Using Flowering Cover Crops to Attract Natural Predators of Floriculture Pests

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $25,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2026
Host Institution Award ID: G304-23-W9982
Grant Recipient: Brown Dog Farm
Region: Western
State: Alaska
Principal Investigator:
Meridith Rooney
Brown Dog Farm


  • Additional Plants: other


  • Crop Production: cover crops, pollinator habitat
  • Pest Management: biological control

    Proposal summary:

    The purpose of this project is to evaluate the efficacy of planting flowering cover crop plots to attract beneficial insect predators to nearby annual and perennial cut flower fields in Southcentral Alaska. Insect pests such as aphids, thrips, and tarnished plant bugs can damage important cut flower crops such as dahlias, stock, anemones and ranunculus. Controlling these pests using insecticides has the potential downsides of environmental and worker chemical exposure, equipment and labor costs, inconsistent and short-lived efficacy, and causing unintentional harm to populations of non-pest beneficial insects. We seek to provide growers with region-specific data about the efficacy of an alternative pest management tool: biological control. Specifically, we will be researching what types of flowering cover crops best attract beneficial insects that are predators to aphids, thrips, Lygus bugs, such as hover flies, big eyed bugs, damsel bugs, minute pirate bugs, wasps. While the use of cover crops, living mulches, and margin strips have been shown to be effective in attracting beneficial insect predators, many studies note the need for further research regarding how specific plant species, regionality, planting methods, or timing affects the efficacy of these practices. In order for these practices to be more widely adopted by growers in Alaska, they need to be demonstrated and proven locally. 

    Through an onsite demonstration day, agricultural conference presentation, and social media posts, the results of our project will give regional growers, agricultural professionals, and the general public information about the impact of including flowering cover crop plots on farms for the purposes of pest management.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Research Objective #1: Over two years of trials at Brown Dog Farm, determine the effect of four flowering cover crops–buckwheat, phacelia, red clover, alyssum–on attracting beneficial insect predators.

    Research Objective #2: Over two years of trials at Brown Dog Farm, collect phenological data for four flowering cover crops in order to evaluate their suitability for incorporation on Southcentral Alaskan farms. Data collected will include germination date, flowering date, seed set and termination date, biomass production, and soil tests.  

    Education Objective #1: During years two and three of the funding period, provide at least 10 Alaskan flower and vegetable producers and agricultural service providers with reliable local data on the efficacy of using flowering cover crop plots to attract insect predators of major regional pests. 

    Education Objective #2: During years two and three of the funding period, provide at least 10 Alaskan flower and vegetable producers with reliable local data on technical aspects of utilizing flowering cover crop plots.

    Education Objective #3: Throughout the funding period, share the potential benefits of using conservation biological control methods, including the use of flowering cover crop plots to attract beneficial insects, with local growers and the general public via social media. 

    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.