New York State IPM Program

June 24, 2020
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Pollinator Friendly… Lawns?

Pollinator Friendly… Lawns?

“The dandelions and buttercups gild all the lawn: the drowsy bee stumbles among the clover tops, and summer sweetens all to me.” –  James Russell Lowell
bumblebee on white clover

Dandelions, clover, and many other lawn weeds can help sustain pollinators.

It’s Pollinator Week, a week dedicated to halting and reversing the decline in pollinator populations and recognizing the valuable service they provide.

There are plenty of resources out there to create pollinator gardens and meadows. NYSIPM biocontrol specialist Amara Dunn has been documented an ongoing project trying to create habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects to help support agricultural systems in her blog, Biocontrol Bytes. Head over and check out her efforts.

But what about places that can’t allow tall vegetation because of space, inability to weed areas, or aesthetics? Lindsey Christiansen, CCE Albany and I decided to explore the recommendation to create pollinator friendly lawns.

Many recommendations prompt us to allow spontaneous lawn flowers (weeds have attained a PR manager) to flourish. A Massachusetts study found 63 plant species in untreated lawns. In a parallel study looking at mowing and pollinators, they found that lazy lawn mowing led to more spontaneous lawn flowers leading to more pollinators.

But Lindsey and I were wondering if there was a more formal way to create a pollinator friendly lawn. We searched out and found a number of seed mixes and a project was born.

“The best laid plans of mice and men…” – Robert Burns

While fall is a great time to put down seed, we solidified our plans in October, leaving us with little time. We decided to spend the remainder of autumn prepping the plots and wait until winter to put the seed down through dormant overseeding. We laid out three rows of 100 sq.ft. plots. The first row was scalped by running the CCE lawn tractor over it at its lowest height of cut. The second row was stripped using a sod cutter, and the third row was aerified multiple times using a core aerifier to break up the soil and create open soil.

Three rows of five plots are shown against a satellite view of CCE Albany. The first row was scalped, the second was cut with a sod cutter, and the third was aerified.

The demonstration project was established in an unused part of the CCE Albany property which allows for road visibility.

Two rows were prepped using a sod cutter and aerifier rented from a local hardware store.

Removing sod cut with a sod cutter is much easier when you have good turf. The weedy lawn proved a challenge to remove.

 

Synchronized seeding

And then it was time to wait. Ideally, we would have a stretch of bare ground in March with a few inches of snow in the forecast. So we waited. And waited some more. But it was a winter that wasn’t and as the forecast showed above average temperatures into the future, we decided to scatter the seed on March 6 with hopes that winter would provide a last gasp.

This table lists the seed mixes used in the study and what species are listed. MN Native Landscape Bee Lawn Mix includes Sheep Fescue, Hard Fescue, Chewings Fescue, Creeping Red Fescue Dutch White Clover, Creeping Thyme, Self-Heal; PT 705 Xeriscape Lawn Alternative includes Banfield Perennial Ryegrass, Eureka II Hard Fescue, Quatro Tetraploid Sheep Fescue White Yarrow, Dutch White Clover, Strawberry Clover, Sweet Alyssum; PT 755 Fleur de Lawn includes Banfield Perennial Ryegrass, Eureka II Hard Fescue, Quatro Tetraploid Sheep Fescue White Yarrow, White Clover, Baby Blue Eyes, Sweet Alyssum, Strawberry Clover, English Daisy; American Meadows Alternative Lawn Wildflower Seed Mix includes Sheep Fescue Roman Chamomile, English Daisy, Yellow Daisy, Creeping Daisy, Dwarf California Poppy, Sweet Alyssum, Five Spot, Baby Blue Eyes, Soapwort, Creeping Thyme, Strawberry Clover, Johnny Jump-Up; and Agway Conservation Green includes Perennial ryegrasses, Red Fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass White Clover

Five seed mixes were chosen for the demonstration project. For dormant overseeding, it is recommended that you double the rate, but we were sometimes restricted by the amount of seed we could purchase within our budget.

Snow cover on the dormant overseeded plots.

Winter finally threw us a bone on March 24th. The theory behind dormant overseeding is the weight of the snow pushes the seed close to the soil and as it melts into the soil, it draws the seed down with it through capillary action. The snow also protects the seed from predation. We can only guess how much seed to we lost to birds over those weeks.

