This blog is about Integrated Pest Management, or IPM. Don't stop reading.
As a horticulture student, when the subject of IPM was introduced, I wanted to cry from sheer boredom. I preferred studying the plants, not the bugs that ate them or the methods by which to prevent and manage those bugs. It was not my cup of tea, but every subject has its tedious side (though admittedly there were those students who loved it), and every garden its bugs and diseases. The topic is necessary. So, for reasons of necessity let's read on, and we'll wrap up with a good summer garden book. I've been rereading old favorites while the Japanese beetles play. Well, that and napping.
The definition of IPM for the home gardener from Iowa State University:
Integrated pest management (IPM) is the combination of actions and decisions gardeners make to protect the home garden, lawn, and landscape from unacceptable damage caused by insects, plant diseases, weeds, and other destructive pests. IPM is not one specific action or tactic; it is the combination of all actions that reduce the impact of pests while minimizing negative effects on the environment.
That's a lot of words to say that IPM combines several actions--some before you even plant your plants--to prevent the pests and diseases in the first place. Look at this way. Plants, like people, when stressed, get sick. Bugs show up, diseases arrive, and weeds win the battle because plants are to stressed to fight back. So, we begin our actions in the planning phase. It's called cultural controls.
Cultural controls: here's where some proper planning will help in preventing pests and diseases.
- Plant only what is hardy to your area. Check for your zone here.
- Choose the right plant for the right spot. Full sun plants get 5 hours of sun a day, etc.
- Choose pest/disease resistant varieties. Ask the staff at the store for recommendations.
- Rotate vegetable crops seasonally. Don't plant crops in the same spot year after year.
- Fertilize. (Read the instructions because too much is a problem.)
- Give plants the room they need to grow (consider plant size at maturity), which allows for air circulation and sunlight on all sides.
- Thin young vegetables and flowers, after germination, to avoid overcrowding.
- Water at ground level in the mornings to avoid wet leaves which creates fungal issues.
- Remove dead/diseased/damaged wood regularly, which removes habitat for pests and disease.
- Use mulch for weed and moisture retention to keep plants from drought stress and weed competition.
- Clean up dropped fruit regularly (yellow jackets!).
- Early detection of pests/disease is key.
- Develop gardens that invite beneficial insects (those that prey on the bad guys).
Mechanical Controls: Here's where it Gets Gross.
- Hand picking Japanese beetles off your prized roses really is the most effective means (drop them into a bucket of soapy water), and falls under mechanical controls.
- Smaller insects can be handled with a strong stream of water from the hose.
- Netting for birds, and other critters.
- Traps for moles (yes, please).
- Weed, weed, and weed some more. This removes competition for your plants, and cleans the area up so the small animals and pests are less likely to reside near plants.
Biological Controls: The goal is to let the Good pests and the bad pests sort this stuff out themselves.
- Plant habitat that encourages beneficial insects (those that prey on the bad guys). Here is a list of beneficial pests and the plants they like.
- Diversity in the landscape creates a healthier garden and hosts for the beneficials.
- Don't use pesticide that will kill the beneficials.
- Learn to identify the beneficial bugs (lady beetles, praying mantis, lacewings) so you don't accidentally get rid of them.
- There will always be some issues, the point is learning to determine when intervention is necessary.
Pesticides: The Last Resort
- There are times when it is necessary to use pesticides. If you're investment of 30 holly trees that serve as a screen is under severe attack, that would be one of those times.
- Choose the least toxic pesticide.
- Spray when pollinators and beneficials are not present.
Imperfection: Learning to live with a little
We all want our gardens to be perfect, but part of the IPM strategy is to accept a little less perfection. The garden doesn't have to be perfect and neither do you. Perfect people are boring and perfect gardens lack a certain authenticity. It's okay to accept less than spotless in the garden. It not only helps you. It helps the environment.
Good job you for reading all the way through. I learned a lot writing this post, and I hope you learned something reading it. Now, as promised, a short (very) list of my favorite summer garden books. These books aren't how-to but life-in-the-garden books that help you forget your gardening troubles and have you Lol at the adventures of a home garden.
- Onward and Upward in the Garden by Kathryn White, editor of The New Yorker and wife to E.B. White (Charlotte's Web).
- Merry Hall, by Beverly Nichols. A post-war restoration of house and garden that is hilariously funny.
- My Summer in a Garden, by Charles Dudley Warner, statesman, writer, editor and neighbor and friend of Mark Twain.
Written by Cinthia Milner, Garden Coach, Outside Sales, and blog writer.
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