Insect management in leafy greens
Leafy greens are among the most popular plants grown for home use and farmer’s markets. Unfortunately, insects like eating salad too.
Rick Weinzierl is an extension entomology specialist at the University of Illinois. He says the impact that insects can have on a successful harvest, and the control measures you take, depends on whether you want a pristine plant or don’t mind a few munch marks on the leaves.
Crop rotation and other sound management practices are the key to keeping the bugs at bay.
"You’re going to plant into soils that are warm enough, but also not too warm, right? Because anything you do that delays emergence ends up creating some problems with soil-borne insects that maybe usually wouldn’t be pests otherwise," says Weinzierl. "When you are done harvesting leafy greens, the sooner you decide to go out and till that up, the better off you are because as you leave it there, you leave it for some things to build up that then will move into new crops later."
The insects you’ll find on leafy greens will vary depending on the families of plants that you’re growing, and the time of year. Aphids are a common problem, especially in the fall.
"Row covers can exclude aphids, remember a lot of these are just sort of blowing across the landscape in the fall and they end up settling on your crop," says Weinzierl. "If it’s the right species, it can start to colonize it and build up. The low tunnels outside, or a low tunnel within a high tunnel, or screening the walls of a high tunnel, all those things can help. When you’re thinking of seedlings, you’d say if I’ve got one or two aphids on a plant I better do something because they will build."
If natural enemies aren’t around to control the pests, you may have to turn to insecticides. There are effective sprays out there for both organic and conventional crops. Just be sure you know which ones to use.
Check out these tips for managing creepy crawlies in the vegetable garden
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