And then it was time to wait again. And we were waiting in our homes due to the shutdown. So it was exciting to visit the site in early June and find baby blue eyes, dwarf California poppy, and sweet alyssum in bloom. The plot we were most worried about due to the small rate of application had the most visual pop.

flowering baby blue eyes and California poppy in the sod cut plot

The sod cut plot seeded with Alternative Lawn Wildflower Seed Mix was the most dramatic despite having the lightest rate of application.

green bee on baby blue eye blossom

And there were pollinators!

Lindsey Christiansen is pinning a clear plastic sheet down over existing lawn.

Solarization is an IPM technique using the sun to create high temperatures to kill existing vegetation.

We also started a fourth row, this time using solarization to prep the site. Plastic sheeting heats up the soil, killing existing plants and the seedlings of any weed seeds that germinate over the summer. We will keep the sheeting in place until it’s time to seed in the fall.

The recent hot, dry weather has not helped with establishment and there’s not currently much going on in the plots. So we are back to waiting and seeing.

And crossing our fingers that the forecast holds and we get rain by the weekend.

picture showing from left to right - plastic sheeting, aerated row, sod cut, and scalped row row

At the end of June, after a week of heat and humidity but no rain, there is not much flowering except for birdsfoot trefoil. For the record, birdsfoot trefoil was not in any of our seed mixes.

Many thanks to Cornell Cooperative Extension Albany County for use of the site, Lindsey Christiansen for her partnership and strong back (and for checking my math), and Matt Warnken for scalping, hauling, sod cutting, photographing, and basically making himself indispensable.

 

 

 

 

April 23, 2020
by Debra E. Marvin
Comments Off on Earth Day 2020 – IPMers Consider 50 Years of Caring and Action (part #2)

Earth Day 2020 – IPMers Consider 50 Years of Caring and Action (part #2)

From Integrated Weed Management Specialist BRYAN BROWN:

Spring is my favorite. Rushing streams. Birds singing. Bright green leaves. Earth Day reminds me to appreciate these simple pleasures and think about ways to protect them.
Responsible pest management through IPM offers a way for farmers to keep those leaves bright green, while keeping our streams running clean, and our birds chirping keen.
photo of Bryan Brown standing near a small waterfall in upstate new york

Photo from Bryan’s collection

From Biocontrol Specialist AMARA DUNN:

Earth Day reminds me that the choices I make every day – what I eat, buy, plant…and how I manage pests – matter.

photo of Amara Dunn at the beneficial habitat plots on the Agrictech farm

photo NYSIPM

From Web and Graphic Designer, KAREN ENGLISH

Earth Day to me means being able to enjoy the wilderness, and a reminder that we need to care for it, too.

photo of Karen English in the front of a canoe on a lake in the Adirondack Mountains.

Photo from Karen English collection

From Vegetable IPM Coordinator ABBY SEAMAN:

The only thing I think about Earth Day is that for me, every day is Earth Day, and I hope Earth Day inspires others to make at least one change in their life that will benefit the environment.

photo of cellophane bee exiting a ground nest

Cellophane bee exiting a ground nest

 

April 22, 2020
by Debra E. Marvin
Comments Off on Earth Day 2020 – IPMers Consider 50 Years of Concern and Action (part #1)

Earth Day 2020 – IPMers Consider 50 Years of Concern and Action (part #1)

From Livestock & Field Crops IPM Extension Area Educator KEN WISE:

What I remember the most of Earth Day is when I taught high school forestry and fishery. On Earth Day, we would plant several acres of Douglas fir seedlings or release salmon in rivers with my students in the Cascade Mountains. We would grow our own seedlings and had a built our salmon hatchery.

Earth day for me is an everyday state of mind. My work in a small way I hope helps sustain the land.

photo of a lake in the Cascade mountains

Mountain Lake in the Cascades (public domain)

From Community IPM Extension Area Educator MATT FRYE:

In grad school I coordinated an annual trash removal project in our woodlot, and prior to that I helped with tree plantings. But it’s been a few years, so this is more of a reflective thought on Earth Day…

Earth Day for me is a reminder. It’s a day to slow down. To take a deep breath. To experience and admire the wonders that this world has to offer. Equally, it’s a call to action. For if we fail to nurture and actively protect them, someday those wonders may be but a memory.

photo of Matt on a hike in the woods.

Photo of Matt from Matt’s collection

From Ornamentals IPM Coordinator BETSY LAMB:

To me, it is the power of people coming together for a cause.  And sometimes even people on apparently opposite sides of an issue who see that environmental improvements actually have benefits for both sides.

