Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an approach to pest control that uses a combination of treatments starting with the least toxic steps first. By identifying a pest, and understanding its life cycle and habits, non-chemical, preventative strategies can effectively be used in the initial stages with good results.
To me, IPM is simply a matter of being in touch with your garden. I call it proactive (vs. reactive gardening). It’s taking an early morning stroll with your cup of coffee, simply to observe the day-to-day changes. By utilizing any opportunity to ‘tune in’ to what’s happening, even if it’s a casual glance as you race to the car, your dynamic garden will rarely surprise you.
When IPM practices are employed, the positive results are many; healthier plants, little to no application of potentially toxic chemicals along with the ensuing runoff, higher survival rates for beneficial insects including pollinators, and better long-term control of pest populations to start.
It’s important to understand that IPM considers that a certain amount of pest damage is acceptable, and it is up to the individual gardener to determine the level. Consequently, a more extreme approach to treatment will not take place until this threshold of tolerance has been crossed. In many ways, IPM appears similar to organic gardening. The biggest difference is that with IPM, synthetic pesticides are an acceptable method of treatment in the final step.
Steps to IPM
The first step is to scout for the presence of developing populations of pests. Note the location, concentrations and make note of changes from day to day.
Next, proper identification is important. By knowing what you are facing and understand their life cycle and behavioral patterns is an important part of IPM. It allows you to determine if action is necessary at this time and provides an opportunity to use the most benign treatment method first. That may simply involve hand removal or using only a spray of water.
Third, monitor and evaluate. Ask yourself the following questions: Is the pest population isolated to a small area or certain crop, or are they increasing? Is the damage getting worse? Is the damage within an acceptable tolerance level? Are there any beneficial insect populations currently? In this phase you will then determine your acceptable threshold level and decide if more aggressive treatment measures are in order.
In the forth step, control measures are implemented. Before resulting to synthetic pesticides or herbicides, more benign methods should be applied first. By maintaining a proactive role in monitoring your garden and landscape, more aggressive treatment options are rarely necessary.
The final step is to evaluate your results. Based on your methods of treatment, did your IPM strategies work? What went well and what didn’t. IPM is not an instant fix, but it is an effective one. Faced with the same scenario in the future, what would you do the same and what would you do differently?
IPM options for preventing and controlling pest problems
Cultural: Plant the right plant in the right location and use varieties that do well in your growing area. Create an inhospitable environment for pests. Don’t give pests a reason to stick around. Crop rotation is a good example of this, by removing their food source from one season to the next.
Sanitation: Keeping your garden free of debris, and diseased plant material will help keep plant diseases at bay. Disease-free plants are tougher and better able to resist and withstand damage, which could be inflicted by certain pests.
Physical: This includes creating barriers to prevent pests from getting to your plants. Row covers are an example. Another would be the use of collars around the stems of tender seedlings to protect from cutworms.
Biological: Beneficial Insects such as lady beetles, lacewings and praying mantis often come to mind as natural predators in the garden. Other less often considered or familiar controls for the home gardener include the use of predatory parasites.
Chemical: These control options are the last line of defense in dealing with pests in an IPM environment and can do as much harm by nonselectively killing beneficial insects as well. Chemicals at this phase can include less toxic horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps,
Botanical: (i.e. pyrethrins, rotenone, neem), inorganic pesticides (such as lime sulfur) and finally conventional synthetic pesticides, which act as direct toxins.
With IPM, results will improve over time as you learn appropriate control techniques for your garden. By applying all the steps of IPM in order, the outcome will be a healthier garden with less time and money spent by you dealing with pests.