Manipulating beneficial insect habitat control of thrips in greenhouses

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2006: $5,258.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $6,032.00
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Carol Glenister
IPM Laboratories, Inc.

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: barley
  • Additional Plants: herbs


  • Crop Production: biological inoculants
  • Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: marketing management, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement
  • Pest Management: biological control, integrated pest management, trap crops

    Proposal abstract:

    A strong and diverse beneficial insect population is necessary to exert pressure on greenhouse pests but greenhouse plants usually do not offer sufficient habitat to sustain such populations. As a result beneficials move on and growers are forced to resort to chemical interventions to protect market-bound plants from pest damage. In 2005, we demonstrated that habitat attracts and supports a strong and diverse population of beneficials. In 2005, continuously blooming plants offered habitat to 3 introduced and more than 5 wild species of beneficials that established and reproduced But while aphid and whitefly suppression was well-documented, thrips suppression failed at the commercial greenhouse site, presumably because the thrips population was already too high when the natural enemies were introduced. In 2006 “Habitat Pots” composed of Marigolds, Alyssum, Lantana and an aphid banker plant will be distributed throughout a 30’x100’ herb greenhouse. Beneficials will be introduced into the habitat-enhanced greenhouse and a control greenhouse. Weekly scouting will record and monitor pest and beneficial populations in both greenhouses. Key to grower adoption of this method are its product development, marketing and public relations appeal. Through promotion and sales of their habitat pots, growers can announce they’re green; can educate customers as to why this matters; and may defray the costs of their pest control program. Most important is the dynamic established between growers and consumers wherein each reinforces the principles of sustainability – the former through their practices and the latter through their purchases.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Proposed Solution

    We seek support to demonstrate what we call a “Habitat Plant System” as a means of providing a favorable habitat for beneficial insects. This plant system will serve as a sustained source of beneficials for ongoing pest management. The Habitat Plant System includes a grouping of plants -- specifically Marigolds, Alyssum, and Lantana, -- and an aphid-infested banker plant. In 2005, we demonstrated that this system providing pollen, nectar and alternate hosts that attracted and supported a beneficial insect complex of Orius, Encarsia, Lacewings, Aphidoletes, aphid parasites and Syrphid flies that biologically controlled whitefly and aphids in the entire herb crop. In 2006, we propose to fine tune the thrips management system so that they are satisfactorily controlled as well.

    We will compare pest and natural enemy population levels in a greenhouse with the Habitat Plant System and a nearby greenhouse with no habitat plants. Our goal is to show that the greenhouse with the habitat plants maintains a strong and diverse population of beneficials (both those introduced and from outside the greenhouse) and to suppress thrips and other pest numbers below economically damaging levels.

    Our proposed solution offers multidisciplinary opportunities, touching areas such as pest and beneficials monitoring, product development, marketing, public relations, and education:

    Pest and Beneficials Monitoring: Scouting largely concentrates on the detection and enumeration of plant pests, but necessarily includes detection and counting of beneficials when biological control is in us. In our attempts to assess beneficial populations, we are developing a sense of the kinds of pest/beneficial ratios that predict a stable pest population.

    Product Development: Selling plants for pest control is not a new concept. Seed companies sell seed mixes that are said to produce plants that will harbor beneficial insects in the garden. In 2005, we created Habitat Pots and promoted habitat for beneficial insects. We also trialled aphid banker plants for the first time. In 2006, we will have a second season demonstrating all three types of products: Habitat Pots for the greenhouse, aphid banker plants for aphid control, and habitat plant sales for the home garden.

    Marketing: We will continue to highlight the sustainability of the Habitat Plant System and its multiple applications. This will be done using an approach common for retail marketing of specific bedding plants of creating a brand name model similar to “Proven Winner” plants which uses plant tags, glossy fliers and signage. We will reinforce the Blooms for Beneficials brand name through radio spots and newspaper ads. Consumer response will be measured through sales.

    Public relations: We will continue to promote habitat plant systems as evidence of the commercial greenhouse management’s commitment to non-chemical pest control and environmental stewardship.

    Education: The sustainable methods will be presented at a customer workshop at Baker’s Acres as well as grower meetings throughout the Northeast.

    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.