Agriculture: Onion and Garlic Pest Management Guidelines


  • Onion maggot: Delia antiqua
  • Seedcorn maggot: Delia platura
  • Description of the Pest

    Adults of Delia species are small gray flies. When at rest, they keep their wings folded one over the other. Onion maggot flies are similar in size to house flies. Seedcorn maggot flies, however, are significantly smaller, ranging from between 1/2 to 2/3 the size of onion maggot flies.

    Larvae (maggots) are creamy-white, legless maggots that are about 0.4 inch (10 mm) long. Microscopic examination is required to distinguish between species.

    Female flies lay white, elongated eggs on or near the soil surface near the base of the onion plant. Maggots prefer cool, moist soils heavy in organic matter, where they can survive and move to seeds. Seedcorn maggots more commonly move to seeds than do onion maggots. Mature larvae pupate in the soil.

    Maggots have several generations per year. Seedcorn maggots occur throughout California garlic and onion production areas, while onion maggots are more restricted to cooler coastal climates and the intermountain region. Maggots are generally not a problem to onion production in the low desert region.


    Larvae feed on the epitcotyl (developing shoot) and young roots of the developing seedling. Seedcorn maggots feed on the seed and may damage onion plants as late as the 3- to 4-leaf stages.

    The first generation of onion maggots primarily feeds on seedlings, up to the 3- to 5-leaf stages. The second and third generation of onion maggots will feed on the expanding bulb of the maturing plant, which can increase bulb rot during storage.

    Maggots are serious pests of onions in California, but do not generally cause economic damage to garlic. Without proper planning and insecticide controls, these pests cause onion growers to lose more than 50% of their yields.

    See Identifying Pests of Onion and Garlic and Their Damage for photos of maggots and their damage, as well as identification tips.


    Prevention is the key to avoiding damage from onion and seedcorn maggot, and insecticides should be applied when maggot infestations are expected.

    Cultural Control

    Delaying planting is an important cultural practice to reduce damage from maggots, though this may be less feasible in cooler climates with shorter growing seasons. The amount of time to delay planting differs for onion maggot and seedcorn maggot.

    For onion maggot, wait to plant until later in the spring, after the first generation of adult flies has emerged. This will avoid the first generation of egg-laying by adult flies that overwintered in the soil during the previous year. Choose when to plant by calculating the accumulation of degree-days of average daily air temperature:

    • Estimate the date when 50% of overwintering adult flies have emerged based on the accumulation of 792 to 812 degree-days, with a developmental threshold of 39.2°F.
    • Plant after the estimated date.

    For onion maggot, take the following cultural measures in addition to delayed planting:

    • Remove and dispose of onion culls and volunteer onions.
    • Avoid planting successive onion crops without rotating to other crops.
    • Avoid planting onions near fields where onions were recently grown, or fields that are located near onion cull piles.
      • These fields most likely harbor overwintering onion maggot pupae.
      • If possible, plant onions no less than 3/4 of a mile near fields that were previously planted to onion.

    For seedcorn maggot, use degree-day accumulation to determine amount of time to delay planting after tilling or soil cultivation:

    • Assume that adult seedcorn maggot flies will begin laying eggs in the field immediately after the soil is disturbed.
    • Estimate the date of the first adult emergence by tracking the accumulation of 421 to 459 degree-days Fahrenheit (with a developmental threshold of 39.0°F) after tillage.

    In the intermountain region, delaying planting 13 to 21 days after cultivation, tillage, or bed-shaping can reduce seedcorn maggot infestations. Soil conditions after tillage attract seedcorn maggot flies to lay eggs. Waiting at least 13 days will allow the first generation of seedcorn maggot to pupate and minimize their damage to onions. However, waiting as long as 21 days further reduces developmental time for onion bulbs, which may significantly reduce yields.

