Developing a Perennial Living Mulch System to Manage Insect Pests in Northeastern Cantaloupe Fields

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2020: $14,955.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2022
Grant Recipient: University of Maryland
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Cerruti R. R. Hooks
University of Maryland


  • Vegetables: cucurbits


  • Pest Management: biological control, mulches - living

    Proposal abstract:

    Drawbacks of excessive pesticide usage in cantaloupe have created a demand for alternative pest control strategies that can reduce producers’ reliance on chemical inputs. The economic burden of growing cucurbits such as cantaloupe can be considerable due to the cost of frequently applied chemicals to protect cucurbits with low pest tolerance. Further, chemical sprays can have a negative impact on natural enemies inhabiting cucurbit fields and consequently cause secondary pest outbreaks. Interplanting cash crops with cover crops, also known as companion planting, has been used for centuries to improve soil quality and suppress weeds. However, interplanting a live cover crop (living mulch) into a cucurbit crop can be used to also help manage insect pests and diseases that they vector. Recent research has shown that interplanting a red clover living mulch into cucumber plantings can be an effective strategy to reduce insect pest and increase natural enemy populations without negatively impacting crop yield. This is a promising finding for other crops in the Cucurbitaceae family that share similar insect pests. This study will determine if similar benefits can be conferred to a cantaloupe system. Specifically, the objective is to determine whether interplanting cantaloupe into two perennial living mulches (i.e., alsike clover or Virginia wildrye) systems that are structurally dissimilar can be used to reduce insect pest and increase natural enemy populations in cantaloupe. Additional objectives are to compare the ability of these living mulches to enhance cantaloupe yield and serve as overwintering refuge for natural enemies.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The overall objective is to investigate and disseminate an alternative tactic for managing insect pests in cantaloupe plantings. Specific study objectives are as follows:

    • Compare the impact of a monoculture cantaloupe treatment with two additional treatments: 1) cantaloupe interplanted into a perennial bunch grass (Virginia wildrye, Elymus virginicus) and 2) interplanted into a perennial legume (alsike clover, Trifolium hybridum) on herbivore abundance,
    • Compare treatment impact on the abundance of natural enemies,
    • Determine treatment impact on yield and fruit quality, and
    • Determine the potential of different treatments to serve as overwintering refuge for natural enemies
    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.