Several species of thrips were damaging fruit in my pepper fields. Insecticides did a poor job of controlling the thrips and reduced predators in the field leading to more pest problems. Orius insidiosus, the insidious flower bug, is a good predator of thrips, but too few are present to control the thrips. To increase Orius numbers in pepper fields, multi-headed sunflowers were grown along one edge of the field.
The sunflowers are a good host for Orius, supplying nectar, pollen and thrips. The blocks with sunflowers along the edge increased the Orius numbers in the pepper plants. These pepper fields with increased Orius reduced the numbers of thrips and fruit damage. At least 40 percent more pepper fruit were damaged from thrips in fields without sunflowers versus fields with sunflowers. The sunflowers also acted as a refuge for Orius, which means the peppers could be sprayed to control pepper weevil without greatly disrupting the existing biocontrol program for thrips. The most difficult aspect of the program was being able to grow a good stand of sunflowers.