Development of an Integrated Pest and Disease Management Program Utilizing Companion Plants and Inundative Biological Control for Organic Squash Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2017: $16,245.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2019
Grant Recipient: University of Florida
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Dr. Oscar Liburd
University of Florida


  • Vegetables: cucurbits
  • Additional Plants: African marigolds, Sweet alyssum


  • Crop Production: cropping systems, intercropping, multiple cropping
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, habitat enhancement
  • Pest Management: allelopathy, biological control, cultural control, integrated pest management, mulches - living, row covers (for pests), traps
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    Florida is a major producer of zucchini squash (Cucurbita pepo L., Cucurbitaceae) and produced 18% of the US squash in 2016, valued at about $30 million dollars. Key insect pests including the silverleaf whitefly (Bemisia tabaci Gennadius, B biotype, Hemiptera: Aleyrodidae), the melon and the cowpea aphid (Aphis gossypii Glover and Aphis craccivora C.L.Koch, Hemiptera: Aphididae), attack zucchini squash causing yield losses up to 80%. Aphids transmit viruses of economic importance and reports of whitefly-transmitted viruses in Florida squash have increased in the last few years. The use of pesticides is generally used for pest and disease management but the development of pest's resistance and the adverse effect on non-target organisms are major concerns. This project propose to evaluate a combination of non-pesticidal approaches including cultural practices, augmentation and conservation biological control to suppress key pests in organic squash with the ultimate goal of reducing the amount of chemical inputs in the cropping system, limiting the adverse effects of insecticides on non-target organisms, and maintaining environmental quality. We aim to evaluate the effect of the African marigold (Tagetes erecta L., Asteraceae) and the Alyssum (Lobularia maritima (L.) Desv, Brassicaceae) used as companion plants, together with the predatory mite Amblyseius swirskii Athias-Henriot (Acari: Phytoseiidae) against key insect pests and its effect on viral incidence in squash production. The final product of this project will be the development of an integrated pest and disease management program available utilizing companion plants and inundative biological control for organic squash and cucurbit growers in Florida.

    Project objectives from proposal:


    1. Monitor the establishment of insect vectors and plant viruses in squash.
    a. Identify and monitor key aphid, whitefly, and thrips species complex and relate their abundance to plant phenology, season and weather for the zucchini squash crop.
    b. Monitor the establishment of plant viruses in organic zucchini agro-ecosystems.
    c. Determine the effect of key pest species and plant viruses on zucchini marketable yield.
    2. Evaluate the effect of companion plants and A. swirskii introduced in zucchini squash crops.
    a. Determine if companion plants used as refugia within organic squash cropping systems can cause the build-up of natural enemies that can suppress key pests.
    b. Evaluate the combine effect of companion planting and the release of the predatory mite A. swirskii for management of insect pest populations in organic squash production.
    3. Identify temporal and spatial distribution patterns of key pest species, A. swirskii and other natural enemies in a squash field using geostatistical techniques.

    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.