Sure it’s winter. But many greenhouse growers work year-round. And what’s this about biocontrols? In fields, orchards, vineyards, and greenhouses—especially greenhouses—biocontrols are the predators and parasites that keep pests in check, minus the pesticides. What’s special about greenhouses? They’re where pests consistently find plenty of food, just-right temperatures, and little to stop them from bounding out of control. The linchpin that drives the search for alternatives to pesticides? Consumer demand.
Looks like sawdust—but it’s really bran infused with the tiny eggs or larvae of beneficial insects.
Which is where biocontrols fit in. These critters evolved to eat pests for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But there’s a learning curve involved. You can’t bring in the good guys and call it a day. Use a broad-spectrum pesticide and you’ll do them in. Which is why an Extension educator in the six-county New York Capitol District crafted a series of workshops to help growers get the hang of that seemingly simple IPM practice: biocontrol.
Since seeing is believing, growers attended a series of workshops where they saw start-to-finish biocontrol in action. What did they learn?
how to distribute marigolds throughout their greenhouses as a thrips (bad guy) magnet
how to apply a nematode drench to control the fungus gnats that eat roots
which 17 biocontrols can collectively cope with 21 bad guys
how the IPM Greenhouse Scout app helps you choose among them
Little sachets are another way greenhouse growers can introduce those tiny, good-guy bugs to the posies that need them.
As for consumer demand? People worry about pesticides on their posies. In theory, biocontrol appeals to them. But they haven’t seen it in action. If they see bugs, any bugs, good guys included—they might worry. That’s why a simple, colorful flier is part of the package, helping growers bring the message back to their base—their customers.
It takes teamwork — whether you’re a bee or a researcher. (Photo Sasha Israel)
New York, like the rest of the world, is highly dependent on the hundreds of species of crop pollinators that collectively contribute roughly $170 billion a year to the global economy. Many are in decline and under threat in New York and elsewhere.
That’s why Dean Kathryn J. Boor ’80 recognized the Cornell Pollinator Health Team for their outstanding outreach accomplishments in a ceremony that celebrated research, extension and staff excellence.
On hand to accept from Dean Kathryn Boor (L) were (L-R) Jennifer Grant, Bryan Danforth, Dan Wixted and Scott McArt.
The seven-member team includes entomologists, extension outreach specialists and pest management experts — one being NYS IPM‘s director Jennifer Grant.
The team provides critical extension and outreach on pollinator declines, including information on
optimal habitats for honey bees, native bees, and other pollinators
diseases that afflict bees
how pesticides affect bees — other pollinators too
what to do when your honey bees are in decline
Hi. I’m a hover fly and I pollinate lots of plants too. Plus my larvae eat aphids for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And no, I won’t sting you. (Photo credit Susan Ellis.)
With its focus on extension and outreach, the team has given more than 70 extension talks over the past three years in New York and elsewhere on pollinator health, bee diversity, integrated pest management practices and pesticide recommendations that minimize risks to bees — to all pollinators, in fact. Their audiences have included beekeepers, farmers, and lawmakers — as well as state and national organizations such as the New York Farm Bureau, the Audubon Society and Future Farmers of America.
“In three short years, the work of this team has made a notable impact both in scope and relevance to beekeepers,” Boor said at the ceremony. “The pollinator health team represents a model for how collaboration among different units at Cornell can lead to highly integrative and creative extension and outreach.”
September 28, 2017
by Joellen Lampman Comments Off on In praise of messiness
PUBLISHED ON SEPTEMBER 26, 2017 | Courtesy Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County
KEMPTVILLE, ONTARIO. — On my twice-monthly drive on Highway 416 between Prescott and Ottawa, I pass the sign for Kemptville, a town of about 3,500 which lies roughly 40 km north of the St. Lawrence. It has a rich history, and no doubt is a fine place to live, but one of these days I need to stop there to verify that Kemptville is in fact a village of surpassing tidiness. (It’s Exit 34 in case anyone wants to take some field notes and get back to me.)
