Greenhouse Management Editor
Nursery Management Editor
Greenhouse Management Editor
Nursery Management Editor
Although less common than traditional ornamental insect pests like whiteflies and thrips, the European pepper moth and red-headed flea beetle are two pests continuing to gain notoriety across the country. While both pests have their signature activity, they share one thing in common: plant damage. J.C. Chong, professor of entomology at Clemson University and Nancy Rechcigl, technical services manager of ornamentals at Syngenta, share ways growers can control, combat and contain these pests.
While the European pepper moth originated in Europe, Rechcigl says their appearance in the U.S. has grown over the last five years. In 2014, the moth was a confined “quarantine pest” in a small area in Southern California, but now, she says they are being seen in states in the Northeast like New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, along with Southeastern states including Florida and in Texas. Chong says he’s also seen “a big jump” of moths in North and South Carolina.
Rechcigl recalls the first observance of European pepper moths in herbaceous crops, annuals, perennials and poinsettia production, but they are quickly claiming other crops. “We are starting to see activity in woody ornamentals as well,” she says.Chong believes the moths seek herbaceous crops and woody ornamentals because it is easier for them to feed on the plant tissue.
As for the red-headed flea beetle, Rechcigl says there has also been a surge of them in outdoor ornamental production. Like the pepper moth, they feed on herbaceous and woody ornamentals, and the injury they can cause in a short period of time can leave plants unsalable, she says.
Scouting at the base of the plant is critical for finding this pest.” — NANCY RECHCIGL, technical field manager of Turf and Ornamentals at Syngenta
The damage both pests can do differ from the destruction caused by whiteflies and aphids. Instead of leaf yellowing and distortion as the result of the latter sucking pests, the pepper moths and flea beetles chew.
“The European pepper moth larvae chew and bore their way into the base of the plant,” Rechcigl says. “This can cause the plant to appear wilted and can be mistaken for a root issue. Unfortunately, if too much of the lower stem is damaged, this can result in the death of the plant. Flea beetles feed on the upper layers of leaf tissue, leaving the plant with a skeletonized appearance. The more injury present can significantly reduce the value and salability of your crop. When injury levels approach 40% or higher, the plant is often unsalable.”
Like many insect pests, scouting and preventative applications are recommended. According to Rechcigl, European pepper moths lay their eggs in the upper canopy of the plant, but after hatching, the larvae drop to the soil and begin feeding on the base.
“Scouting at the base of the plant is critical for finding this pest,” she says. “They are rather small and can almost be mistaken for fungus gnat larvae because they have a dark head capsule and are just slightly bigger in size. The larvae will produce a light webbing which provides them some protection from predators. So when scouting, look for light webbing at the base of the plant at the soil line.”
Flea beetles, however, eat the upper layers of foliage and leave the lower epidermis intact, which gives a skeletonized appearance. Rechcigl says it’s harder to scout them due to their swift movement if the foliage is disturbed, and because of this, she says the feeding injury will most likely be seen before the actual pest. Chong says the multitude of these pests make them harder to control.
“These pests are quite destructive if left unchecked, so it is important to begin control treatments as soon as indications of their presence are observed,” Rechcigl adds.
To assist growers, Syngenta offers Mainspring® GNL, Acelepryn®, Flagship® 25 WG and Scimitar® GC, insecticides that guard against many pests and provides tools for integrated pest management plans.
“For the European pepper moth, both Mainspring GNL and Acelepryn can be used to control this pest … [they] should be applied as a heavy spray over the top of the plant so the base of the plant and stem is wet at the soil line,” Rechcigl says.
Recent trials have shown Mainspring GNL and Acelepryn are effective on the European pepper moth for seven weeks.
In Chong’s 2019 trial for European pepper moths, he observed the efficacy of Mainspring GNL and Acelepryn against the pests in the greenhouse.
“From treatment until 42 days, plants that were treated with Mainspring and Acelepryn did not see any foliar damage at all,” he says. “For water-treated plants, we saw about 33% of the plants showing damage. This tells me that Acelepryn or Mainspring can wipe out the European pepper moth caterpillars.”
For flea beetles, Rechigl recommends Flagship 25 WG, Scimitar GC, Mainspring GNL or Acelepryn. During his flea beetle research, Chong sprayed plants with Acelepryn and Mainspring GNL three times at a 14-day interval.
