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Orchardists learn of flower power

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If you woke up this morning thinking about woolly apple aphids — and who didn’t? — then this newsy tidbit is for you.

Turns out those dastardly apple aphids, a bane of local orchardists, might be controlled by planting flowers along the tree rows. Not just any flower, mind you, but the sweet alyssum with its delicate blooms, tangy perfume and yummy nectar — which all add up to ambrosia for the spiders that eat those aphid bastards.

The problem, said bug expert Betsy Beers of the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center here in Wenatchee, is that the woolly apple creepy-crawly attacks tree shoots and roots. "These aphids also secrete a sticky liquid called honeydew, which can coat the apples, causing much annoyance during harvest,” she said.

It’s enough to make a grower dream of the good ol’ days when organophosphate insecticides sat on every workshed shelf. But, it turns out, the alyssum may be a fine organic replacement.

It works like this: Plantings of sweet alyssum attract spiders and predator bugs that love to munch on woolly apple aphids. The alyssum also attracts hoverflies, whose larvae also relish an aphid meal now and then, but researchers found that it was really the spiders that gulped down the vile varmints.

Beers and fellow aphid aces Lessandro Gontijo and William Snyder published an article about all this in the July edition of Biological Control, a journal you’re sure to find on the magazine racks next to People and GQ. If not, you can view their report at http://bit.ly/17Y8zOM.

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