It is easy now to say that it is just a meaningless ‘holiday’ but we need to be reminded of how far we have actually come and what some of the changes have been and are.  Like some other issues, the changes have become the expected norm – which is perhaps a victory in itself.  And that is not to say that there are no longer challenges.  There certainly are – and some new voices pointing them out and encouraging new responses.  Hope, frustration, action, and change!

photo of Betsy in a greenhouse

Betsy teaching biocontrol in a greenhouse meeting. (Photo NYSIPM)

From Program Administrator AMANDA GRACE:

Photo of kids planting

Photos from Amanda’s collection

Each year, we plant a tree with the boys to celebrate Earth day. We try our best to educate and raise awareness, especially to our future generation(s), on the importance of unity and coming together to protect and nourish our global home.

“if you want a child’s mind to grow, You must plant the seed.”

Happy Earth day!

collage photos of children planting

From Community IPM Educator LYNN BRABAND:

Here is a photo of my participation in the first Earth Day as a sophomore in community college. I am at the red arrow. I was one of the organizers of the day’s activities in that municipality. Personally, the event was part of a journey that I was already on.

scanned newspaper article about a march on a college campus

Newspaper article from Lynn’s college years, see the close up below.

close up of the college march

Lynn Braband (at red arrow)

Tomorrow, we’ll be sharing a few more thoughts on the significance of Earth Day. Thank you to Jennifer Grant and Joellen Lampman for helping to pull this post together!

 

April 10, 2020
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on It’s Bat Appreciation Week

It’s Bat Appreciation Week

The sun was set; the night came on apace, And falling dews bewet around the place; The bat takes airy rounds on leathern wings, And the hoarse owl his woeful dirges sings. – John Gay

Little brown bats capture beetles, true bugs, moths, flies, wasps, and other insects. Photo: J. N. Stuart flickr

Big brown bats feed on beetles and other hard-bodies insects. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bats are one of those creatures that instill fear in people. (Thanks, Hollywood.) But as all our New York bats eat insects, at a rate of around 700 insects per hour, they can play an important biocontrol role in our IPM programs.

The federally endangered Indiana bat eats beetles, flies, moths, and other insects. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service flickr

There are two types of bats in the Northeast. Some species are communal and typically overwinter in caves, mines, and sometimes, to our consternation, our buildings. They include the little brown bat, big brown bat, eastern long-eared bat, eastern pipistrelle, small-footed myotis, and the federally endangered Indiana bat.

(If you find bats lodging in your attic, it is best to call in the professionals. They’ll work with you at the right times of the year to close up crevices and holes that let bats in. Closing up entry holes in the summer could trap baby bats inside. For more information, visit What’s Bugging You – How to deal with bats.)

The hoary bat is our largest bat, migrates to Mexico for the winter, and feeds on beetles, true bugs, moths, flies, wasps, and other insects. Photo: Tom Benson flickr

Bats in the second group live largely solitary lives, roost primarily in tree canopies and cavities, and migrate south for the winter. These include the red bat, hoary bat, and silver-haired bat.

According to the Cornell publication, Bats in the Forest and Beyond, “in a study of a colony of 150 brown bats in an agricultural area, researchers estimated that the colony consumed over 1.25 million insects in a year. This is not surprising, considering that a single bat may eat 3,000 insects on a given summer night. Bats roosting and foraging in New York forests consume forest and eastern tent moths, and a variety of other potential forest pests”.

Whitenose syndrome on little brown bat. Photo: New York US Fish and Wildlife Service

The legal status of bats varies from state to state. In New York, two species, the Indiana bat and the northern long-eared bat, are protected. However, the conservation of all bats is encouraged. This is particularly important since the populations of some bat species, especially the little brown bat, have been decimated by an introduced fungal disease, white-nose syndrome.

So what can we do to help? According to the Cornell Wildlife Health Center, “to minimize spread of the fungus [that causes white-nose syndrome], people should not handle bats, avoid entering caves and mines with bat colonies, and should decontaminate all equipment and clothing between caves and bat roosts”.

Leave or plant trees with deep furrowed bark such as shagbark hickory that provide roosing spots for bats. Allowing dead trees with peeling bark can also provide habitat. If you must take down these trees, avoid cutting from May to early August when bats are raising thier young. We can also install bat boxes, which mimic areas bats would naturally roost.

 

Looking for something to do with the kids? Alyson Brokaw, a student involved with The Cornell University Naturalist Outreach Program, talks to students about her love of bats and developed a companion education guide.

photo of the title to a video about bats from the Cornell University Naturalist Outreach program

Alyson talks about why the world’s only true flying mammals are so amazing and why you should learn all about them! Plus, Alyson answers the burning question: “Why do bats hang upside down?”