“To give an example, at 42 days after the first treatment, 40.8% of the terminals of plants sprayed with only water suffered some level of damage,” he says. “But the damage was reduced to 21.7% and 25% for Mainspring GNL- and Acelepryn-treated plants. So, Mainspring GNL and Acelepryn can certainly reduce, but not completely eliminate foliage damage [because] there are just so many of the hungry beetles out there and damage can accumulate even if one beetle takes just a little bite.”
Trials on the flea beetles have shown three applications of Mainspring GNL and Acelepryn on a 14-day interval keeps the plant injury levels under 20% to 25% for a seven-week period.
©2020 Syngenta. Important: Always read and follow label instructions. Some products may not be registered for sale or use in all states or counties and/or may have state-specific use requirements. Please check with your local extension service to ensure registration status and proper use. Scimitar GC is a Restricted Use Pesticide. Acelepryn®, Flagship®, Mainspring®, Scimitar® and the Syngenta logo are trademarks of a Syngenta Group Company. Syngenta Customer Center: 1-866-SYNGENT(A) (796-4368).
With the advent of new fungicides and pesticides available, it’s important for growers to take note of the options available to them. IRAC/FRAC (Insecticide/Fungicide Resistance Action Committees) provide growers with relevant pest control information and advice. With proper product rotation and new MOAs (mode of action), growers can keep pests and diseases at bay.
Daniel Gilrein, extension entomologist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, is an expert in this field and often advises growers concerning the use of insecticides and miticides. Gilrein says the IRAC classifications are very helpful, particularly when targeting some pests and situations where there is a significant risk of resistance development, such as in greenhouse and nursery production of ornamentals.
Gilrein says there are a few things growers need to keep in mind when it comes to properly rotating insecticides. After the pest problem is identified where treatment is deemed necessary, he lists out a plan based on the following factors:
When pests develop a resistance, managing them becomes an extremely difficult task and may lead growers to have to discard a portion, or all, of their crops. “They must rotate chemistries and be proactive about managing resistance because some pests are notorious for developing insecticide- or miticide-resistant populations. Additionally, the population at hand may already have resistance to some materials,” Gilrein says.
“Rotating among different modes of action can reduce the risk of promoting resistance or maintaining resistance in a population that already has it. It is especially important for propagators to be aware of the issue, so resistant pests are not conveyed with plant material,” he says. “Also, we want to make sure insecticides and miticides will work when we need them, and they continue to be available and useful for a very long time; thinking of susceptibility as a kind of ‘natural resource’ we want to conserve.”
Enter diamide insecticides in IRAC Group 28, which differ from traditional chemistries. Nancy Rechcigl, technical services manager for ornamentals at Syngenta, shares why using diamides is a good option for growers.
“The active ingredients in this group selectively activate the ryanodine receptor in the insects’ muscles, causing the release of calcium ions,” Rechcigl says. “This results in paralysis and rapid inhibition of feeding and other key physiological functions. Insect feeding is typically stopped after initial ingestion, and insect mortality is observed within 2-7 days, depending on the pest.”
“Many insecticides in other IRAC groups affect different aspects of the pest’s nervous system, the diamides target a different site, making them a good rotational tool. This class of chemistry has also shown to be compatible with the use of beneficial insects and mites, which makes them an ideal partner in integrated pest management programs,” she says. “When plants are treated with a diamide and challenged with insect pressure, the plants are protected and the pests are not able to establish in the crop.”
For successful integrated pest management programs, growers should focus on preventive applications rather than curative, which is especially necessary when using biological controls, according to Gilrein. Managing the problem early is key, because gaining control later may be much more difficult, due to things like high pest populations, dense plant canopies and plants arranged or spread out that makes insecticide coverage difficult — and may require more material to get rid of the insects.
Rechcigl notes diamides can be used in curative applications for pests such as worms and leafminers, but preventive applications (when the pests are first observed) are best for controlling whiteflies, thrips and mealybugs.
“In addition to use as foliar sprays, some diamide insecticides have systemic activity when applied to soil, media or bark, and relatively few other insecticides have such systemic uses,” says Gilrein.
Mainspring® GNL and Acelepryn® insecticides from Syngenta are two diamide chemistries with systemic activity that act as shields to protect plants from a wide range of insects.
“While the mode of action of how they work is similar, the different active ingredients within the diamide class of chemistry differ somewhat in their pest spectrum and in their systemicity,” says Rechcigl. “While all diamides have translaminar activity, only cyantraniliprole (Mainspring GNL) and chlorantraniliprole (Acelepryn) can be applied as a foliar or bark spray or as a drench for long, systemic protection.”
