Seed and Root Maggots – Vegetable Crops Hotline

Seed and Root Maggots

​Three species of seed and root maggots attack vegetables in Indiana. The seedcorn maggot feeds on seeds and seedlings of sweet corn, cucurbits, lima and snap beans, peas, and other crops. Cabbage maggots can cause serious damage to transplants of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts and make the fleshy roots of radishes, turnips, and rutabagas unmarketable. Onion maggots are pests of seedling onions, developing bulbs and onions intended for storage.

Seedcorn maggot flies emerge in April and May and lay eggs preferentially in areas with decaying organic matter. Fields that are heavily manured or planted to a cover crop are more likely to have seedcorn maggot injury. Maggots burrow into the seed and feed within, often destroying the germ. The seeds fail to germinate and plants do not emerge from the soil, leaving gaps in the stand. When infested seeds germinate, the seedlings are weak and may die. Maggots also will feed within the stems of transplants.

Any condition that delays germination may increase damage from this pest. Damage can be reduced by planting into a well-prepared seedbed, sufficiently late to get rapid germination. The slower the rate of growth, the greater the likelihood of seedcorn maggot injury. For any type of early season transplant, soil temperatures should reach at least 70° F or more for 4-5 days in a row to avoid maggot injury. Anything that raises soil temperature (black or clear plastic mulch) will increase soil warming and decrease the possibility of seedcorn maggot injury. Once damage is observed, the only management strategy available is the decision to replant or not. If you decide to replant, be sure to use treated seed. When resetting transplants be sure to wait 5 days from the first evidence of wilted plants before you reset. Unfortunately, we don’t have any insecticides that can be applied at planting time that will provide good control of seedcorn maggots. Admire Pro® and Platinum®, which both provide several weeks of excellent systemic control of striped cucumber beetles when applied at planting, are not labeled for seedcorn maggots and the control is marginal at best. Capture LFR® is labeled for control of wireworms, grubs, and other soil insects on cucurbits but not for seedcorn maggots. I have one year of data with Capture® that showed fairly promising results, but more data are needed.

Cabbage maggot injury is also favored by cool, wet conditions. The flies, slightly smaller than a housefly, emerge in late April or early May and lay white eggs at the base of newly set plants. Larvae from this first generation tunnel in the roots of small plants, causing the plants to appear sickly, off color or stunted, and may cause them to die. Early cabbage and turnips are particularly vulnerable to damage. Control of first generation maggots can be achieved using soil insecticides such as Capture LFR®, Lorsban® or diazinon at planting or transplanting. For short season crops such as radishes and turnips, long-residual insecticides cannot be used. Cabbage maggots usually do not affect later planted crucifers.

Onion maggot flies emerge throughout May and lay eggs at the base of onion plants. The maggots attack the underground portions of the onion plants and cause plants to wilt and die. Seeded onions are more susceptible than transplanted onions. Do not overseed to compensate for losses to onion maggots. The flies do not space their eggs evenly, so you may end up with smaller bulbs because the plant spacing is too close. The second-generation flies emerge during July and the third generation emerges during late August and early September. Each generation will damage onions.  

Removing cull onions after harvest and planting as far as possible from fields planted to onion the previous year can reduce damage. Soil drenches of Lorsban® (dry bulb only) or diazinon at planting will effectively control first generation maggots and provide some control of the second generation. As the onions begin to mature, they become physically resistant to attack from onion maggots, unless they have been injured in some way. Be careful during field operations not to damage the growing plants in any way. A nick in an onion bulb allows the maggots to enter and begin feeding. Also, the flies are attracted to damaged onions to lay eggs. Reducing the amount of physical damage to the onions at harvest as much as possible will also reduce the amount of injury from the third generation. Do not apply foliar sprays to kill flies before they lay eggs.

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