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Thursday, March 29, 2012

What to watch for: caterpillars everywhere!

Caterpillar feeding on developing blueberry buds. Photo: Bill Cline
Worms or caterpillars, whatever you prefer to call them, there is an bumper crop of larvae in North Carolina this spring.  My colleague, Steve Frank, ornamental and urban horticulture entomologist, spoke to the Raleigh News & Observer this week about about the large number of cankerworms present in state, and this afternoon, I received calls about caterpillar damage in two crops, blueberries and strawberries.  The abundant caterpillar populations are likely due to warm spring weather; many insects have been able to begin an early generation. In blueberries, this has resulted in isolated pockets of large numbers of what appear to mixed populations of spanworms, cankerworms, and other generalist caterpillars.

A diverse assortment of caterpillars from southeastern North Carolina blueberries. Photo: Bill Cline.
 One grower who has noticed large caterpillar populations in Reveille, a later flowering variety, and asked plant pathologist Bill Cline what the potential management options might be.  In the past, blueberries grower may have used malathion, a broad spectrum insecticide, applied in the late evening to control caterpillar populations.  I instead suggest that the grower use a narrow spectrum material that is safer to bees, as the plants to be treated were close to bloom.  Regardless of how safe a pesticide may be for bees, if plants are to be treated during bloom, any material should be applied in the evening minimize exposure to bees and allow for maximum dry time before they begin foraging.

The second question was from a research station in Virginia, where they had noticed green caterpillars present in their ripening strawberries.  My suggestion for strawberries would be the same--select a narrow spectrum, bee safe material.  These would include microbial (such as Bt) or insect growth regulators (such as Intrepid). See a note on pesticide recommendations.  Following any treatment, plants should be carefully scouted for re infestation, since high insect pressure situations may result in more movement into crops.  Just because caterpillars are present in a crop again following treatment does not necessarily mean that the treatment did not work.  Insects can also move back into plantings following a treatment.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What to watch for: A preemptive question about mites and hops

Hop yard in western NC, July 2010 Hop Tour. Photo: HJB
With the news that Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is opening a facility in Mills River, NC, interest in North Carolina hop production has again surged.  I think we still have a lot to learn about the feasibility of growing hops in North Carolina, but several, mostly small scale producers are already active.  One of these growers emailed me today asking about their main arthropod pest, spider mites, and what action she might take to prevent large populations developing this year.  Last year, she released two predatory mite species, Neoseiulus fallacis and Phytoseiulus persimilis, and she was wondering if those populations could overwinter and be relied to provide control this year. 

Hops leaves respond to relatively low mite densities.  The yellow stippled area on this leaf had a population of spider mites feeding on the opposite side. Photo: HJB
 My reply: "We have native populations of N. fallacis in the western NC mountains, so it is reasonable to assume that they should be able to overwinter (although lab reared mites may be less adapted to winter conditions).  We have had success overwintering P. persimilis under high tunnels on strawberries, but I can't say how well it will do out in the open.

The only way to know if your mites from last year have stuck around is to look for them. Sample 10 leaves per variety weekly and observe with a minimum 10x hand lens.  It will take some practice, but you can see and count mites with a hand lens.  You can distinguish predatory mites from pest mites by size (they are smaller), shape (most are tear drop shaped or oval), and color (P. persilimis) is orange.  Predatory mites also move much faster than pest mites. See here for images of some of the predatory mites commonly used for biological control. Start sampling when you have new leaves and continue weekly.  When and if you release additional predatory mites will depend on when spider mite pests appear in your planting."

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What to watch for: strawberry update

This morning, I visited our strawberry research plots at the Central Crops Research Station, Clayton, NC.  We will be using these plots for sap beetle, caterpillar, and spotted wing drosophila research this spring, and, like most of the southeast, our plants are pushing early.  It looks as though we will have berries in about 3 weeks, which is a month ahead of our normal schedule.

Along with this potentially early strawberry crop comes early questions about pest management.  I have fielded lots of questions about strawberry clippers and two spotted spider mites in the last few weeks.  I posted several times last spring about strawberry clippers, and you can find those posts here.  You can also find my posts on spider mites from the last several years here.  For grower with spider mite populations at threshold (5 mites/leaflet in a sample of 10 leaflets per acre) and plants that have not yet started fruiting, now is a good time to get those populations under control.  You can prevent mite issues later in the season by treating now with a miticide and avoiding the use of broad spectrum insecticides (pyrethroids and carbamates) unless absolutely necessary for other insect pests. If a broad spectrum material is needed, for example against sap beetle or SWD infestations, scout for spider mites before and watch populations carefully follow a treatment.  For growers who do not have mites about threshold (or no mites at all), you can breathe a little easier--barring a major slow down in plant growth, you may avoid the need to treat at all for mites.  Once plants are actively fruiting and rapidly growing, mite populations must be very high to cause damage--and very high mite populations typically only develop if you start off with mites earlier in year (around now). 

More information
Strawberry clipper posts - NC Small Fruit and Specialty Crop IPM
Two spotted spider mite posts - NC Small Fruit and Specialty Crop IPM