Most of us would prefer not to live in totally unkempt surroundings, but Western culture may have taken sanitation a bit too far. Claims that cleanliness is next to godliness have yet to be proven by science, but research does indicate a neat, well-coiffed landscape is bad for bees and other pollinators.
Dandelions are an essential early-season flowers for our 416 species of wild bees in New York.
With all due respect to honeybees, they are seldom required to produce fruits and vegetables. Please don’t spread this around, as I do not want to tarnish their public image. But the fact is that wild bees, along with other insects and the odd vertebrate here and there, do a bang-up job pollinating our crops, provided there are enough types of wild plants (i.e., messiness) around to keep them happy for the rest of the season.
As landscapes become neater and less diverse, wild bees cannot find enough natural foods to keep them in the neighborhood for the few weeks of the year we’d like them to wallow around in our apple or cucumber flowers. In sterile, highly manipulated environments like almond groves and suburban tracts, honeybees are critical.
Dr. Scott McArt, a bee specialist at Cornell’s Dyce Laboratory for Bee Research, says there are an estimated 416 species of wild bees in New York State. When I estimate stuff, the numbers tend to be less exact, such as “more than three,” but I’ve met Dr. McArt, and I trust him on this count. Dr. McArt is quick to point out that wild critters take care of things just fine in most places. He has cataloged exactly 110 species of wild bees visiting apple blossoms in commercial orchards, and in the vast majority of NYS orchards studied, honeybees have no bearing on pollination rates. My object is not to malign honeybees, but to point out that if we learn to live with a bit more unkemptness, we will improve the health of wild bees, wildflowers, food crops, and ourselves in the process.
Dr. McArt has cataloged exactly 110 species of wild bees visiting apple blossoms in commercial orchards, and in the vast majority of NYS orchards studied, honeybees have no bearing on pollination rates. There was a presentation about it at the 2015 Pollinator Conference.
Messiness also takes pressure off managed honeybees, an increasingly fragile species, by providing them a rich source of wild, non-sprayed nectar and pollen. Orchardists do not spray insecticides when their crops are flowering because they know it will kill bees. But many fungicides, which are not intended to kill insects, are sprayed during bloom. One of the unexpected findings of research done through the Dyce Lab is that non-lethal sprays like fungicides are directly linked with the decline of both wild bees and honeybees. But banning a particular chemical is not a panacea—the situation is far more complex than that. What is needed to save bees of all stripes is a real change in mindset regarding landscape aesthetics.
This garden at Bethpage State Park Golf Course is an excellent example of entropy. Primarily established with native wildflowers, there are also a significant number of volunteers. NYS IPM staff found over 100 different species of insects, primarily bees and wasps, taking advantage of the bounty.
Increasing the entropy on one’s property is as easy as falling off a log (which of course is a literal example of increased entropy). Pollinators need plants which bloom at all different times, grow at various heights, and have a multitude of flower shapes and structures. For greater abundance and diversity of wild flowering plants, all you need to do is stop. Stop constantly mowing everything. Choose some places to mow once a year in the late fall, and others where you will mow every second third year. Stop using herbicides, both the broadleaf kind and the non-selective type.
Before you know it, elderberry and raspberry will spring up. Woody plants like dogwoods and viburnums will start to appear. Coltsfoot and dandelions, essential early-season flowers, will come back. Asters and goldenrod (which by the way do not cause allergies), highly important late-season sources of nectar and pollen, will likewise return.
Despite their unassuming flowers, Virginia creeper attracts a large number of pollinating bees and wasps. Photo: Joellen Lampman
Wild grape, virgin’s bower, Virginia creeper and wild cucumber will ramble around, without any help whatsoever. However, you may choose to help this process along by sowing perennial or self-seeding wildflowers like purple coneflower, foxglove, bee balm, mint, or lupine. Even dandelion is worth planting. You’ll not only get more wild pollinators, you’ll also see more birds. Redstarts, tanagers, orioles, hummingbirds, catbirds, waxwings and more will be attracted to such glorious neglect. No feeders required.