Margery L. Daughtrey, senior extension associate at Long Island Horticultural Research & Extension Center at Cornell University, shares why it’s important to properly rotate fungicides. She says diseases with rapid epidemic development and prolific pathogen sporulation, such as Botrytis blight, downy mildews and powdery mildews, are the ones where it is most important to practice fungicide rotation — and is critically important for crops being cultivated in greenhouses.
She notes key resources are the information on the product label (where the FRAC group is always given) and the FRAC website itself, which updates listings every year.
“The main danger is that you think you are rotating properly when in reality you’ve followed one fungicide application with another one from the same FRAC group — which means they will have the same mode of action, even though the product name and the fungicide’s common name might sound quite different,” Daughtrey says. “Strobilurin fungicides, for example, they are all in FRAC Group 11, so there is no point to treating twice with Heritage and then ‘rotating’ to treat twice with Compass. You’ll be exposing the fungus population to the same weapon by a different name, and you will be encouraging strobilurin resistance in the fungus population.”
With the help of 11+7 fungicides, like Mural® from Syngenta, growers can be sure they are using an effective management method.
The combination of two highly effective and broad-spectrum fungicide modes of action — an SDHI (succinate-dehydrogenase inhibitor) fungicide paired with a strobilurin — will slow resistance development to a pathogen that happens to be susceptible to both, she says.
“Using contact action materials at low or no danger of resistance development during periods when the environment is not highly conducive to disease, or alternating them with 11+7 materials, is a good strategy.” — MARGERY L. DAUGHTREY, senior extension associate at Long Island Horticultural Research & Extension Center at Cornell University
“An 11+7 material will help you to cope with leaf spots, powdery mildews, downy mildews and rusts,” she says. “And you are likely to be getting some systemic action against the pathogens.”
Daughtrey notes growers shouldn’t rotate an 11+7 or an 11+3 fungicide with an 11 fungicide. This is due in part from the perspective of the tiny fungus growers want to manage. It will see continuous 11s, and growers will thus increase the selection pressure, so the strobilurin component will become ineffective sooner, she says.
“Using contact action materials at low or no danger of resistance development during periods when the environment is not highly conducive to disease, or alternating them with 11+7 materials, is a good strategy,” she says, “Learn which fungicides work best against the problems your crops are subject to, and deploy them strategically, keeping in mind the need for thoughtful fungicide rotation.”
The key attribute that makes Mural an ideal choice for growers is due in part to its translaminar and systemic activity, but also because it is xylem mobile.
“When applied as a drench for protection against root and crown rots, Mural will move upward into the plant canopy to provide protection against certain foliar diseases, such as rusts and some powdery mildews,” says Rechcigl. “It is very useful for protecting daylilies or ornamental grass crops against rust, with one drench application providing six to eight weeks of protection.”
Mural also provides good control/suppression of Pythium spp. and offers plant health benefits. Increased root density has been routinely observed with drench applications using 2-3 ounces and foliar sprays applied at rates of 4-5 ounces.
When it comes to proper rotation, Rechcigl says a robust resistance management program should include a rotation of products from at least three to four different classes of chemistry (three to four different IRAC and FRAC Codes) for each pest or disease target. For fungicides, growers should make one or two applications of the same product (if the label allows) before rotating to a different class of chemistry. Insecticide/miticide applications should target the life cycle of the pest.
“Being good stewards and preventing resistance from developing allows the grower to have more options and tools in their management toolbox. Research and development activities for the discovery of new active ingredients with new and different modes of action takes time, often 10 to 12 years, and requires a significant investment in time and resources,” Rechcigl says.
Syngenta has developed several agronomic programs with built-in resistance management strategies. They are available for download here.
©2020 Syngenta. Important: Always read and follow label instructions. Some products may not be registered for sale or use in all states or counties and/or may have state-specific use requirements. Please check with your local extension service to ensure registration status and proper use. Acelepryn®, GreenCast®, Mainspring®, Mural®, and the Syngenta logo are trademarks of a Syngenta Group Company. Syngenta Customer Center: 1-866-SYNGENT(A) (796-4368).
The Horticultural Industries Leadership Awards (HILA), sponsored by Syngenta, is the only North American awards program to honor leaders from the greenhouse and nursery industries. Six award winners will be honored in these industry sectors in North America.
HILA recipients have made significant contributions to the horticulture industry, such as furthering its development with their innovation and expertise, excelling in environmental stewardship, enhancing the lives of employees, customers, communities and the industry at large with their charitable giving, and/or otherwise making a positive impact on the industry.
