ll see later in this post). They just didn’t bloom. Maybe next year?

Here’s what each species looks like:

Plant with tiny yellow flowers arranged like Queen Anne’s Lace.
Golden alexanders (Zizia aurea)
Small purple bell-shaped flowers on stems with frosty-green leaves
Catmint (Nepeta faassinii)
Yellow daisy-shaped flowers with toothed edges
Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata)
Clusters of white or pink bell-shaped flowers on top of tall stems
Tall white beard tongue (Penstemon digitalis). Obviously not all of these flowers are white!
Three-petaled purple flowers growing on plant with grass-like leaves.
Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)
Small, pale purple flowers clustered at the top of a stem
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Pink daisy-shaped flowers with organge centers
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)
Large clump of daisy shaped flowers with yellow petals and dark brown centers
Orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida)
Small white flowers in flat clusters
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
Pale pink-purple flowers that look like small tufts on the top of stems
Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)
Pale pink flowers with 5 sets of petals and a complex shape
Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)
Bright magenta flowers formed into small tufts at the top of the plant
NY Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)
Large clump of small, bright yellow flowers
Showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa)
Purple daisy-shaped flowers with yellow centers and very narrow petals. A small bee is visiting one of the flowers
New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)
Pale blue-purple legume flowers. One is being visited by a bumble bee
Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis); hasn’t bloomed yet in our field. Photo credit: Ansel Oommen, Bugwood.org

Transplanted wildflowers

The wildflowers in our transplanted plots are surviving pretty well (>80%). In the plots that were transplanted in the fall after the buckwheat cover crop, the survival is a bit lower. I think this has to do with some weed control issues (more on this in a future post).

Percent of plants surviving was lowest in treatment D, but still above 80%. Survival did not change very much from Spring to Fall 2019.
How well have the transplanted wildflowers survived so far? Treatment A was transplanted in Spring 2018 and not mulched. Treatment B was transplanted in Spring 2018 and mulched. Treatment D was transplanted in Fall 2018 following a buckwheat cover crop. All have been hand weeded periodically. In both Spring and Fall of 2019 I counted plants to see how well they survived. The black lines on each bar in the graph show one standard error above and below the mean percent survival.

Some species have survived better than others, as the following chart shows. Again, we counted plants both in Spring and Fall 2019.

Bar graph showing the mean percent of plants of each species that were still alive in Spring and Fall 2019. With the exception of milkweed, all survival rates were at or above 80%, and losses were minimal from Spring to Fall.
Do some species of wildflowers survive better when transplanted? There’s a little bit of variability, but overall most are surviving pretty well.

What about the direct-seeded plots?

Only three species of wildflowers planted by seed in Spring or Fall 2018 bloomed during the 2019 season. The table below shows which months these blooms were seen (marked with an ‘X’).

Common name May June July Aug Sep
Coreopsis X X X
Blackeyed susan X X X
Partridge pea X X

Here’s what the flowers of blackeyed susan look like. The plant has much hairier leaves than the orange coneflower.

A daisy-shaped flower with yellow petals and a dark brown center
Blackeyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

And here’s the partridge pea:

Yellow flower with compound leaves cupped in a person’s hand
Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata)

But, I also spotted some wild bergamot, tall white beard tongue, asters, golden alexanders, and either echinacea or orange coneflower seedlings. (I haven’t honed my horticultural skills enough yet to distinguish the foliage of these last two wildflowers.)

Pictures of seedlings labeled (left to right, top to bottom) aster, golden alexanders, echinacea or orange coneflower, wild bergamot, and beard tongue.
Seedlings of some wildflowers could be identified in the direct-seeded plots by September 2019.

There were also plenty of weeds blooming throughout the summer, and many of them were providing pollen and nectar for pollinators and natural enemies. Here are just a few examples:

Four pictures showing a bee on a yellow flower, several daisy-shaped flowers with white petals and yellow centers, a yellow dandelion with a pink lady beetle on it, and a bumble bee visiting a pink clover flower
From left to right: A bee feeding on a weed in the aster family, blooming chamomile, a lady beetle on a dandelion, and a bumble bee visiting clover (that wasn’t planted).

