Integrated Pest Management: As Boring as it Sounds (But Necessary)

This blog is about Integrated Pest Management, or IPM. Don't stop reading. 

Bagworms love junipers, pines, spruces, and all other evergreens. They also like sycamores (speaking from experience here.)

Bagworms love junipers, pines, spruces, and all other evergreens. They also like sycamores (speaking from experience here.)

As a horticulture student, when the subject of IPM was introduced, I wanted to cry. I preferred studying the plants, not the bugs that ate them or the methods by which to prevent and manage those bugs. But every subject has its tedious side, 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. .

Here's 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. 

Who doesn't recognize black spot on roses? One simple method is to deadhead roses regularly, pruning out the damaged leaves as you go. 

Who doesn't recognize black spot on roses? One simple method is to deadhead roses regularly, pruning out the damaged leaves as you go. 

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 proper planning is Handy

  • Plant only what is hardy to your area. Check for your zone here. Then always check plant tags for the zone hardiness of the plant. 
  • Choose the right plant for the right spot. A full sun plant really does need full sun, defined as five hours of direct sunlight a day. Shade plants need protection from afternoon sun, and so forth. 
  • 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  fertilizer 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, but in the case of mulch more is not better, 2-3" is plenty.
  • Clean up dropped fruit regularly.
  • 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.

Handpicking Japanese beetles isn't the garden chore we all love to do, but it is effective.

Handpicking Japanese beetles isn't the garden chore we all love to do, but it is effective.

  • Hand picking Japanese beetles off your prized roses really is the most effective means (drop them into a bucket of soapy water).
  • Smaller insects can be handled with a strong stream of water from the hose.
  • Use netting for birds, and other critters.
  • Use traps for moles.
  • 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.
Aphids may be small but their damage can be huge.

Aphids may be small but their damage can be huge.

Biological Controls: Here's Where we 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: Here's our Last Resort

Lacewings eat aphids, caterpillars, caterpillar eggs, mealybugs, whiteflies and lots more.  

Lacewings eat aphids, caterpillars, caterpillar eggs, mealybugs, whiteflies and lots more.  

  • 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: Here's Where We Lean Perfection isn't the goal 

We've turned them into key chains and children's bedding, but ladybugs are killers in the garden eating aphids, whiteflies and scale.

We've turned them into key chains and children's bedding, but ladybugs are killers in the garden eating aphids, whiteflies and scale.

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 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 laughing out loud at the adventures of a home gardener.

  • 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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