Tag Archives: lawn

How do they work? Bioinsecticide edition

When an insect is treated with the right bioinsecticide, the insect stops damaging plants, and eventually dies.
Bioinsecticides include microorganisms and other naturally-derived compounds that control insect pests.

My post from last February described modes of action for biopesticides that target plant diseases…as well as the difference between a biopesticide and a biostimulant. January’s post described the modes of action of five biofungicides in an ongoing vegetable trial. But there are plenty of insect and mite pests out there, too. You can attract or release predatory or parasitic insects and mites or beneficial nematodes to deal with these arthropod (insect and mite) pests. But you can also use bioinsecticides that control insects and mites. The active ingredients include microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses), plant extracts, or other naturally-occurring substances. Want to know how they work? Keep reading.

Bioinsecticides can have one (or more) of the following modes of action:

  1. Kill on contact
  2. Kill after ingestion
  3. Repel
  4. Inhibit feeding
  5. Inhibit growth
  6. Inhibit reproduction

The examples included in the following descriptions are reported either on the bioinsecticide labels or in promotional materials produced by the manufacturers. And these are just examples, not meant to be an exhaustive list of bioinsecticides with each mode of action.

Killing on contact

Tiny spores of insect-killing fungi land on the body of an insect, germinate, infect the insect, grow throughout its body, and eventually kill it.
Some bioinsecticides contain living spores of a fungus. These spores need to land on the insect. Then they germinate (like a seed), invade and grow throughout the body of the insect, and eventually kill it. If the humidity is high enough, the fungus may even produce more spores on the body of the dead insect.

Some bioinsecticides need to directly contact the body of the insect or mite in order to kill it. Bioinsecticides that contain living fungi work this way. The tiny fungal spores land on the insect or mite pest, germinate (like a seed), and infect the body of the pest. The fungus grows throughout the pest’s body, eventually killing it. If the relative humidity is high enough, you might even see insects that look like they are covered with powder or fuzz (but this is not necessary for the pest to die). This powdery or fuzzy stuff growing on the pest is the fungus producing more spores. Bioinsecticides that contain the fungal species Beauveria bassiana (e.g., BotaniGard, Mycotrol), Metarhizium anisopliae or brunneum (e.g., Met52), or Isaria fumosorosea (NoFly) are examples of fungal bioinsecticides with contact activity.

An insect covered in the white powdery fungus that has started growing out of its body following infection.
If the relative humidity is high enough, insects infected with a fungus may start growing new fungus on the outside of their bodies, appearing fuzzy or like they are covered in powder. Photo credit: Louis Tedders, USDA ARS, Bugwood.org

Bioinsecticides that contain spinosad (including Entrust, SpinTor, and others) work because the active ingredient affects the nervous and muscular systems of the insect or mite, paralyzing and eventually killing it. It can kill the pest either through contact, or through ingestion (more on that in a moment). The bioinsecticide Venerate contains dead Burkholderia bacteria (strain A396) and compounds produced while growing the bacteria. One mode of action of Venerate is that it contains enzymes that degrade the exoskeleton (outer shell) of insects and mites on contact.

Killing by ingestion

Some bioinsecticides need to be eaten (ingested) in order to kill. Pesticides that contain the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (often called Bt for short) as the active ingredient are a good example. Proteins that were made by Bt while the bioinsecticide was being manufactured are eaten by insects and destroy their digestive systems. Several different subspecies of Bt are available as bioinsecticides, and the subspecies determines which insect pest it will be effective against. There are many bioinsecticides registered in NY that contain Bt as an active ingredient. Check NYSPAD for labels, and make sure you choose the right pesticide for the pest and setting where you need control. Bt products do not work on mites, aphids, or whiteflies.

A caterpillar eats a bioinsecticides that kills by ingestion. Later, the caterpillar dies.
Some bioinsecticides (blue diamonds in this diagram) will only kill pests if they are eaten first. Pesticides that contain Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacteria or insect viruses are examples of this mode of action.

Insect viruses are another example of a bioinsecticide active ingredient that kills through ingestion. For example, Gemstar contains parts of a virus that infects corn earworms and tobacco budworms. Once these caterpillars eat the Gemstar, the virus replicates inside the pest, eventually killing it.

Repel

Some bioinsecticides repel insects from the plants you want to protect. However, this mode of action may only work on certain pest species, or certain life stages of the pest. Read and follow the label. Bioinsecticides containing azadirachtin or neem oil, and Grandevo are reported to have repellent activity for some pests. Grandevo contains dead bacteria (Chromobacterium substugae strain PrAA4-1) and compounds produced by the bacteria while they were alive and growing.