I strongly advocate for more chaos in the plant department, even if the local Chamber of Commerce or Tourism Board frowns upon it. Remember, just because you’re an unkempt community doesn’t mean you have to change the name of your town.
Protect Pollinators. With these new Forever stamps, released on August 2nd, It’s all about the bees and the butterflies. Here, the monarch butterfly and western honey bee symbolize the thousands (yes, thousands) of native bees, hover and flower flies, beetles, wasps, butterflies, and moths at work throughout the Northeast, and across the continent on behalf of — well, there’s us, of course.
Two iconic pollinators. Four iconic wildflowers. Thank you, USPS.
In the U.S. roughly one-third of all food crops depend on pollinators. And of course, we do love our flowers.
But it’s not just about us. It’s about biodiversity. Consider habitat fragmentation. Example? One house at a time, a forested tract grows houses. Then five at a time; then 10. Then maybe more and wider roads, more and bigger buildings.
Fewer and fewer flowers — and their pollinators.
And habitat loss is a biggie. It makes for less forage, fewer nesting sites. For losses in abundance and diversity. For reduced genetic diversity — and increased risk of extinction. Here in New York, among bees alone two pollinators are endangered and eight more are rare.
Going, going, gone? Image courtesy Emma Mullen.
And monarch butterflies? Starting in late summer, monarchs focus on fattening up to prepare for their epic, multi-generational migration to their overwintering site in Mexico, and it’s nectar they need. But a lawn won’t fatten them — or help other pollinators make it through the cold of a northern winter. Perhaps it’s time to consider making of your lawn an ornament of sorts, beautifully framed with flowers and meadows.
Among core values of IPM: building biodiversity. Why? Biodiversity is at the heart of healthy ecosystems. And healthy ecosystems keep us healthy too. So we thank you, USPS, for reminding us of to the beauty and importance of pollinators. All pollinators, and the biodiversity that supports them.
July 18, 2017
by Amara Dunn Comments Off on New biocontrol specialist joins NYS IPM
Amara Dunn joined NYSIPM as a biocontrol specialist in early June.
Hello! My name is Amara Dunn, and I am excited to have joined the New York State Integrated Pest Management (NYSIPM) program as the biocontrol specialist. Prior to starting this position, I studied vegetable diseases at Cornell University and taught in the Biology Department at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. I enjoy finding new ways to manage pests and helping others to manage them more effectively.
What is biocontrol?
Definitions of biological control (biocontrol, for short) vary, but biocontrol is often broadly defined as:
using natural enemies to reduce or maintain populations of pest organisms at sufficiently low levels.
Either the pest or its natural enemy might be a vertebrate (e.g., rodents), an invertebrate (e.g., insects, ticks, slugs), or a microorganism (e.g., fungi or bacteria). Aphids and ladybugs are an example you might be familiar with. Ladybug larvae eat the aphids that might otherwise damage plants.
But biocontrol isn’t limited to releasing beneficial insects like ladybugs. Some bacteria and fungi produce compounds that are toxic to pests, including insects, bacteria and fungi. Others can boost the health of plants and animals. Some nematodes (microscopic worms) invade and kill grubs that live in the soil.
Often natural enemies of a pest are already nearby (e.g., bats that eat insects or birds of prey that eat rodents). By improving their habitat, we can also improve pest control. Finally, many insects use their sense of smell to find mates. By using these scents — “pheromones” — to trap or confuse pest insects, the pest’s biology can be used for its own control.
A small Delphastus beetle has caught and is eating a whitefly. Another whitefly nearby hopes to escape the same fate but may not be so lucky.
Biocontrol can be an important part of an integrated pest management strategy. For example, biocontrol organisms that support plant health can make them less susceptible to the pests that damage them (prevention). If something needs to be applied to reduce pest populations (or keep them low), biocontrol products tend to be less harmful to other critters or people than chemical pesticides (choosing a pest management strategy with low environmental impact).
