Insect IPM Protocols for Fresh Cut Peonies: Protecting a New Alaskan Export Crop

Final report for OW15-030

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2015: $48,872.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2018
Grant Recipient: University of Alaska Fairbanks
Region: Western
State: Alaska
Principal Investigator:
Gino Graziano
University of Alaska Fairbanks, Cooperative Extension Service
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Project Information


Four peony farms from the Fairbanks area (3), and Mat-Su (1) participated in the third year of monitoring for lygus bugs and thrips. The project has a goal of developing IPM protocols for these insects in peony crops. A drop in number of farms participating occurred because the volume of sticky cards was too great for efficient evaluation. In 2017 sampling protocols followed to track the phenology of lygus bugs and aphids and document their abundance in different locations, both from region to region and on a smaller scale from field to border areas. IPM technicians provided supplies and sampling instructions to growers, who then sampled with sticky traps on a weekly basis. Thrips were included in the sampling to contribute to ongoing research at Washington State University.



Project Objectives:

Prior to this project little information was available to guide peony growers in implementing insect integrated pest management practices. We did not know when insect pests emerged, and what brought them into fields, both of which limit our ability to advise producers on monitoring or managing insect pests. To help establish these IPM protocols and inform producers about their implementation we proposed the following objectives.

  1. Establish IPM protocols for thrips and lygus bugs in peony fields in Alaska,
  2. Train Extension IPM agents and scouts in identification and management of these pests,
  3. Involve growers in on-farm research to develop a seasonal monitoring and management program
  4. Engage growers in a grower-teaching-grower program,
  5. Develop an IPM protocol template and publish two IPM protocols, one for thrips and a second for lygus bugs in Alaska,
  6. Create YouTube videos with growers showing insect identification and associated damage; appropriate field monitoring techniques and best methods of pest control,
  7. Growers, research and Extension agents share experiences at annual peony conference.

Objectives remained the same throughout the project with the following exceptions.

4) Growers-teaching-growers was implemented less formally.  Because many growers are spread throughout the state there are few opportunities for growers to teach growers.  We did establish an online course that provides a record of completion but growers did not want to be identified as IPM protocol trainers. These growers involved in the project are able to address questions when farm tours occur, though Extension personnel are at these farm tours.

6)  YouTube videos were not created due to logistical issues, and we suspected greater utility would emerge from an online tutorial which we created instead of YouTube videos.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Carolyn Chapin
  • Dr. Beverly Gerdeman
  • Dr. Patricia Holloway
  • Ronald Illingworth
  • Susan Lincoln
  • Richard Pepper
  • Dr. Jill Russell
  • Brian Schlumbohm
  • Rita Jo Shoultz
  • Dr. Derek Sikes
  • Martha Lojewski


Materials and methods:

The main focus of this study was to track movement in peony fields by thrips, considered the most serious insect pest of Alaska peonies with potential to disrupt cut flower exports due to their international quarantine status. Research on peony pest seasonality was conducted in 2016 on six grower cooperator peony fields and on 2 grower cooperator fields in 2017.  Two types of traps were used for monitoring, aerial traps and ground or emergence traps.  Aerial traps used to capture flying or wind-blown insects, consisted of 3” x 5” yellow sticky cards attached to stakes or wires at approximately the same height as mature peony foliage (Fig. 1).  Emergence or ground traps were used to capture insects emerging from overwintering sites in litter.  They consisted of a yellow sticky card affixed to the inside on the bottom of a plastic shoe box.  Boxes were then placed upside down, weighted with a rock and set along field borders and within peony fields.  A set date was written on each sticky card and cards were retrieved 1 week later.  Insects stuck on the cards could have been trapped between the set date and retrieval date.  Several configurations for trap placement were used but the most informative arrangement included 16 border (8 aerial + 8 ground) and 16 field traps (8 aerial + 8 ground) for a total of 32 traps/farm/week.  Sticky cards were requested to be placed in plastic zip-close bags.  Sticky cards wrapped in plastic wrap instead, often oxidize turning dark brown.  Multiple wrinkled layers of plastic wrap obscure the insects and make counting difficult.  Cards were scanned under a dissecting microscope, and insects of interest marked and tallied.  Nearly 3,000 cards (2,732) were studied usually limiting identification to family or genera.

Research results and discussion:

Seasonality of select pests was followed at 6 participating peony farms in Alaska, across 4 latitudes between 60.490 N and 64.60 N.  Differences from farm to farm, including specific location, cultivar differences and differences in pest management and production practices along with different techniques in data collection, make comparison between farms difficult.  Management recommendations would require a visit to review their current pest management program and identify reasons for peak pests for each individual farm.