 

 

 

March 20, 2020
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Protect yourself from spring ticks

Protect yourself from spring ticks

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” – Margaret Atwood

The spring of 2020 might have everyone’s yards incredibly tidy, as gardening and yard work are on the short list for things we can all do while social distancing. But COVID-19 isn’t the only disease we need to watch for, and new research shows that protecting yourself from tick-borne pathogens is more important than ever.

They’re active now

table showing blacklegged tick eggs laid in the spring, nymphs active in spring, larvae active in summer, adults active in fall

This table shows the textbook description of when blacklegged tick lifestages are active.

Blacklegged ticks are most active in the spring and fall, although you can often find them active year round if conditions are right (above 37o in the winter, cool and damp in the summer). Many still consider ticks to be a summer pest, but the poppy-seed sized nymph starts questing in the spring, and there have already been reports of nymphal activity in New York. These ticks are considered to be the most dangerous life stage due to their small size, so be sure to put all your tick prevention strategies into place now.

table showing blacklegged tick eggs laid in the spring, nymphs and adults active in spring, larvae and nymphs active in summer, larvae and adults active in fall, adults active in winter

In reality, different blacklegged lifestages can be active almost anytime of year depending on weather conditions.

Keep it clean

A study looking at the effectiveness of recommended yard management measures against ticks showed the presence of trash could predict an increase in ticks over a clean yard, likely due to an increase in the number of small rodents that find both shelter and food amongst the trash. This was more pronounced in yards without forested areas. Sanitation is an important IPM step, so pick up and pack out that trash!

Check your leaves

photo of blacklegged tick adult on dried leaf

Both adult and nymphal blacklegged ticks are active in the spring.

How you managed your leaves in the fall can impact your tick risk this spring. New research shows that piling leaves along woodland edges increased the number of nymphs found by three times or more. Whether they were raked to the edge,  blown there with a leaf blower, or the wind had its way with them, thicker leaf litter creates suitable microhabitats for overwintering ticks.

Identify areas in your yard where leaves have accumulated. Are they close to areas you spend a lot of time, like the kids’ swing set or your garden? It’s best to remove them. Are they in the far corner where no one ever goes? You can probably leave them, but be aware that the tick risk will likely be higher. Check for yourself. It’s pretty easy to monitor for ticks.

Protect Yourself

So while you are out raking, hauling, bagging, and tidying, be sure to wear long pants tucked into socks and a long-sleeve shirt tucked into your pants – all treated with permethrin, apply repellents to exposed skin, and conduct a tick check as soon as you come indoors.

For more information on protecting yourself from tick bites, visit www.DontGetTickedNY.org.

December 31, 2019
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on NYS IPM’s Best of 2019

NYS IPM’s Best of 2019

“None of us is as smart as all of us.” –Ken Blanchard

Each year, NYS IPM staff are busy blogging about relevant topics. Here’s a recap of some of our more popular 2019 offerings:

ThinkIPM is our catchall blog and a great way to keep a pulse on what’s happening in New York State IPM.

Blacklegged tick embedded behind knee

No one wants to find an embedded tick.

We have spent a lot of time in the past year talking about how to prevent tick bites, from dressing in long pants, using repellents, and conducting daily tick checks. But sometimes one gets past you and you discover that new lump behind your knee has legs. There are always question about what to do next, and Help! I found a tick on me! was the most popular 2019 blog post.

distribution map as of November 2019

Spotted lanternfly distribution map as of November 2019

Spotted lanternfly was also on your mind, and Traveling for the Holidays? provided a checklist for those traveling within the spotted lanternfly quarantine zone. Trust us when we say that you do not want to unintentionally transport Spotted Lanternfly egg masses in New York state.

 

Other IPM Blogs – Besides ThinkIPM, we have more dedicated blogs, and you don’t need to be a specialist to subscribe to them. Here are some of the more popular posts:

We would all like the fruits and vegetables we purchase to be free of critters, and the Spotted Wing Drosophila blog post Managing SWD in raspberries & blackberries helps producers do just that.

 

The most popular Biocontrol Bytes offering was a guest post from our collegues in the Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science, section of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology, Anna Wallis, Kerik Cox, and Mei-Wah Cho. They discussed moving beyond antibiotics to the use of biopesticides in the post, Battling Fire Blight with Biologicals.

Readers of the The ABCs of School and Childcare Pest Management blog were itching to read about poison ivy in the blog post, Poison Ivy – Don’t scratch.