One leaf has been treated with a bioinsecticides that repels pests, but one leaf has not. The caterpillars are feeding on the leaf that was not treated.
Some bioinsecticides (blue diamonds and happy microbes in this diagram) protect plants because they repel insect and mite pests. This protects treated plants from pest damage.

Inhibit feeding

If you want insect and mite pests dead as soon as possible, I understand the sentiment. But in many cases stopping the pests from eating your plants would be just as good, right? Some bioinsecticides cause pests to lose their appetite days before they actually die. Like bioinsecticides that kill pests outright, some bioinsecticides that inhibit feeding require ingestion, while others work on contact. And these bioinsecticides may work this way for only certain pest species of certain ages. Read and follow those labels! Bioinsecticides containing Bt require ingestion and some can stop pest feeding before actually killing the pest. The same goes for Gemstar (corn earworm virus). This is another mode of action of azadirachtin products against some pests.

A caterpillar eats or comes in contact with a bioinsecticide that causes the caterpillar to stop feeding.
Some bioinsecticides (blue diamonds and happy microbes in this diagram) cause insect and mite pests to lose their appetites. Depending on the bioinsecticide, it either needs to contact the pest or be eaten by it.

Inhibit growth

Many insects and mites need to molt (shed their skin as they go from one life stage to another). Bioinsecticides that interfere with molting prevent pests from completing their life cycle. Like feeding inhibitors, these bioinsecticides won’t directly kill the pests you have, but they can prevent them from multiplying. This is another mode of action (again, for certain pests at certain stages of development) listed for azadirachtin products and Venerate (Burkholderia spp. strain A396).

Some aphids were treated with a bioinsecticides that inhibits growth. They stay the same size. Another aphid that was not treated grows and molts normally.
Some bioinsecticides (blue diamonds in this diagram) don’t kill insects and mites outright, but they can prevent them from molting and growing into the next life stage. Pests that can’t move on to the next life stage will eventually die without completing their life cycle.

Inhibit reproduction

There are two main types of bioinsecticides that prevent or slow insect reproduction. Pheromones are compounds that confuse insects that are looking for mates. If males and females can’t find each other, there won’t be a next generation of the pest. Pheromones can be especially useful when the adults that are looking for mates don’t feed (e.g., moths). Isomate and Checkmate are two examples of pheromones available for certain fruit pests. Other bioinsecticides actually reduce the number of offspring produced by a pest. This is one of the modes of action of Grandevo (Chromobacterium substugae strain PRAA4-1) against certain pests.

Male and female moths are unable to find each other and mate because of the presence of pheromones nearby.
Pheromones (represented here by blue diamonds) are a type of bioinsecticide that confuses insects looking for a mate. As a result, males and females can’t find each other, don’t mate, and don’t lay eggs.

Why do I care?

Do you mean besides the fact that you are a curious person and you want to know how biopesticides work? Knowing the mode of action for the pesticide you use (among other things) allows you to maximize its efficacy. Does the bioinsecticide need to contact the pest, or be eaten by it? This determines where, when, and how you apply it. Do you want to use a bioinsecticide that inhibits growth of the pest? Make sure you use it when pests are young. (Sidenote: Like all biopesticides, bioinsecticides generally work best on smaller populations of younger pests.) Is the first generation of the pest the one that causes the most damage? Don’t rely on a bioinsecticide that inhibits reproduction. Although if the pest overwinters in your field and doesn’t migrate in, maybe you could reduce the population for the next season.

Now is a great time of year to consider the insect and mite pests you are likely to encounter this season, then learn which bioinsecticides include these pests (and your crop and setting) on the label. Always read and follow the label of any pesticide (bio or not). How do you know whether these bioinsecticides are likely to work in NY on the pests listed on the label? That’s a topic for another post. In the meantime, the Organic Production Guides for fruit and vegetables from NYS IPM are a great place to start. When available, they report efficacy of OMRI-listed insecticides (including some bioinsecticides). Your local extension staff are another great resource.

Could your lawn use some biocontrol? Scout first.

white grubs found in a lawn
These white grubs can damage your lawn…but only if enough of them are present. Don’t waste time and money treating for them if you don’t need to!

For much of this summer, many people in NY had “water” at the top of their lawn care list. White grubs are another concern for home lawns. But finding a grub in your lawn does not automatically mean that you need to treat. Before you think about doing anything to your lawn to kill grubs, you should know how many grubs you have, and which species they are. If you do need to treat, consider using biocontrol.

