little bit about Melanie
Melanie and husband George own a 19.2-acre certified
organic farm in Emmaus, PA, where they, with son Don
and daughter Ruth, have operated a modified CSA and
members-only home market stand, sold at Farmers’
Markets, to health food stores and restaurants. Melanie
specializes in specialty cut flowers. A former newspaper
reporter, she also is a freelance garden writer. She
is a member of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower
I’ll be happy to anwer them!
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
and include your name and general location.
Posted March 17, 2005: First the bad news: There
are about a million different kinds of insects. Some articles, experts
and insect books could readily push you right over the edge from fresh
to (gasp) silk flowers. Ah, but the good news is flowers, most kinds
you want to grow for market anyway, are relatively pest-free. “Relatively”
means problems do crop up. Some flowers are better avoided in some
parts of the country, and, of course, there are good years and there
are bad years for certain pests. But don't worry, you can usualy deal
with them sustainably.
That said, everyone has had their heart broken. My fall silky Asclepias
(Asclepias curassavica) -- two nice, long rows that I had babied
from seed and planted out at the beginning of July for a great show
at market on those balmy, autumn Sundays in Emmaus, PA -- were my
heartbreak. With the usual craziness of fall produce and flower
sales and readying the high tunnels for winter, the Asclepias didn’t
get checked close enough or often enough. Pretty soon, a gooey yellow
scarf enveloped every stem so thickly they were a total loss. Aphids.
Thousands of aphids. So we gingerly pulled all the plants -- and
started more dried arrangements to make up for the loss. Aside from
aphids in the high tunnel on one small row of sunflowers near the
door (others in the same high tunnel center were untouched and I
was able to wash the aphids off, dunking them in a bucket of water),
we have had no major insect problems on flowers. Ever. We had a
few Japanese beetles, a few cucumber beetles and a few inch worms
that entertain from the Ageratum. That’s it.
Diversity and good soil make a difference.
Lynn Byczynski, grower and author of The
Flower Farmer (www.growingformarket.com),
says grasshoppers are her number one problem in Kansas. “We’ve
found them to be unperturbed by anything we have unleashed on them,
including Nosema locustae and Beauveria bassiana.” That's
Latin for beneficials/biological controls which are labeled for
grasshoppers and are organically acceptable. “Grasshoppers
are highly attracted to certain species of plants including dahlias,
mums and marigolds, so we don’t even try to grow those anymore.”
Then, like all growers, Byczynski adds, “This year, we will
try guineas on the advice of many Growing for Market readers.
But we won’t know for a while whether our super-hoppers will
be controlled by these voracious birds.” We inherited a few
pretty tame guineas at Pheasant Hill Farm last year and they love
working within eyesight of us. We’re hoping they get all the
ticks, Japanese beetles and other insects that might bother our
flowers. We intend to train them with white millet this spring to
go where the bugs might go. (For more information on guineas, see
Jeannette S. Ferguson’s book Gardening
With Guineas or visit her website at www.guineafowl.com
where you can even hear them.) Guineas also eat a lot of weed seed.
Down side can be noise and their traveling habit, but, supposedly,
can be trained. We’ll see.
Besides grasshoppers, other insects, Byczynski says, are really
only a minor inconvenience on her cut flower crops. “Part
of that is because we have an ‘organic attitude’ about
fitting our farming into the ecosystem. For example, we grow dill,
fennel and Asclepias for bouquets. But we are happy to defer to
the monarch and swallowtail butterflies when their need for food
arises. We just leave these plants in the garden, let them get munched
down by the caterpillars and then enjoy the spectacle of metamorphosis.”
Steve Bogash, regional commercial horticulture educator in Central
Pennsylvania, says flowers generally ARE pretty easy and low on
insect problems. “The way you grow out flowers as a small
grower is so different from large monoculture, you see different
problems,” adds Bogash, Franklin County Cooperative Extension
agent and former grower. “Small growers with diversified crops
will have an incredible mix of insects that will eat each other
before there are problems.”
What’s Easiest To Grow with Insects in
There are lots of good, easy ones, say Dr. Stanton Gill, with Central
Maryland Research and Education Center, Maryland Cooperative Extension.
He, and Bogash named some of my favorites: Sunflowers, Zinnia, Karma
dahlia, Celosia, tall Ageratum, Statice, and Salvia leucantha.
SUNFLOWERS -- Succession
planted from March and going until frost (longer if you have a high
tunnel and extra protection), sunflowers don’t have many insect
problems. Gill notes that you may see some adult striped or spotted
cucumber beetle damage as the season progresses -- they can do damage
to the petals. While they don’t destroy the plant, they do
destroy their value as a cut flower. The solution: Don’t grow
cucumber plants, or other veggies the pests love, in the area. You
can use Neem oil, a tropical-tree extract, that kills many pests
on contact, he says. (Certified organic growers should check their
latest catalog or www.omri.org
for current status of organically approved pesticides). At Pheasant
Hill Farm, we cut the sunflowers as the first rays open, especially
if there seems to be a problem with beetle damage, and keep the
sunflowers in the cooler. If you miss a few flowers with a hole
or two (not impossibly chewed flowers) give the flowers away to
kids at the farmers’ market. They’ll be thrilled. So
ZINNIAS -- The garden
workhorse isn’t usually bothered by insects or pests. We often
find those nasty, big spiders making fascinating webs between them
here and there. Actually they’re Orb-web spiders, yellow and
black argiope, and they are working for you, so work around them.
Japanese beetles can sometimes hit zinnias, Gill says.
KARMA DAHLIA -- I
recommend these highly (see
previous column on Karmas). Bogash loves them. Gill says in
some areas, people have problems with grasshoppers (especially if
there are high grasses or fields are nearby), cucumber beetle, and
Others mentioned include Celosia (especially wheat), Ageratum,
Statice and Salvia leucantha which have very few insect problems,
Gill says. Gill also recommends Liatris, Sedum (Autumn Beauty),
Tuberose, Phlox paniculata and Lisianthus as of little interest
to insect pests (but bear in mind lissies are hard to start). Trachelium
caeruleum, lavender to dark blue flowers borne in panicles at the
end of the stem, are also relatively pest free, he says.
What Are the Biggest Problems for Flowers?
Insects that can be a problem for flowers include aphids, thrips,
spider mites, leafhoppers, beetles and caterpillars, says Bogash.
“They can often be controlled with natural parasites and predators.”
While beneficial insects can be bought from biological control companies
and through many catalogs, the alluring descriptions can be daunting.
Both Gill and Bogash say beneficials work better in a greenhouse
setting. In fact, Bogash says in a closed system, beneficials work
very well. In tunnels, they can be competitive. “Large predators,
lacewings, ladybugs don’t like being around each other. Maintaining
sanctuaries, giving them a place to go, helps.” For beneficials,
various catalogs and websites tell you how many you will need, when
to release and what to expect, including IPM Laboratories, Inc.,
The Association of Natural Bio-control Producers web lists distributors
in the U.S. at www.anbp.org.
Another resource for the flower grower fighting insect pests is
the sticky trap, yellow or blue cards (available at many nursery
centers and through many seed and greenhouse catalogs) with a brightly
colored surface coated on both sides with a special sticky, non-drying
glue. These traps will catch many insects and can help you with
monitoring them. Unfortunately, they’ll also trap beneficial
insects. They’re especially useful in the greenhouse environment.