One of the benefits of blogs is the ability to provide timely information, such as the Your NEWA Blog’s most popular Spring is coming – tune up your weather stations post.

It’s been a nippy end of the autumn, so we expect the Winter Injury Spring 2019 post in the Tree Integrated Pest Management blog to remain relevant.

Not much grows in the winter in NY, unless you have a greenhouse! The Ornamental Crops IPM Blog’s popular Greenhouse IPM update 2.5.19 cover mold and biocontrol efforts that can occur in February.

So, we hope keeping up with NYS IPM Program will be included amongst your resolutions. We wish you a very happy New Year and look forward to serving you in 2020 and beyond.

October 4, 2019
by Debra E. Marvin
Comments Off on A Look Back at our Beneficial Habitat Events

A Look Back at our Beneficial Habitat Events

Photo of Betsy Lamb, Amara Dunn and Brian Eshenaur during twilight meetingOn Wednesday September 25th, Dr. Amara Dunn, Dr. Betsy Lamb, and Senior Extension Educator Brian Eshenaur hosted a Beneficial Habitat Open House. Guests could compare establishment methods, see some of the insects caught in our plots, or just enjoy the flowers.

Thursday September 26th was the Planting for Beneficial Habitat Twilight meeting. Attendees learned how habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects show good stewardship of the land. Dr. Dunn explained several methods of establishment, the benefits of hosting pollinators and other beneficial insects, and their impact as biological control.

For more, visit the Bicontrol Bytes Blog Creating Habitat for Beneficial Insects, Summer 2018
Creating Habitat for Beneficial Insects; Project Update End of Year One
Come Visit our Beneficial Insect Habitat Plots ,
Creating Habitat; Starting Year Two  
Photo shows Dr. Amara Dunn speaking with two attendees at the Beneficial Habitat Open House

Dr. Amara Dunn speaks with Cooperative Extension visitors.

Photo shows rows of small evergreen trees at the NYSIPM research plot at Cornell Agritech Fruit and Vegetable Research Farm

Evergreen plantings on the NYSIPM plot, Cornell Agritech Fruit and Vegetable Research Farm

photo shows at least one plot of beneficial habitat plants and part of a row of small evergreens

Does adding beneficial habitat reduce pest pressure on Christmas tree plots? We hope to find out.

photo shows six guests and two speakers from the IPM program standing near one of the habitat plots

Despite stormy skies, the Twilight Event was a success

photo shows Brian Eshenaur and Amara Dunn discussing the research plot

Brian Eshenaur and Amara Dunn address attendees of the Twilight Meeting

Photo shows college students working with insects around a table as Dr. Betsy Lamb directs them.

Keuka College students in Dr. Bill Brown’s Animal Diversity class compare pairs of insect samples. Dr. Betsy Lamb invited them to hypothesize differences in collected insects at varying locations within the plots, and at different times of the year.

Thank you to all who helped make these teaching events possible!

July 20, 2019
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Revisiting wild parsnip

Revisiting wild parsnip

Wild parsnip sap can cause painful, localized burning and blistering of the skin. – New York State Department of of Environmental Conservation

Wild parsnip going to seed. The sap form this widely spreading invasive plant can cause severe burns.

Wild parsnip going to seed. The sap in this widely spreading invasive plant can cause severe burns.

A few weeks ago we discussed the invasive wild parsnip as a hidden danger for weekend weedwackers. Now it is much more obvious with its bright yellow flowers, but if you are looking to control it now, straight mowing is off the table. Some of the heads are going to seed and mowing will simply distribute those seeds, ensuring a new crop of wild parsnip next year.

Whether you choose to dig out the root, cut the root an inch or two below the soil, or mow, first cut the seed head off with clippers and put it in a plastic bag. The bag can then be left in the sun to rot the seeds before disposal. And don’t forget to wear protective clothing to prevent any sap from reaching exposed skin or eyes.

Use a boot brush to clean mud and seeds off your boots.

Use a boot brush to clean mud and seeds off your boots. Remember to check the tread!

This is also the time of year when seeds of this and other invasive species can be accidentally transported by hikers and dog walkers. Avoid brushing against plants. Check shoes, clothing, and gear after leaving an area. Remove any seeds that are found and seal them in a plastic bag. (This can double as a tick check!)

For more information on preventing the spread of invasive species while hiking, biking, camping, and, well, any outdoor play, a great resource is PlayCleanGo. And consider taking their pledge to Stop Invasive Species in Your Tracks.

