December 1, 2022 Did you know you can protect your valued landscape trees and shrubs from destructive pests without the use of chemical pesticides? Keep reading to learn more about biocontrol and the benefits of leveraging nature’s best defenses to protect valued landscape trees and shrubs. What Is Biocontrol? Many landscapers worry about adverse environmental and health effects of using chemical pesticides. However, the frequency of destructive pest infestations requires control to maintain landscapes. Biocontrol offers a solution – It is a safe, effective, and environmentally friendly form of pest management that can easily be applied to home landscapes. Biocontrol suppresses and prevents pest outbreaks through the purposeful manipulation of natural enemies. All organisms have natural enemies that limit population size through predation, parasitism, or disease. Through maximizing the impact of predators, parasites, and disease agents, landscapers can effectively manage unwanted insects, diseases, and weed pests. Goals Of Biocontrol Prevention One goal of biocontrol is to manage pests to prevent populations from reaching pest status. This is commonly applied to ornamental plants, with which there is a very low tolerance for visual damage. Successful pest prevention entails intervention when pest numbers are very low. Prevention requires early detection through monitoring practices. Biocontrol agents are used to provide mortality early in the pest cycle to prevent outbreaks. Prevention requires thorough understanding of the pest life cycle and is most successful against regular, predictable pests. Reduction Similar to chemical pesticides, which are often applied to quickly reduce a pest outbreak, biocontrol can be used to provide a remedial, knock-down effect. In this situation, the treatment is made after the pest has reached a damaging level. The objective is to quickly reduce the population to non-damaging levels and maintain low pest density. Delay In some situations, the goal of biocontrol is to simply delay a pest until after a critical phase of plant development, such as bud burst or flowering. This method is not applicable to all situations but can be useful for crops with critical periods of development. Delaying a pest requires early intervention – when pest numbers are still low. Ultimately, the pest may reach high levels, but not until after the critical window has passed. Natural Enemies Pests are those species that attack some resource landscapers aim to protect and do it successfully enough to become either economically important or a major annoyance. Natural enemies play a critical role in limiting the densities of potential pests. There are three categories of natural enemies of pests: predators, parasitoids, and pathogens. Predators Many kinds of predators feed on insects, including birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and mammals. Important insect predators include lady beetles, ground beetles, rove beetles, flower bugs and other predatory true bugs, lacewings, and hover flies. Spiders and some families of mites are also predators of insects, pest species of mites, and other arthropods. Parasitoids Parasitoids are insects with an immature stage that develops on or in a single insect host, and ultimately kills the host. Most parasitoids are tiny wasps, but a few species of flies and beetles are included in this group. Parasitoids lay their eggs on or in the eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults of other insects. When they hatch into larvae, they become predators of their hosts. Because parasitoids must be adapted to the life cycle, physiology, and defenses of their hosts, they are limited in their host range, and many are highly specialized. Thus, accurate identification of the host and parasitoid species is critically important in using parasitoids for biocontrol. Pathogens Pathogens are microscopic, disease-causing organisms such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa, and nematodes. These diseases may reduce the rate of feeding and growth of insect pests, slow or prevent their reproduction, or kill them. Pathogens are very common and occur naturally in the landscape. Biocontrol Strategies Conservation The primary practice landscapers use to apply biocontrol is encouraging and enhancing natural enemies already present in the landscape. Conservation biocontrol is accomplished by attracting natural enemies to the landscape and protecting them through changes in landscape management practices. The goal of this practice is to prevent or avoid pest problems from developing. Augmentation Augmentation biocontrol involves the purchase and release of natural enemies into the landscape. This is done as a means of increasing the numbers and kinds of natural enemies present and adding an additional source of mortality to manage pests. The objective of augmentation is not to permanently establish the control agent. Existing natural enemies may be present naturally, but not in sufficient numbers to manage pests. Importation Many of our worst pests are exotic species introduced from other countries. One reason they become problematic is because they are introduced without their natural enemies. In importation biocontrol, natural enemies from the exotic pest’s country of origin are introduced to re-establish predator-prey relationships. This strategy is a rigorous science and is highly regulated. Interested in implementing biocontrol strategies in your home landscape to protect from destructive pests? At Front Range Arborists, our applicators are licensed through the Colorado Department of Agriculture. We can propose a plant health program to control insect problems on your trees and shrubs, and more! Serving Colorado Springs, Woodland Park, Fountain, Monument, Black Forest, Manitou Springs, and other surrounding areas, Front Range Arborists Inc. specializes in pest treatment to help save your valued landscape. To start your treatment and prevention today, fill out our online form for a free estimate!