My goal is to help the people of New York – householders, people who work in schools and businesses, and farmers – understand when and how to use biocontrol as part of a successful integrated pest management strategy. If you have questions, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can call my office at (315)787-2206. And soon I’ll launch a blog to provide additional information about biocontrol and its use in New York.
July 6, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Biocontrols for Invasive Pest Help Save Mountain Forests
Biocontrols — organisms that help keep serious pests in check — are a key component of IPM. And sometimes they’re the only hope. Consider the lovely, lacy-needled hemlock tree, a member of the pine family.
“The hemlock is a foundation species in our forests,” says Mark Whitmore, a forest entomologist at Cornell University and a founder of the New York State Hemlock Initiative. “It occupies the base of the food web and is a critical species in the habitat it helps create.” But the hemlock is under threat by a killer pest so tiny it verges on microscopic.
“Take no prisoners” describes the woolly adelgid’s modus operandi.
Whitmore’s checklist? Hemlocks
moderate stream water temperatures for trout and many other animals
provide a buffer for nutrient inputs to maintain water quality
stabilize shallow soils, especially in steep gorges
shelter plants and animals — especially important in winter, when they help moderate temperature swings
offer critical habitat for migrating neo-tropical birds
provide large-scale watershed quality and biodiversity protection
Hemlocks also help ring the registers when fishing season opens. How can that be? Well, trout fishers’ contribution to New York’s economy is nothing to sneeze at. And research in the Delaware Water Gap showed that streams draining hemlock forests support an average of 37 percent more aquatic insect taxa — including many that provide food for trout — than do streams flowing through deciduous forests.
About that pest — it’s the hemlock woolly adelgid, native to Asia. This tiny pest has already done a staggering amount of damage to hemlock stands in the southern Appalachian Mountains, leaving scarred remnants of once-lovely ravines and mountainsides in its wake.
Now it has gained a foothold — in some cases, a stranglehold — in forests throughout the Northeast.
Losing those hemlocks? “Catastrophic” could be the right word to sum up the consequences. “The hemlock is the only tree in eastern North America that can do its job so well,” said Kathleen Shields, project leader for biological control with the U.S. Forest Service in a 2002 article in Forests Magazine. “If we lose the hemlocks, there’s no other tree to fully take its place.”
The waxy white balls that cover every twig mark this tree as a goner. (Photo Forestry Images)
But if you’ve even heard of the hemlock woolly adelgid you’re way ahead of the game, because the hemlock woolly adelgid isn’t much to look at. In fact, you’d have to scrape off the waxy white ball it hides in, then squint into a 10-power loupe — a special type of magnifier — just see it.
And because it rarely travels fast or far (for most of its life cycle, it doesn’t even move), the adelgid might not strike you as a particularly menacing pest. Until, that is, thousands of them suddenly set up shop on every hemlock tree in your neck of the woods.
How can this be? Well, there’s the adelgids’ prodigious reproductive capacity. In fact, a single adelgid’s offspring can, by the season’s end, potentially contribute upward of 5,000 adelgids — and every last one is female — to the hemlock’s pest burden.
Then there’s the adelgid’s life cycle: it breeds during the winter. Most insect predators don’t. And factor in that those predators aren’t looking for a bug that resembles little more than a ball of wax.
Sure, it took 50-plus years for the woolly adelgid to reach upstate New York — but it’s here now. Meanwhile, Whitmore has been working against this day for many years.
The only good thing you could say about the adelgids implacable pace is that it’s given Whitmore time to test and release predators which help provide the backbone of a suite of predators that could soon keep the adelgid at bay in New York.
The first predator out of the box was Laricobius nigrinus, a type of tooth-necked fungus beetle, released in 2009. In 2015, Whitmore released two species of silver fly, both from the genus Leucopis. Altogether, these predators should flank the adelgids for a more complete biocontrol.