    For seedcorn maggot, take the following measures in addition to delaying planting after disturbing the soil:

    • Avoid planting onions after a rotation of legume crops, especially alfalfa. Adult seedcorn maggot flies are especially attracted to these decaying residues.
    • Plant seeds at a shallow depth (but no less than 1/2 inch below the soil surface).
    • Thoroughly incorporate organic matter such as manure, crop residue, weeds, and cover crops into the soil well in advance of planting (3–4 weeks prior).
      • In soils amended with animal manures, wait for the manure to break down completely before planting.

    Cultural methods for both onion maggot and seedcorn maggot include the following:

    • Use a press wheel, chain drag or similar implement behind the drill to cover the seed row when planting.
    • Plant in conditions that favor rapid onion emergence, such as when the soil is warmer. This will allow onions to quickly grow to a stage that is harder for maggots to damage.
    • Avoid fields that have high amounts of undecomposed organic matter, such as fields just coming out of pasture, alfalfa, or recently tilled or cultivated weeds.
    • For direct-seeded crops, use a higher seeding rate.
    • Consider no-till seeding.

    Monitoring and Treatment Decisions

    Monitor adult activity by placing yellow sticky traps around the field edges just above the growing onion foliage. Use degree-day models mentioned above in the Cultural Control section to determine when to plant.

    Apply insecticides preventively, either in the form of seed treatment or an at-plant, in-furrow application. Consider an insecticide application especially for fields that are likely to be infested with maggots (see the Cultural Control section) or fields that have previously had problems from maggots.

    The combination of cultural methods and well-timed insecticide application is critical to avoiding intolerable yield loss. There are no reliable pesticides that can be used in rescue applications once an infestation has been established.

    Common name Amount to use REI‡ PHI‡
    (Example trade name) (hours) (days)
    Not all registered pesticides are listed. The following are ranked with the pesticides having the greatest IPM value listed first—the most effective and least harmful to natural enemies, honey bees, and the environment are at the top of the table. When choosing a pesticide, consider information relating to air and water quality, resistance management, and the pesticide's properties and application timing. Always read the label of the product being used.
    Seed Treatment
    (Regard SC)# 5.29–6.89 lb a.i./100 seed 4 NA
    COMMENTS: This use is registered on dry bulb onion only. Contact your seed retailer for information and availability.
    (FarMore FI500) Label rates NA NA
    COMMENTS: Farmore FI500 is not registered for use in California, but seeds treated in and obtained from other states can be legally used in California, even for a chemical not registered for use on onion and garlic in California. This product also contains three fungicides. Contact your seed retailer for information and availability.
    (Sepresto 75WS) Bulb onion: 0.0074–0.011 oz/1000 seed NA NA
    Bunching onion: 0.0056–0.0065 oz/1000 seed
    Leek: 0.0126 oz/1000 seed
    COMMENTS: Not registered for use in garlic. Avoid planting when pollinators are nearby; pesticide may become airborne.
    At-Plant Application
    (Lorsban 15G) 3.7 oz/1000 row ft 24 NA
    COMMENTS: For dry bulb onions only. Apply in-furrow. Do not make more than one application per year. Additional application restrictions may apply; for more information on current California permit restrictions, see the Department of Pesticide Regulation’s Chlorpyrifos Interim Recommended Permit Conditions.
    Restricted entry interval (REI) is the number of hours (unless otherwise noted) from treatment until the treated area can be safely entered without protective clothing. Preharvest interval (PHI) is the number of days from treatment to harvest. In some cases, the REI exceeds the PHI. The longer of the two intervals is the minimum time that must elapse before harvest.
    # Acceptable for use in organically grown produce.
    * Permit required from county agricultural commissioner for purchase or use.
    1 Rotate insecticides with a different mode-of-action group number, and do not use products with the same mode-of-action group number more than twice per season to help prevent the development of resistance. For example, the organophosphates have a group number of 1B; insecticides with a 1B group number should be alternated with insecticides that have a group number other than 1B. Mode-of-action group numbers (un = unknown or uncertain mode of action) are assigned by IRAC (Insecticide Resistance Action Committee).
    NA Not applicable
    Text Updated: 10/18
    Treatment Table Updated: 10/18