Organic Controls for Common Strawberry Pests
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Common Strawberry Pests
If you are growing strawberries in your organic garden, eventually there will be pests that will come to feed on them. While birds are a common nuisance to anyone growing fruit, there are also a number of insect and gastropod pests that can be a problem.
The most common pests of strawberry are slugs, strawberry weevils, spotted plant insects, leafhoppers, and strawberry sap bugs. Let's look at organic and non-chemical methods to control each one.
If you see small, deep holes in the strawberries, usually under the lid, they are likely slugs. Slugs also leave telltale silver slime trails that can often be seen on foliage. Slugs often cause damage at night and are more of a problem during wet weather. Methods for controlling slugs include:
- Remove leaves and other plant debris from the area to eliminate hiding places and prevent slug damage.
- Waterless often but deeply. This will avoid constantly moist soil that encourages slugs.
- Catch the slugs aboard. During the night, the slugs will crawl under the board and cling to it. Just be sure to check the trap every morning and remove any slugs you find, or they'll be eating your strawberries again the next night.
- Use citrus peel traps. Place orange, lemon, or lime peels around the base of your strawberry trees. Slugs are attracted to citrus fruits and you can collect them every morning to eliminate them.
- Place diatomaceous earth (DE) barrier, 1 inch wide and 3 inches away from the plant, around the base of the plants. DE is a fine powder made from sharp particles of marine organisms. The material is irritating to the skin of slugs and they do not pass. The DE should stay dry and should be replaced after the rains.
Strawberry Bud Weevils
Strawberry weevil is also known as strawberry cutter. They are about 1/10 of an inch long and reddish-brown with black spots on the back. Like most weevils, they have a pronounced, curved snout.
Strawberry weevils are a problem in early spring when adults emerge from winter. They use their snouts to pierce the flower buds of strawberries and feed on pollen. The females then place a single egg on each sprout and wrap the sprout to prevent it from opening. This protects its larvae, but it also destroys any chance of that flower turning into a berry. These flowers often drop or hang loosely from plants. The eggs hatch after one week and the adults emerge from the infested flowers after three to four weeks.
Start looking for weevils as soon as the strawberries sprout. To fight them:
- Remove all infected buds, as well as any that have fallen to the ground, to prevent insects from returning to winter and infesting another year's crop.
- You can spray your plants with insecticidal soap if you see the weevils, but repeated applications may be necessary. There is no other organic insecticide that works well on weevils.
Tarnished Plant Bug
There are several species of spotted plant insects in the US, the most common being Lygus lineolaris. Spotted plant insects are gray, greenish, or brown-winged insects that are oval in shape.2 They are coppery or "spotty" in color. They are brown with yellow, tan or reddish spots and each front wing has a black tip with a yellow triangle. These are very small insects, only 1/4 inch in size.
Adult females appear in spring as strawberry flower buds when they lay eggs. The nymphs hatch and feed on the flowers and develop strawberry seeds, resulting in misshapen fruits. To control these pests organically:
- Remove weeds and other plant debris near your wild berry patch to eliminate egg-laying environments.
- Place white sticky traps around the garden to catch insects; check them daily to make sure you are not catching beneficial insects.
- Plant pollen-producing plants around the garden, which will attract natural predatory spotted plant insects like big-eyed insects, damsels, and pirate insects.
- Try to keep the garden as free of weeds as possible during the flowering and fruiting season. The weeds that spotted insects feed on include dandelion, chickpea, lamb's quarter, know-it-all, wild mustard, curly doc, and pigweed.
- Check the plants at least twice a week before they begin to bloom for signs of spotted insects. You can use insecticidal soap if you see insects on your plants.
- Use floating row covers over your strawberry trees. It is better to install them at planting time.
- Any fruit that shows damage should also be removed; it will not grow properly.
- Garlic spray prevents insects from feeding and laying eggs.
Leafhoppers are very easy to identify: if you see a bubbly transparent foam at the base of the plants, it is because there are leafhoppers. Leafhoppers are the nymph stage of insects in the Cercopoidea family, which develop into adults commonly known as grasshoppers. Nymphs are brown, brown, or black and are only about 1/4 inch long. The foam is produced by the nymphs as a hiding place and refuge, this being the most frequent symptom.
Leafhoppers don't usually kill a plant, but severe infestations can prevent it. The leafhoppers pierce the stems and feed on the juices of the plant. Damage occurs near ground level and results in small berries and weak or stunted plants. To control leafhoppers organically:
- Inspect the plants, and when you see telltale saliva, use a strong stream of water to kill pests.
- Discard old plant material around the plants at the end of the season. Leafhopper eggs overwinter in this garden material, and cleaning will limit the number of eggs that can be seen again in spring.
- Cover strawberry rows with floating row covers in summer to prevent adult insects from laying eggs on your strawberries.
- Use a homemade spray made from garlic or hot pepper mixed with water to spray the plants.
- Use neem oil or a citrus-based insecticidal oil to prevent infestations.
- Spray the plants with insecticidal soap.
Strawberry Sap Beetles
Strawberry sap beetles are small, oval insects, less than 1/8 inch long.3 They are dark in color, sometimes with yellow or orange spots. Damage to strawberries is caused by adult insects. As the berries begin to ripen in May and June, the adult sap beetles attack the ripe, near-ripe, or decaying fruit, piercing and eating a portion. Although the holes are sometimes very small, the injury often introduces the rotting of the fruit. To control sap beetles organically:
- Harvest fruits as soon as they are ripe. Sap beetles are attracted to overripe fruits.
- Clean fallen fruit off the ground, as decaying fruit will attract sap beetles.
- Prime sap beetles by placing containers of stale beer or other overripe fruit, such as a banana or cantaloupe, in a location away from the strawberry patch. Discard and replace bait containers every three to four days.
Enjoy This Video Tutorial About How To Protect Strawberries From Insects
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