This larval silver fly slides into that waxy ball, where it feeds on adelgids — and nothing else.
Of course, work like this has to be a team effort, and Whitmore has worked in concert with colleagues at the U.S. Forest Service and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst on one project; the U.S. Forest Service, University of Vermont, and Oregon State University on a second.
And of course — each new biocontrol must feed on its host prey and nothing else. It takes long, patient vetting over many years to be sure a biocontrol won’t itself become a pest.
Whitmore’s work is built around classic IPM techniques, especially monitoring (are they in your neck of the woods yet?) and biological controls. The countless hours Whitmore has put into this earned Whitmore an “Excellence in IPM” award in 2015.
“Mark’s meticulous research brings together all the strengths of IPM; of truly integrated pest management,” says Jennifer Grant, director of NYS IPM “But it’s his passion for his work that really makes the difference. Whether it’s volunteer citizen-science groups or the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, people look to Mark for the information and expertise they need.”
“He speaks for the trees.”
June 19, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on It’s Pollinator Week. Read All About It.
It’s summer; the goldenrods will be blooming soon, with bumble bees buzzing around them. Photo courtesy David Cappaert.
When we think about bees, we mostly think about honeybees … a European native brought here by the very first colonists. Now honeybees are struggling, hammered by a constellation of 20-plus diseases and parasites — not to mention a range of insecticides and fungicides.
About 450 species of wild bees also populate our fields and gardens. They have similar problems. And they’re losing habitat.
This is serious business: we depend on pollinators for at least one-third of our food supply. Altogether, these pollinators boost New York’s economy by $1.2 billion.
And consider all those other critters: flower flies and hover flies, wasps, butterflies and moths; even hummingbirds — they are legion, they work hard for their living; they help too.
NYSIPM funds educational projects like this. Photo courtesy Jen Stengle.
What to do? For starters, we can make all these helpers even more at home in our fields and gardens.
Indeed, it’s through bringing together everything IPM knows about host and pest biology and habitat; about pesticides and their EIQs; about habitat protection and biodiversity — these are the things we excel at, and these are what we’re putting into play now to find the answers we need.
Ah … answers. Such as?
Since protecting non-target organisms is core to IPM, we helped advise the governor’s Pollinator Task Force in crafting a Pollinator Protection Plan — itself informed by a national strategy to promote the health of all pollinators. And our flagship IPM Annual Conference highlighted an IPM problem-solution approach for the 100 participants: farmers, consultants, beekeepers (but of course), landscapers, researchers, policy makers, greenhouse growers, and more.
Check it out — not only because you care about your health and your food supply, but because you care about this beautiful world we live in.
June 7, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Invasives are pests! Learn more at our July IPM conference.
We tend to default to bugs — to insects — when we think about pests. But plant diseases and weeds are pests too. And all threaten our fields and farms, our forests and streams, our homes and workplaces.
Pests provide no end of challenges — especially pests that come from afar. Among IPM’s strengths? Researching and crafting powerful ways to cope with them.
Coming up soon, our “Invasive Species in New York: Where We Are and What We Can Do” conference, held just north of Albany at Siena College. The date? July 13, 2017. Join us!
May 16, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Keep Off the Grass? IPM for Anyone With a Lawnmower
Now that spring has arrived and you’ve dusted off the lawn mower …
PUBLISHED ON MAY 3RD, 2017, CANTON, N.Y. | Courtesy Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County
As a kid of about five, I became suspicious of lawns. In a rare moment of TV viewing, I had seen a public-service ad wherein a bundle of green leafy stuff thudded into an eerily vacant playground while a baritone voice boomed out something like “Grass. We think it’s bad for kids. Stay away from it.” My mom insisted this was “bad grass” which did not grow in our yard. However, she declined to elaborate, which fueled my mistrust. So I kept off the lawn a while.