Despite the variabilities, the 3 target insect pests: aphids, thrips and lygus tended to follow a general trend of activity along a latitudinal gradient from south to north.  In Table 1 comparing farms from the lowest latitude to the highest latitude suggested a trend of earlier peaks in activity associated with an increase in latitude and corresponding decrease in growing season.   Evaluating this across more farms may smooth out the variability.  More grower cooperators and details on insecticide applications could improve accuracy of future seasonality studies.  Results of this research suggested the following points:


  • All 3 target insect pests: aphids, thrips and lygus follow a seasonal gradient, emerging earlier as you move north (Table 1).
  • Thrips exhibit 2 distinctive peaks in activity at lower latitude Alaska localities, shifting to single peak by 62.60
  • Lygus/plant bug numbers during this study were generally low across all farms but are capable of outbreaks. Unlike thrips their large size makes them easy to detect and responsive to treatments.
  • Bloom/pest data, phenology, provided by a single farm, ELP, indicated all three pest species, were present during the peak harvest period.
  • Click beetle adults were collected across the state at most peony farms but their association with peony and economic damage potential remain unknown.
  • Leafhoppers are known vectors of phytoplasmas to peonies in other parts of the world. Populations in some Alaska peony farm locations were extraordinarily high.  However, no reports of damage and peony pest status has not been determined.
  • Weeds can change pest population dynamics of a peony farm by encouraging overwintering of pests in fields which may result in higher populations. They also can serve as a reservoir for pests that can subsequently impact adjacent agricultural fields.
  • Migration of insects into peony fields can occur when adjacent agricultural fields are harvested.
  • Alaska’s complex topography and northerly location influences pest activity making generalities challenging.


Table 1.  Peak field activity of various pests at all localities





































Participation Summary
7 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

398 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
7 On-farm demonstrations
1 Online trainings
2 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

52 Farmers
12 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Dr. Beverly Gerdeman provided 2 presentations at the Alaska Peony Growers Association in 2017 and 2018 annual meeting about the seasonality of pests and how growers can monitor for these pest to fine tune their IPM plans. Extension Faculty and Staff attended farm tours where they presented information about IPM to participants in 2016 and 2017. The Peony Growers Assocation annual meeting draws over 100 participants. In addition to these presentations we have completed in house publications on developing insect IPM protocols for peony growers. We have also completed an online tutorial on implementing insect IPM protocols for peony production. The latter is available for anyone to view as information, or it can be taken as a course worth continuing education units towards certified pesticide applicator licenses in Alaska.   

Learning Outcomes

18 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key changes:
  • Improved awareness of insect pests in peonies

  • New knowledge about potential damage caused by insect pests and hot to recognize those pests

  • New skills in insect pest scouting, recognition, and implementing IPM practices

  • Changed attitudes towards the issues surrounding insect pests

Project Outcomes

17 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
17 Farmers intend/plan to change their practice(s)
1 Grant received that built upon this project
2 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

This project directly affects agricultural sustainability for peony producers in Alaska, and further helps to prepare other new agricultural commodities in Alaska. The peony production industry in Alaska, is a new business venture with a high potential for profit if done well. The potential for profit has drawn many Alaskans interested in farming towards the industry. These new farmers come with varying amounts of experience in Agriculture, and many of them are new to agriculture or at least to production at the intensity levels necessary for a successful peony farm business. To this end most are not aware of Integrated Pest Management methods and what to do if pest levels become problematic if they even know how to determine if pest levels are problematic. This project exposed many producers to pest monitoring methods that will prepare them to detect and mitigate issues before they ruin a crop.

Demonstrating insect IPM monitoring practices for peony production offered us the opportunity to begin to understand peony pest pressures, and develop material for workshops and courses that target peony producers. Through this work we know that new and established peony producers that attend conferences, workshops, or online courses that we have created will understand specific steps they need to take to monitor pest populations to respond to potential issues before pest levels become damaging.

The project also allowed us increased interaction with peony producers that helped us understand their aptitude with IPM methods, and laws. It became apparent that many were not aware of label restrictions, licenses, and worker protection standards as these small family farms are expanding to larger operations with employees. We have since made informing producers of these issues and where to find more information on those issues a priority.  


The project approach had successes and challenges. Working with farmers provided a success in allowing for hands on training of IPM protocols with those specific farmers, and their word of mouth dissemination of what they learned to other producers. This approach working with specific farms also created challenges in interpreting the insect phenology data that was collected. These difficulties arose because of a lack of uniformity between farms in weed control practices, insecticide use and timing of applications, peony varieties grown, and location of fields in relation to forests. These inconsistencies in farms made identifying true sources of insect pests in peonies difficult because placement of cards would sometimes indicate sources from fields while others indicate sources from nearby trees. Additionally drop off in numbers of pests would occur and may have been related to use of insecticides, but producers were not forthcoming with information about the timing of their applications with a couple of exceptions.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.