Good news! It’s the perfect time of year to scout for white grubs. Starting in mid to late August, and continuing into October, grubs that hatched from eggs laid during the summer will be just beneath the surface of your lawn, feeding on the roots of your grass plants. This is the time to look for grubs. You might also notice some damage to your lawn from white grub feeding during this window.

life cycle of a white grub in your lawn
Late August through October is the perfect time of year to look for grubs in your lawn. The grubs will be young and close to the surface.

 

map of lawn and places you plan to sample for grubs
X marks the spot (to sample for grubs)! Select parts of your lawn where you think there might be grubs, sample in these places, and take notes on what you find.

Take a look at this fact sheet for detailed instructions on sampling your lawn. All you need is a piece of paper, something to write with, and a shovel or trowel. Check 1 foot by 1 foot squares around the lawn. If you have a bulb planter with a diameter of approximately 4.25 inches, or a golf course cup cutter, this works, too. Make notes about where you’ve sampled and how many grubs you found in each spot. Save the grubs from each sampling location separately.

peeling back turf from a 1 foot by 1 foot section and finding a grub
Cut a 1 foot by 1 foot square at each sampling location, and look for grubs in the roots of the grass. (Photo credit: NYS IPM)

If you didn’t find any grubs, please don’t treat your lawn! You are wasting money, and applying unneeded pesticides (or biocontrol nematodes) is never a good idea. If you did find grubs, it’s important that you determine which species they are. Why? Because the white grubs you are likely to find in NY are the immature (larval) stage of many different insect species. And each species causes different amounts of damage to your lawn. This means that the number of grubs your lawn can tolerate before it’s damaged – and therefore the number of grubs you should tolerate before treating for grubs – depends not only on the overall resilience of your turf, but also on the grub species you have. Check out the following table:

Number of grubs of each species before a treatment is justified
White grubs may look very similar, but they are not! Different species cause different amounts of damage to your lawn. If you find more than the number of grubs per square foot (or per 4.25-inch diameter soil core), you might consider treating your lawn for grubs. If not, you don’t need to do anything!

Fortunately, identifying grubs is easy, too! All you need is a penny, a hand lens with at least 15x magnification, and this online Grub ID tool. First, use the green “Learn how to identify grubs” button to find out which part of the grub to look at and how to hold it. Next, follow the instructions to compare each grub you found to the size of a penny.

online grub ID tool
The Grub ID tool explains exactly which part of the white grub to look at when you are identifying it. Just click the green button.
close-up picture of the rear end of a white grub, used in identification
Take a close look at the rear end of a white grub (using a 15x hand lens) to find out which species you have.

Finally, inspect its rear end with a hand lens to determine which species you have. Once you’ve identified the species, click on the species name to find specific management information. Now, look at that table again. For the species you found in your yard, do you have more than the listed number per square foot (or per 4.25-inch diameter soil core)? If not, then don’t waste time or money treating your lawn.

Most likely, only a few spots in your lawn (if any) warrant grub treatment. This is why you took careful notes about where you found grubs. Late August through September is also a good time to use a curative treatment for grubs in NY. The grubs are small and easier to kill. Some chemicals are effective when used at this time (but not the ones that are taken up by the plant!). A preventative pesticide that is taken up by the plant and kills the next generation of grubs when they start feeding in the late summer and fall should be applied in May or June. Before using any pesticide, find out if it is allowed in NY and find the product label using the New York State Pesticide Administration Database (NYSPAD). If a product isn’t listed in this database, you may not use it in NYS (even if you can buy it online). You must follow all instructions on the label.

Screen shot of the NYSPAD database search page
Use the product registration section of the New York State’s Pesticide Administration Database (NYSPAD) to check if a white grub pesticide is allowed in NY. When you get to the website, follow the three simple steps shown here.
Dark reddish brown grub (unlike healthy white grubs) killed by nematodes
Unlike the healthy white grubs you saw earlier in this post, this grub has been killed by nematodes.

But why use a chemical when you could use a biological control? Entomopathogenic nematodes are tiny beneficial worms that don’t harm plants, but kill grubs. See how they do it by watching this short video.  Why wouldn’t you want these nematodes working for you? Beneficial nematodes are a curative white grub treatment, so they should be applied between mid to late August and October. But you still only need to apply them to spots where grub numbers exceeded the thresholds in this table. You can purchase nematodes from garden centers or online garden supply stores. Look for the nematode species Heterorhabditis bacteriophora and Steinernema feltiae.

Dry, powdered form of nematodes used to kill grubs in your lawn
Grub-killing nematodes are sold as what looks like a dry powder. Dissolve them in non-chlorinated water (if available) before applying them to your lawn. Follow all package instructions.