Is there a nursery or greenhouse grower you think should join the Horticultural Industries Leadership Awards Class of 2021? Email the following information to HILA@gie.net to nominate them today!
Bill Zalakar has always been a self-starter. At the age of 10, he was ordering seeds and planting vegetables and by the time he was 14, he was hauling hundreds of pounds of tomatoes to the local grocery stores to make a little bit of money. He ended up being so successful that he paid most of his way through college.
He learned early on that for some things, you have to rely on Mother Nature, but his long-term goal was to find something he could have a little more control over.
Bill was lucky enough to live right beside a large greenhouse company called Johnson Florists in Pittsburgh. So, at 16, he applied for a job and applied again, and again, and again. Finally, the company told him that if he would work the night shift helping with the boilers, they would let him do a little greenhouse work.
He jumped at the chance and landed his first job at a greenhouse. “I always knew that’s what I wanted,” Bill says. From there, he went on to study horticultural business at Penn State, where he was active in campus life, including serving as president of the Horticulture Club.
“When I was at Penn State, my grades were not always that great. I’ll be the first to admit it,” he says. “I use it as a scenario to explain to people that everything is not always about grades.”
By the time his senior year came around, Bill didn’t even need to apply for a job. Flower Time, a bigtime Long Island grower-retailer had come knocking. While the company was looking for someone to work at one of their retail stores, Bill had his eyes on a job in the greenhouse.
“They never hired anybody for the growing facility. They were always hiring for retail stores, but I was insistent that my forte was really more greenhouse,” Bill says.
Flower Time agreed to hire him for a greenhouse position, and two days after graduating from Penn State, Bill was working in the facility on Long Island. Two and a half years later, Flower Time sold to the company that owned the popular Midwest chain Frank’s Nursery & Crafts.
At that point, Bill had gone into business with a partner to start a wholesale perennial operation and left Frank’s. “The family scenario really kind of dropped out of [Frank’s] and that’s when perennials were just coming out back in the 80’s,” he says.
He and his partner (his now ex-wife) weighed their options and chose to go into the niche market of selling 1-quart perennials, founding Hoff Gardens. “We were a company with zero money, zero resources; we were way under-capitalized, but we made it,” he says.
About 10 years later, all of the bills were paid, but Bill and his partner were going through a divorce. Being good friends with the Weiss family, he got some good advice from Russell Weiss. “Russell said, ‘Listen, the more you argue, the worse things are going to get," Bill says. “Try to work things out.’”
Russell helped the two mediate and Bill got started down a new path at Kurt Weiss Greenhouses in Center Moriches, New York, where he now leads the team as general manager at the main location.
Century-old Kurt Weiss Greenhouses is very much a family business, and that includes Bill. Even though he doesn’t share the Weiss name, he’s a family member nonetheless, says Kirk Weiss. Kirk, who runs the operation with his semi-retired father, Russell, his brother and his two sons, has known Bill for more than 20 years.
“We’re basically the same age and it’s almost like we’ve grown up in the business together,” Kirk says. “He’s always willing to lend a helping hand no matter what.”
And Bill treats his employees like family as well. He and his wife regularly invite crew leaders to their house for dinner parties and find different ways to keep up the company morale. “That’s what I think I learned most from Russell Weiss, is making it feel like you’re a part of the family,” Bill says. “Some companies, they just lose that touch and the people don’t feel like giving that extra effort.”
Bill’s friendly nature and calm demeanor have helped him enact real change for both Kurt Weiss Greenhouses and the industry. Whether serving on the advisory board for Cornell University or the Long Island Farm Bureau where he’s acting president, Bill finds a way to lead people to make the right decision, says Mark Bridgen, Cornell professor and director of the Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center. Mark describes Bill as the “Dr. Fauci of horticulture” because he always provides accurate information and hopes that people follow.
“Whenever he’s trying to convince a person or a group of people to see things his way, he presented the facts and the issues and hoped that the information that he gives is going to be enough to convince them to change their minds or to follow his lead,” he says. “He’s always impressive that way.”
As general manager at Kurt Weiss’ main location, Bill has had a hand in almost every aspect of the business. Any initiatives the company starts, Bill is there from the very beginning through to the day-to-day execution.
That’s understandable for a man who has done “basically every job” in the greenhouse, according to Kirk. “Our philosophy, as well as Bill’s, is that we work together. So, we wouldn’t ask somebody to do something we haven’t done ourselves, and we’ve done every one of these jobs,” he says. “If you’ve already done it, you understand the job.”
