Monday, March 17, 2008

Landscape and Nursery - Phenological Indicators

The following is a short article on phenological indicators and how they are used.

Landscape managers in Delaware contend with a wide variety of plants and associated pest problems. In any given landscape, there may be hundreds of species and cultivars of native and exotic trees, shrubs, and garden plants. Throughout the growing season, these plants may be attacked by a similarly diverse assortment of insects, including wood borers, leafminers, scale insects, plant bugs, and leaf-feeding caterpillars.

Timing is everything when managing landscape pests. To be effective, insecticides or biological controls must be applied when pests are present and at their most vulnerable life stage. For example, scale insects are best controlled after the eggs have hatched but before the crawlers have formed a protective cover. Controlling wood borers requires treating host trees with insecticides to intercept the newly hatched larvae before they have penetrated the bark. Leaf-feeding caterpillars such as bagworms and tent caterpillars are easiest to control when the larvae are small. Timing is especially important when using short-lived materials such as summer oils, soaps, and Bacillus thuringiensis (BT).

Frequent in-field inspection is the most reliable means to detect insect problems and time control efforts. Unfortunately, regular monitoring is too time-consuming for many landscape managers. Field workers may not know when or where to look for vulnerable life stages or may not recognize them when encountered. Pests such as the holly leafminer, honeylocust plant bug, and potato leafhopper feed in advance of any recognizable damage. Pheromone traps are available for monitoring certain insects (e.g., clearwing borers) but require time and expertise to use effectively.

Forecasting Using Plant Phenology

Phenology is the science dealing with the effects of climate on seasonal biological events, including plant flowering and insect emergence. Insects are cold-blooded, and like plants, their development will be earlier or later depending on spring temperatures. Since both plant and insect development are temperature-dependent, seasonal appearance of particular insect pests should follow a predictable sequence correlated with the flowering of particular landscape plants.

In our Ornamentals Hotline Publication, phenological indicator plants for Delaware are commonly given. Knowing what is in bloom can help you greatly in insect management decisions.

Adapted and modified from "Timing Control Actions for Landscape Insect Pests Using Flowering Plants as Indicators" by G.J. Mussey, D.A. Potter, and M.F. Potter: Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky.

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