For both species, make sure to follow the instructions on the package for storing and applying them. Nematodes will be harmed by ultraviolet light, so apply them around dawn or dusk, and water them afterwards to wash them into the root zone of the grass (where the grubs are). Any type of sprayer (as long as it doesn’t contain a fine mesh) or even a watering can will work to apply nematodes. If you use a sprayer, keep the pressure below 30 pounds per square inch. When you’re mixing up the nematodes, if non-chlorinated water is available, use that. Chlorinated water is fine for watering them in after you apply them.

Regardless of what treatment you use, scout your lawn again next year to find out how well your IPM strategy worked, and if there are other areas you need to treat (or not).

This post was written by Amara Dunn (NYS IPM) and Kyle Wickings (Department of Entomology, Cornell University).

Creating habitat for beneficial insects – early summer 2018 project update

Betsy, Deb, and Brian transplanting native wildflowers and grasses that will provide habitat for beneficial insects
Dr. Betsy Lamb, Deb Marvin, and Brian Eshenaur (left to right) transplanting native wildflowers and grasses on the edge of a research Christmas tree planting at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, NY. These plants will provide food and shelter for pollinators and natural enemies of pests.

As I mentioned in my January post, I am excited to be working with two NYS IPM colleagues (Dr. Betsy Lamb and Brian Eshenaur) to demonstrate the costs, labor, and effectiveness of different methods for establishing habitat plants for pollinators and other beneficial insects. Remember, habitat for pollinators is also habitat for insects and mites that are natural enemies of pests on your farm or in your garden. Thus, planting for pollinators enables you to practice conservation biocontrol. These demonstration plots are located around a new research planting of Christmas trees at Cornell AgriTech at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY. What we learn from this project can help you choose the best way to establish your own beneficial habitat (on your farm, around your home, near your school, etc.)

We are comparing 6 different methods of establishing habitat for beneficial insects, plus a control (Treatment E). Treatment E plots were sprayed with herbicide last fall and this spring, and will be mowed once this year. A summary of the plan for the other treatments is below.

List of treatments in this study. Each treatment is a different method for establishing habitat for beneficial insects
Comparing different methods for establishing plants that provide habitat and food for beneficial insects (pollinators and natural enemies of pests). Treatment E is the control.
seeds for plants that will provide habitat for beneficial insects
Native wildflower and grass seeds (A) were mixed with boiled rice hulls (B) to make them easier to broadcast (C). Much of what you see on the soil surface is just the rice hulls, but there are a few seeds that will hopefully grow into habitat for beneficial insects.

Because of when spring tillage occurred, plots that were scheduled to be tilled in the spring did not need a second herbicide application. About a week after spring tillage, Treatment C plots were direct seeded. I hand-broadcast a mixture of native wildflower and grass seeds at a rate of half a pound per 1,000 square feet. This worked out to be 26 g of seed for each 5-foot by 23-foot plot. To make it easier to broadcast such a small amount of seed, I first mixed the seed for each plot with about 3 cups of boiled rice hulls. After raking the seed in gently with a garden rake, I stomped the seed into the ground to ensure good contact with the soil. In a larger plot, you might use equipment like a cultipacker or lawn roller to achieve the same result.

 

young buckwheat plants
Two weeks (and three-quarters of an inch of rain) after seeding, buckwheat is establishing. It will hopefully crowd out weeds that would otherwise grow in these plots over the summer.

I broadcast (again, by hand) buckwheat seeds in the Treatment D plots at a rate of 70 pounds per acre (84 g for each of these small plots), and raked them in on May 31st. If the buckwheat establishes well, it will smother weeds during the summer, and we can mow and transplant into these plots in the fall. We plan to mow this crop of buckwheat when it starts flowering and then reseed it, for a total of two buckwheat plantings this summer.

 

We transplanted by hand 15 species of wildflowers and 1 grass species into plots assigned to Treatments A and B on June 4th. Because we were able to transplant right after it rained, it wasn’t too difficult to plant into the untilled plots (Treatment A). Some of them still had some stubble from the cover crops and weeds that had been growing in this field last year, and were killed by fall and spring herbicide applications.

Young wildflower and grass plants transplanted into untilled soil.
Native wildflowers and grasses transplanted into untilled soil. Some dead weeds and cover crop still remain on the soil surface.

The day after we transplanted into Treatment B plots, we mulched the plants to a depth of about 3 inches to (hopefully) control weeds for the rest of the summer while the habitat plants get established. We used chips from shrub willow because they were available, but other types of mulch would work, too.

wildflower and grass plants surrounded by mulch for weed control
These wildflowers and grasses will have help out-competing weeds from 3 inches of willow chip mulch.