This table summarizes when during the season different weeds were in bloom. Again, an ‘X’ indicates the weed was blooming that month.

Weed May June July Aug Sep
Campion X X X X X
Chamomile X X X X X
Clover X X X X X
Dandelion X X X X X
Vetch X X X X X
Viola X X X X X
Mustard X X X X
Deadnettle X X
Baby blue eyes X
Henbit X
Asters X X X X
Buckwheat X X X X
Oxalis X X X X
Plantain X X X X
Wild lettuce X X X X
Cinquefoil X X X
Indian hemp X X X
Redshank X X X
Chickweed X X
Galinsoga X X
Geraniums X
Sandwort X
Grass X X
Horse weed X X
Lambsquarters X X
Ragweed X X
Black bindweed X
Chicory X

There’s more!

In addition to keeping track of what bloomed from May through September, we were also still tracking costs and time spent on each plot in 2019. And of course we collected a LOT of insects. But those stories will have to wait for another post.

This post was written by Amara Dunn. All pictures were taken by her, unless otherwise credited.

This work is supported by:

  • Crop Protection and Pest Management -Extension Implementation Program Area grant no. 2017-70006-27142/project accession no. 1014000, from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
  • New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets
  • Towards Sustainability Foundation

Learn more about classical biocontrol

Several brown, slimy-looking larvae on a leaf of a lily plant that has been chewed up. A small black wasp that is less than a third of the size of the larva is perched on one of them.
A tiny wasp lays its eggs in the larvae of the invasive lily leaf beetle. Releasing these wasps in the northeastern U.S. is a form of classical biocontrol. Photo credit: Dan Gilrein

Last week, some colleagues told me about a cool online database that will help you learn more about how classical biocontrol is helping us fight invasive insects.

Classical biocontrol means introducing a natural enemy of a pest to help manage that pest. The natural enemy establishes a population where you have released it (and maybe even spreads), so that you don’t need to repeatedly release more natural enemies. It is a strategy that can be especially useful against invasive pests.

One thing that makes a pest invasive is the fact that when it arrives in a new place (for example, on a new continent), native organisms don’t eat it because they have not evolved with this new pest as a food source. Sometimes scientists can search the geographic area from which the invasive pest came and find a natural enemy of that pest. Many tests are done over a long period of time in order to assess potential unintended consequences of introducing this natural enemy to a new place. For example, scientists determine whether the new natural enemy is likely to also impact populations of native organisms (especially those that are not pests). Only after extensive study will this new natural enemy be released to help reduce populations of the invasive pest.

When done carefully, classical biocontrol can be a lower-risk solution to managing invasive pests compared to chemical pest management. It is also a long-term solution. The new natural enemy reproduces in its new geographic range and brings the invasive pest population into balance. The invasive species won’t be eliminated, but it will likely do less damage.

A new database from the University of Massachusetts lets you learn more about insects that have been introduced to North America to control invasive insect pests as classical biological control agents. You can Search the Catalog by the scientific name of the target pest, the scientific name of the natural enemy, information about where and when the natural enemy was first released, or other criteria.

Held against the background of a person's hand, you can see the underside of a hemlock branch. It looks like there are small tufts of white cotton where each needle attaches to the branch.
The invasive hemlock woolly adelgid on a hemlock branch. Several different classical biocontrol agents have been released in the U.S. to manage this invasive pest. Photo credit: Amara Dunn

You will need to know the scientific name of the pest or natural enemy you are interested in, but a quick Google search can help you with that. For example, Adelges tsugae is the hemlock woolly adelgid, which you may have heard about. If not, you can learn more here. Laricobius nigrinus was released to help manage hemlock woolly adelgid. Other examples include Agrilus planipennis (emerald ash borer) and Lilioceris lilii (lily leaf beetle). NYS IPM is involved in a project to use classical biocontrol to manage this last pest in NY.

As the days start to get shorter and cooler, you might find yourself spending more time indoors. And if that’s the case, why not spend some time learning more about how classical biocontrol is helping to manage pests in the landscapes around you?