These days, “bread” is no longer money, “mint” is just a flavor, and the pernicious leafy stuff mostly goes by other names. There is only one grass, and it is almost time to cut it again. Jargon may change, but things like paying taxes and mowing lawns don’t seem to.
To help you, or so they say, a bewildering array of lawn-care products have sprouted at big-box stores and garden centers. It’s easy to spend a lot of dough — I mean money — on fertilizers, weed killers, and seed. But it’s hard to make sense of which products are right for you.
Before you shop, a couple of thoughts to help sort things out.
Grass is not for everyone. Or everywhere. If an area does not get 4 or more hours of full sun daily from March through September, trying to grow grass there is a waste of time.
Steep slopes and high-traffic zones probably need something other than grass, too.
Keep mower blades sharp — it can help reduce disease, plus it looks nicer and saves on mower gas. (Flickr Creative Commons Brian Boucheron)
Comparison spells trouble. Well not literally, but it’s mighty unfair. Fashion models have airbrush artists and makeup consultants. Golf courses have full-time turf experts and a massive budget. With good information and a little work, we and our lawns can both look good, but let’s not compare with deep-pocketed pros.
Dr. Frank Rossi, a leading Cornell Turfgrass Science researcher, puts it this way:
“Chances are you can grow a pretty good lawn without using insecticides, fungicides, or herbicides. You may even be able to do it using little or no chemical fertilizer… Will your lawn look like a putting green? No… But if you arm yourself with an understanding of what grasses need to thrive, and commit to a long-term plan to meet those needs, you can grow a perfectly acceptable lawn…”
Get the dirt on your soil. If your grass looks bedraggled, fertilizer may not be the answer; in fact, early-season nitrogen can weaken grass and make lawns worse in the long run.
At the very least, get a soil pH test—a pH more acidic (lower) than 6.0, or more alkaline (higher) than 7.0 will hinder plants’ ability to absorb nutrients. The majority of samples I get at the office have pH values too high for healthy lawns, sometimes 100 or even 1,000 times too alkaline due to annual lime treatments. Lime is only good if it’s needed.
If it’s been over three years since the soil was tested, you might want to invest in a lab analysis. For under twenty bucks you can get nutrient levels with specific recommendations, plus pH and salt content. This last item may seem odd, but fertilizers, herbicides, wood ash and deicing agents are all sources of salt — which can damage soil structure, harm microbes, and aggravate water stress.
Only fertilize based on soil test results, and only use nitrogen in the fall.
Nature abhors a vacuum, which is why I keep mine hidden away indoors — no sense offending nature if you can avoid it. This hatred of emptiness means that if you don’t re-seed bare or weak spots in the lawn, Nature will fill it with whatever is handy — probably weeds.
Edging along the sidewalk or driveway may produce the look you want, but it also produces a lot of bare earth, so if you have a weed issue, especially crabgrass, breaking this habit will give you an edge on weed control.
Another type of vacuum is a close-cropped lawn. Not only does close mowing cause weak, stunted grass roots (and thus plants), it allows the sun full access to the soil. This gives weeds a tremendous advantage.
Have trouble with ground ivy? Put away the vacuum. Stop shaving the earth and start mowing the grass.
The most important thing you can give your lawn is more of its hair. Studies show that changing to a grass height of 3.5 inches leads to a vast improvement in lawn health. Leaving grass longer will greatly reduce weed pressure, lawn diseases, and fertilizer requirements. Perhaps the most dramatic change with longer grass is a lasting drop in weed population.
If you need to use herbicides to reduce weeds, follow the label instructions closely. Some broadleaf (selective) herbicides contain chemicals that could stress or injure trees. Pre-emergent herbicides inhibit weed germination, and are used for crabgrass control. Apply pre-emergent products around the time forsythia flowers are starting to drop.
Another tip is not to mow more than a third of the grass at a time. For example, to maintain a 3.5-inch turf height, mow before the grass gets over five inches high. Try to keep the blades sharp — it can help reduce disease, plus it looks nicer and saves on mower gas. And it almost goes without saying that grass clippings belong to the lawn, not the landfill. Leave the clippings—that’s your fertilizer.