Finally, we laid clear high tunnel plastic over the plots receiving Treatment F. Ongoing research from the University of Maine suggests that soil solarization can be an effective form of weed control, even in the northeast. So we’re giving it a try! To maximize the efficacy of this technique, we laid the plastic when the soil had been tilled relatively recently, and was still very moist. To keep the plastic firmly in place for the whole summer, we rolled the edges and buried them 4-5 inches deep, then stomped the soil down around all the edges. In the fall, we will hand broadcast a mixture of native wildflower and grass seeds over these plots (same mix as Treatment C).

a trench being dug around the edge of a plot to bury the edge of a sheet of clear plastic
Deb Marvin and Brian Eshenaur (left to right) dig a trench to bury the edge of this sheet of clear plastic. The goal is weed control by soil solarization.

We’ll give weed seeds in the Treatment G plots a few more weeks to germinate and grow (depending on the rain). Then we’ll kill them with an herbicide, and till these plots again to induce more weed seeds to germinate. Then we will repeat the herbicide application, till again, and so on. This should reduce the weed seed bank in the soil over the course of the summer. After a final tillage in the fall, we will broadcast seed from the same wildflower and grass mix we used for Treatment C. Fall is the recommended time for direct seeding beneficial insect habitat in the northeast. This treatment will also have the advantage of a full season of weed control prior to planting (also recommended). The downside is that it will take longer to establish the beneficial insect habitat.

As we get these plots established, we’re keeping track of the time spent on each treatment and the costs of materials. In the late summer or fall, Dr. Bryan Brown will assess weeds in each treatment, and I will photo document how well our beneficial insect habitat plants have established in each plot. All of these data will help you choose the method that fits your timeline, budget, and equipment/labor availability. Stay tuned for more updates…including an invitation to a field day (not this year), so that you can come see the results of this project for yourself!

Don’t make a mountain out of an ant hill – why ants in your lawn may not be a problem

Ant hill build in an area with short sparse grass
Ant hill built at the entrance to the nest. Cornfield ants (Lasius neoniger) prefer sunny areas with short and sparse grass. Photo courtesy of Matt Frye, NYS IPM.

Now that the weather is getting warmer and you’re spending more time outside, you might notice ant hills in your lawn. Reaching for a can of something that will kill them should not be your first move! These ants may be cornfield ants (known among scientists as Lasius neoniger). They are yellowish brown to dark brown, and about 1/8 of an inch long (or slightly longer). You are most likely to notice the ant hills they produce at the entrance to their underground nest in a sunny lawn where the grass is short and sparse (since this is their preferred nesting area). While the ant hills could be problematic on parts of a golf course where the grass must be kept very short, they aren’t big enough to be a problem in your backyard (if you’re mowing your grass to the correct height, which should be about 3.5 inches).

In addition to being harmless to humans – they don’t sting or bite – these ants are actually good for your lawn! They eat the eggs of grass pests, including Japanese beetles. One study found that when these ants were present in turf grass, they reduced the numbers of white grubs and other grass pest larvae. Choosing not to apply pesticides to kill these ants will help you practice conservation biocontrol in your own backyard! In other words, by protecting the natural enemies of lawn pests, you will have fewer lawn pests (and less damage) to worry about.

ants entering nest
Ants entering and exiting their nest. Cornfield ants (Lasius neoniger) are about 1/8 inch long, and range from light to dark brown. Consult an expert for correct identification. Photo courtesy of Matt Frye, NYS IPM.

Although these cornfield ants should be a welcome addition to your lawn for the reasons I’ve just described, if the hills they create are bothering you, there are some simple IPM solutions. Water and fertilize your lawn appropriately and use one of the top two height settings on your mower when cutting your grass. These strategies will help you achieve a denser, taller lawn. This type of lawn is less desirable for building new ant nests, and will make remaining ant hills less noticeable. For more information on maintaining healthy lawns, see the Cornell Turfgrass program’s Lawn Care: The Easiest Steps to an Attractive Environmental Asset.

A few final (but important) notes. Cornfield ants in your yard are a good thing. Ants in your home are a different story entirely, and NYS IPM has information on how to avoid in-home ant problems. If you are uncertain about what type of ant you have, consult an expert for proper identification. Your local extension office is a great place to start. Or, you can submit a sample to the Cornell Insect Diagnostic Laboratory.

Learn more about IPM for your lawn at Landscapes, Parks, and Golf Courses and ThinkIPM blog posts.