That's a flea beetle feasting on plants

GARDEN Q&A

June 21, 2008|By Ellen Nibali and Jon Traunfeld | Ellen Nibali and Jon Traunfeld,Special to The Sun

This little insect [photo was attached] showed up on my cabbage and has already done a lot of damage. How can I stop it?

Flea beetles are often black but yours is a striped flea beetle. Flea beetles can ravage young plants, leading to low yields of small fruit. Healthy, fast-growing plants can outgrow light flea-beetle feeding. Two weeks after all danger of frost, set out plants in fertile soil high in organic matter, water regularly and fertilize every two to three weeks. To foil flea beetles also:

*Clear your garden of plant debris, which is where the beetles overwinter.

*Till your soil in the spring to disturb habitats of overwintering insects, or cover soil with black plastic one month prior to planting.

*Cover plants with floating row cover. Secure the material to the ground.

*For severe infestations, spray with pyrethrum and soap, rotenone or neem insecticide. These botanical insecticides are derived from plants and used by organic farmers.

*Dust foliage with screened wood ash to inhibit beetle feeding. Reapply after rain.

I've been planting plants for pollinating insects, but someone told me that the nectar and pollen of named varieties aren't as good as [from] regular plants. Is that true? Also, are native plants better?

In most cases, developed varieties (or cultivars) will attract and feed your pollinating insects just fine.

The research hasn't been done on every species of cultivar to see if tinkering has lessened their benefits to insects.

The further the cultivar gets away from the natural plant, the more possible that it's not as beneficial to beneficial insects. Maryland native plants (not necessarily natives from other parts of the U.S.) can be especially helpful. They can provide nectar and pollen at times critical to our animal species, which evolved dependent on them.

A diverse range of plants is important because it will provide a smorgasbord for insects over the longest time period. This works out perfectly for gardeners who want multiple seasons of interest in their gardens.

Checklist

*Never let bark mulch touch the base of trees and shrubs. Mulch encourages disease and insect problems, and voles hide under it to eat plants.

*Pick up and throw out all dropped fruits. Fruit trees self-thin their fruit naturally in June, and that fallen fruit may be diseased or insect-ridden.

Ellen Nibali, a horticulture consultant, works at Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center, and Jon Traunfeld is the director of the Home and Garden Information Center. Call the center's help line at 800-342-2507 or e-mail plant and pest questions through the Send a Question feature at hgic.umd.edu.

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