Let’s stay safe out there!

April 16, 2019
by Debra E. Marvin
Comments Off on 360° Pollinator Garden Tour

360° Pollinator Garden Tour

Have you ever wondered what pollinator-supporting plants you can add to your property ?

Here’s an excellent and enjoyable way to find out.  Funded by one of our Community IPM Grants, Cooperative Extension of Putnam County created the perfect example. While you can certainly stop in to visit, (Cornell Cooperative Extension of Putnam County,  1 Geneva Road, Brewster NY.), here’s the next best thing. Or maybe it’s better because you can visit any time regardless of weather and distance!

Visit a real pollinator garden with this virtual 360 degree tour. In this curated experience, suitable for youth and adults,  go on a pollinator insect hunt, or learn about the threats to native and non-native pollinators. Master Gardener Volunteers will help you make decisions about plant and landscape choices that support pollinator abundance and diversity.

This is just one of the resources we are pleased to provide to help you help pollinators.

Find these and more on our website:

Congratulations to the crew at CCE Putnam for this unique resource!

March 28, 2019
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Happy National Weed Appreciation Day!

Happy National Weed Appreciation Day!

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly. – Dr.  Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ahhh, the weed. Despised by many, almost to the point of violence. Once, while waiting for my older child to get out of preschool, I sat in the lawn and blew dandelion heads to the delight of my infant. I’ve never forgotten the sudden manifestation of a red-faced man screaming at me about terrorizing the neighborhood. (I like to think my son was unaffected.)

The first step in IPM is determining if you have a problem. All those years ago, a large, angry man was a problem, but I contend to this day that the dandelions were not. An unknown author penned that weeds are people’s idea, not nature’s. And many through the years have found inspiration from weeds. While researching this post, I had the option of strictly sticking to quotes about weeds (don’t worry, I didn’t), but I will add a few. There are quotes about their survivability:

You can’t help but admire a plant that has adapted to lawn mowers.

  • A weed is a plant that has mastered every survival skill except for learning how to grow in rows. – Doug Larson
  • A fresh and vigorous weed, always renewed and renewing, it will cut its wondrous way through rubbish and rubble. – William Jay Smith

Quotes about weeding:

  • Plant and your spouse plants with you; weed and you weed alone. – Jean-Jacques Rousseau

And many waxed poetic about their hidden value:

  • What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • When life is not coming up roses, Look to the weeds and find the beauty hidden within them. – F. Young

But beyond their value as a philosophical aid, can weeds be beneficial?

In fact, what weeds you find can tell you something about the soil. Is it wet or dry? Lean or fertile? Compacted? Acidic, alkaline, or neutral? Check out the short overview from the University of Vermont, What Weeds Can Tell You. Then act accordingly.

Often, weeds we find troublesome are plants we once valued. Dandelions, garlic mustard, plantain, and burdock are examples of plants brought over and cultivated by settlers to North America for food and medicine. And there are efforts to regain that value. One doesn’t need to spend too much time on the internet to find many resources on edible weeds. Take a look at this short video, Edible Weeds | From the Ground Up, developed by the University of Wyoming Extension (which includes some precautions you should take if you want to try eating your problems away). The Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education recently funded a project looking at bringing edible weeds from the farm to the market.

These trichogramma wasp parasitized European corn borer eggs aren’t going to hatch.

There is research looking at the ecosystem services provided by weeds in agricultural settings. In their project, Integrating Insect, Resistance, and Floral Resource Management in Weed Control Decision-Making, Cornell researchers make the argument that while weeds can compete with crops, they can also benefit the entire system. They use milkweed along a field of corn as a case study. There are aphids that feed on the milkweed and produce honeydew, which benefits beneficial insects such as wasps that lay their eggs in the eggs of insect pests such as European corn borer. And that’s before they discuss the benefit to monarch butterflies.

Early flowering weeds, such as this purple deadnettle, provide an early spring food source for pollinators.

And speaking of butterflies… and bees… and other pollinators, in the write-up of a study looking at the capacity of untreated home lawns to provide pollination opportunities, they reclassified weeds as “spontaneous lawn flowers”. So much friendlier! By the way, they found 63 plant species in those lawns. In a parallel study looking at mowing and pollinators, they found that lazy lawn mowing led to more spontaneous lawn flowers leading to more pollinators. So now I have also given you an excuse to mow less. You’re welcome.

So embrace your spontaneous flowers!

If, after today, you still want to manage those plants, you can always find a plethora of resources for different settings within our New York State Integrated Pest Management website.

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