Sedona and the Verde Valley experienced a lot of moisture this past winter, but University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Jeff Schalau said he has not heard there were more bugs than usual this spring.
“It’s not that it’s more but just different bugs. I haven’t seen anything out of the ordinary,” Schalau said. “I’d be on the lookout for curly top virus again this year, though.”
An insect, the leaf hopper, carries the curly top virus from weed populations then transmits it to tomatoes, beans, peppers, spinach or beets. The leaves curl and almost turn upside-down. The plant stops growing, withers and dies, Schalau said.
“We’ve had curly top pretty bad for the past two years,” he said. “It’s not something in the soil; it’s in the plant. The best is to just rip the affected plant out and destroy it, then plant a healthy plant. There are some resistant varieties.”
As soon as the weeds die, the danger of curly top goes away. According to plant pathologists, the leaf hopper doesn’t even like tomatoes. They just happen to land on the plant to rest and start eating what’s convenient.
Schalau said it is difficult to make any predictions about the bug population until the extension office gets some reports.
“I’m not sure what the grasshoppers are going to do. There are always lots of surprises out there,” Schalau said. “If people are losing things and seeing a lot of bugs, report it to us — and try to catch some and bring them in to the extension office so we can identify it.”
Most people want to get rid of the bugs they see around their home, especially cockroaches, ants, spiders and scorpions. Yet, not all bugs are bad. Some are healthy for the garden because they feed on the others, such as ladybugs that feed on aphids, whiteflies and mites and mealy bugs as well as other soft-bodied bugs and their eggs. Green lacewings will eat spider mites, thrips, leafhoppers, whiteflies and caterpillar eggs. Praying mantis feed on a wide range of pests, including aphids, flies and beetles.
“There are many bugs out there that can act as natural pesticides,” Schalau said. “For example, hoverflies are
predators and feed on smaller bugs, like thrips. The ones beneficial bugs eat are usually harmful to plants.”
Hoverflies look like small black and white striped bees. They actually hover above plant leaves and are often found in large groups.
To attract the beneficial bugs, plant flowers and other plants that they like. Plants that attract and provide homes for the beneficial insects include alyssum, caraway, clover, coriander, dill, fennel, marigolds, nasturtiums, wild carrot and yarrow. Plant them near the plants that are affected by the harmful bugs.
Many of the beneficial bugs can be bought at stores or ordered online, Schalau said.
One caveat is to not cultivate too many of the plants that attract beneficial bugs because if there is not enough prey for them they will leave the garden to search for food elsewhere.
For more information, call the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension in Cottonwood at 646-9113. The office is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m.