The latest Arizona Vegetable Integrated Pest Management Update from the University of Arizona (UA) Cooperative Extension in Yuma, Ariz., released May 2, 2012.

Insect and weed interactions in vegetables

By John Palumbo, UA Research Scientist and Extension Specialist

Effective weed management is critical for the profitable production of vegetable crops in the desert southwest for obvious reasons. However, weed management is also essential for another important but often overlooked reason.

Several common weed species found in and around vegetable crops can serve as host plants to many insect pests that can later infest nearby crops.

Although flowering weeds can provide a reservoir for natural enemies and as a source of nectar and pollen for pollinators, these same weedy refuges can serve as host sources for many key insect pests that cause economic damage to vegetable crops.

Weeds found on field margins and ditch banks can provide insect pests with suitable resources needed for rapid population growth which subsequently can lead to insect infestations occurring in adjacent vegetable crops.

In addition, many weed species can provide insects with host plants that serve as a bridge between cropping seasons when vegetables crops are not in production (May through August).

Volunteer melons and cotton can also be considered weeds (“a plant out of place”). If not controlled in a timely manner, these weedy volunteer plants can sustain large numbers of insect pests, plus many plant viruses that are transmitted by insect vectors that can migrate onto newly planted fields.

Finally, weeds can serve as impediments to insecticide applications.

Dense weed foliage in vegetable and melon fields can negatively influence foliar spray applications by intercepting spray droplets before reaching the target crop, which can result in less insecticide deposition and unacceptable crop damage.

Soil applied insecticides (e.g., imidacloprid) can also be impacted by unmanaged weed growth.

Weeds growing unchecked during stand establishment can compete with the seedling plants for water and fertilizer, but can also compete with crop plants for soil insecticides. Excessive weed densities can significantly intercept insecticides in the soil profile and reduce the amount available for uptake by the target crop.

For more information, please check out this report Interactions between Insects and Weeds in Vegetable Crops.

Remember: “When in doubt - Scout.”

Contact Palumbo: (928) 782-3836 or jpalumbo@ag.arizona.edu.