Effects of Living Mulch and Cover Crop Residues on Natural Enemy Abundance and Efficacy in Sweet Corn

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2019: $14,009.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2021
Grant Recipient: University of Maryland, College Park
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Cerruti R. R. Hooks
University of Maryland

Information Products


  • Agronomic: clovers, radish (oilseed, daikon, forage), rye
  • Vegetables: sweet corn


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, no-till
  • Education and Training: extension
  • Pest Management: biological control, cultural control, integrated pest management, mulches - killed, mulches - living
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    The adoption of monoculture cropping systems has led to a reduction in beneficial insect numbers and shifted the balance in favor of insect pests. Incorporating living mulches and cover crop residues within vegetable fields are practices that can enhance vegetation diversity within crop lands and make conditions less conducive to pest outbreaks. Research has shown greater numbers of arthropod predators and parasitoids, as well as a reduction in pest and associated crop damage in cover crop diversified vegetable plantings. However, limited effort is directed at examining impacts of habitat diversity on natural enemy numbers and efficacy in sweet corn plantings. Therefore, I propose to examine effects of rye (Secale cereal) and crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) residues, and a red clover (Trifolium pretense) living mulch on the abundance and efficacy of natural enemies in sweet corn plantings. Cover cropping impact on corn earworm, Helicoverpa zea, and European corn borer, Ostrinia nubilalis, mortality due to parasitism and predation will be assessed and compared with a monoculture (no cover crop) treatment. In addition, treatment impact on ear quality and yield will be determined. Understanding impacts of cover cropping on corn earworm adult emergence, beneficial insect communities and their efficacy is important in creating integrated pest management programs for sweet corn producers.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The overarching project goal is to improve the biological control services provided by ground and foliar inhabiting natural enemies in sweet corn plantings.

    My primary research objectives are to assess the effects of growing sweet corn with an interplanted living mulch and cover crop residues on:

    1) the number of foliar and epigeal (ground) natural enemies present,
    2) rates of predation and/or parasitism of corn earworm and European corn borer egg masses,
    3) rates of corn earworm prepupae predation and adult emergence, and
    4) crop yield.

    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.