Kirk says two of Bill’s great strengths as a leader in the greenhouse are that depth of industry knowledge and his communication skills. That combination makes him a natural leader.
“It’s very easy to get people to follow him versus if you brought somebody in that knew nothing about the industry and didn’t know what it takes,” Kirk says. “That means a lot.”
And in his time at Kurt Weiss, Bill has been able to build a management team he trusts, including managers for maintenance, inventory, production, sales and growing. The team meets each week to discuss plans for production, shipping and everything in between.
But Bill doesn’t just keep up with the upper management team. He makes sure to do his rounds in the greenhouse. “I do have a lot of involvement with the employees,” he says. “I’m constantly walking around the greenhouse or in the field talking to everybody.”
Kirk says Bill has really helped Kurt Weiss Greenhouses navigate the changing landscape of hiring from simple word-of-mouth to delving into the different ways to diversify the labor pool.
In past years, to combat the ever-present issue of finding labor, Bill initiated several student programs, working with student organizations at The Ohio State University and with agriculture students from different countries around the world. “It has just helped a lot on the labor side of our business and scheduling,” Kirk says.
The company has gone from one full crew that worked whatever hours it took to get the job done to splitting the work up into shifts. Now the greenhouse has a night shift and a loading crew, with enough laborers to staff each.
“It’s been challenging the last few years — very challenging — to find labor. Every industry is facing that,” Kirk says. “We had to get really creative in how we attract labor — finding what time of day people had availability and working on setting up different shifts. It sounds easier than it is, but he’s working on a lot of that.”
When COVID-19 hit, Kurt Weiss Greenhouses began throwing out Easter crops (Bill estimates the company destroyed about 70%). And while the company was missing out on early spring revenue, they were also trying to navigate social distancing and new sanitation procedures, Bill was leading the charge.
The greenhouse, like many others in the industry, wasn’t sure if they could remain open, Kirk says. But by working alongside his colleagues at the Long Island Farm Bureau, Bill was able to make the case for greenhouses to be deemed ‘essential.’
“Through his connection and the Farm Bureau, he was able to help a lot of companies out there and push forward,” Kirk says.
Bill made several trips to Albany to explain the situation to New York Agriculture Commissioner Richard Ball, explaining that “plants are like animals,” Mark says. “They were given exceptions to animal facilities with cows and horses because somebody had to feed the cows and so on. And Bill convinced the commissioner that plants are the same way. If they don’t get watered; if they don’t get cared for, they can’t survive and the industry is going to suffer tremendously. He’s been one of the behind-the-scenes people that actually have been able to get things open for us.”
But that’s not the first time Bill has gone to bat for the industry. He and Mark met when Bill served on the advisory board at Cornell University. There, Mark noted that Bill was never afraid to be a voice for the industry whenever conflicts might arise at the university.
Mark describes Bill as “very outgoing, very friendly and very unassuming,” which have helped him become not only a voice for the industry, but a consensus-builder. “He’s not arrogant; he’s not forceful. He’s just a pleasant man who knows what he’s talking about and can convince people without being obnoxious. He can just convince people of the right thing to do.”
Kirk describes Bill as a team player who knows how to get people to work together. That comes in handy in his work leading teams at Kurt Weiss and as president of the Long Island Farm Bureau, as well.
“He’s very dedicated and he really represents a lot of different factors of agriculture by being from the floriculture side,” Kirk says. “Floriculture is a big part of agriculture on Long Island and so it’s definitely helped our growers and he’s really shining in this role.”
Not surprisingly, Bill’s car is almost always one of the last in the parking lot at Kurt Weiss. And between putting in long hours at the greenhouse and fulfilling his duties with the Long Island Farm Bureau, Bill is almost always working overtime.
“You’ve got to love what you’re doing, otherwise it’s work. And I think that’s what drives him. He really does love what he’s doing,” Kirk says.
Bill has no plans to stop anytime soon and retirement is nowhere on the horizon. “The way it’s going right now is just the perfect following of my life how I would like it to be,” Bill says. Through work with the Long Island Farm Bureau, he hopes to advance into other key leadership positions, whether that’s in the U.S. horticulture industry or in government or international works.
“I want to put my efforts to help better our industry and see it grow so that it just doesn’t disappear,” he says. “To be able to utilize my resources and my involvement with all the people that I’ve met in the industry and in the political sector, I want to try to pull them together to educate a lot of the politicians, as well as a lot of the public out there about our industry and help our industry grow. So if I can take that path and keep going down that road, that would be happiness.”