I hate March. In North Carolina, it’s that in-between month where we can a 70-degree day and then it can snow six hours later. And at the North Carolina Zoo, we are between a rock and a hard place. We showcase tropicals throughout our Africa region of the park in the warmer months but about half of those plants are not hardy. We can only display them April through November. So, when it starts to get chilly in November, our teams go through our annual ritual. Dig them up, clean them up, trim them up, put them in a greenhouse for the winter, and wait for spring.
When we first place plants in the greenhouse, they are small and clean. They are nice. As the winter progresses and the temperatures in the greenhouse stay in the low 70s, they start to green up more. We see shoots and new growth. Ah, how we love that. We water, we clean, and for good measure we monitor for insects weekly, because we are good little horticulturists. Never see an insect from November 1 to February 28. Then, on the first of March, it explodes. You walk into a greenhouse and suddenly there are aphids, spider mites, mealy bugs, thrips, scale, fungus gnats, mosquitoes, and, if you are located in the South and have a week of sun and warm greenhouse gravel: fire ants. I can’t tell you how many years I have managed a winter tropical house and thought I had beaten the odds, only to have a fungus gnat fly up my nose. How do they do that?! All the monitoring in the world and they still explode in the spring. So, what is a hardworking greenhouse person to do?
Honestly… I do very little. Now, I know this doesn’t sound like very practical IPM advice, but remember, managing the population in March is a lot different than managing the population in December. A quick round of an insecticidal soap, a little syringing, hand washing, and pray for April 15. Here in North Carolina, that’s typically our last frost date. We all have that date circled on the calendar and longingly glance at it daily (sometimes hourly). All the teams are prepping for spring and want their plants back. The native predators will take over once they leave the bug-infested greenhouse and they will live a happy spring and summer in the park.
Now, I admit a little exaggeration and embellishment, but if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can? Have a great spring and good luck!
Denise Rogers, Natural Sciences Curator II, Horticulture, North Carolina Zoo