White grubs — we have five species in northern NY — can become a problem if there are more than ten per square foot of lawn. Several nontoxic and low-toxicity treatments have come on the market in the past few years, but timing varies for all of them. Milky spore treatment is safe, but is not effective up north due to cool soils. You can also use beneficial nematodes to kill grubs.
There are many solid lawn-care resources out there, but always check the source, which should be from .edu or .gov sites. Cornell Senior Extension Associate Lori Brewer has assembled the work of many experts, including Dr. Rossi, into a comprehensive 47-page book entitled “Lawn Care,” which is free at http://hort.cornell.edu/turf/lawn-care.pdf
I think it will contribute to a better world if we teach our kids to stay grounded and let the grass get high.
These nematodes Hetzler mentions — beneficial organisms — are key to good IPM. In fact, good IPM embraces every concept Hetzler stands by. With IPM, prevention is always the best cure. And remember: even herbicides are a type of pesticide, because weeds are pests too. If you’ve ever spent a whole day weeding a not-that-big garden, you know that sometimes weeds are the most difficult contenders we face. — ed. MW.
April 25, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on The Monarchs Are Coming, Ready or Not.
Gorgeous in flight and gloriously colored, monarch butterflies are the glimmering icon of wild nature. As an endangered species, they’re also iconic of all we have to lose in a changing world.
And now it’s begun — the remaining monarchs’ first leg of an epic, multigenerational voyage from overwintering sites in Mexico. But are they too early?
Getting here takes food, and plenty of it. For monarchs streaming up the eastern flyway to summer in our gardens and wildlands, you want flowering plants that offer generous helpings of nectar, the butterfly equivalent of a protein shake with all the essential nutrients it needs. But you also need more: you need the one plant that protects monarchs from the animals that might eat them.
Swamp milkweed. Likes moisture in but tolerates sandy, dry soils and part shade. Fragrant and long-blooming. Its protective steroids are among the most potent any milkweed species has to offer. (Offers nectar, too.) Photo: Tom Potterfield, Flickr Creative Commons.
As for the nectar plants? All of us — farmers, gardeners, golf courses and park superintendents — can help, each in our own way, with plantings of nectar-rich plants that attract beneficial insects. And beneficial insects are one of the mainstays of good IPM.
But it’s milkweed alone with its protective toxins that the monarch butterfly lays its eggs on; that its caterpillars feed on. So of course, gardeners and golf-course or park superintendents will want to plant milkweed too. Many species are stately, short-lived perennials bearing fragrant flowers. (Farmers, you might — or not — have options for happily letting milkweed grow.)
Butterfly weed. It’s gorgeous, no getting around it. Tops out at two feet; does fine in droughty soils. Too bad this milkweed’s protective steroids tend to be in short supply. Photo: Beautifulcatava, Flickr Creative Commons.
Now … for that “too early?” part.
As we speak, monarchs seem to be moving north earlier than usual, supported by strong tailwinds. Yes, they’re finding some nectar sources — dandelions, for instance. (If you must mow now, mow high. Which you should do anyway if you practice good IPM.) But according to some reports (citizen scientists with Annenberg Learner’s Journey North and ecologist Chris Helzer’s Prairie Ecologist posts via The Nature Conservancy), monarchs seem to be looking for milkweed — and not finding it.
As of April 21, “Journey North” sightings have come in from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Ontario Canada … we’re surrounded!
Or if the butterflies find milkweed, it tends to be just a few inches high. Question is: can a six-inch-tall milkweed support six to eight larvae? Unknown.
A close look at the map and you know they’re on their way.
Good questions poised by a citizen scientist: can this milkweed plant grow fast enough to feed growing caterpillars?
Since scouting is another core tenet of IPM, be a good scout — and keep a sharp lookout for monarchs, milkweed, and monarch eggs. Three’s a charm!