All the plants are struggling in the garden. You have two options. 1. Lay awake at night worrying about what to do. 2. Rest easy knowing it’s July and soon to be August and many plant issues are categorized (with a shrug of the shoulders) as, “It’s July and normal.” Instead of stressing, make a plan for a healthy garden using Integrated Pest Management.

Sadly, it doesn’t improve in August, just FYI. That’s why God made September. So, all fed-up gardeners can retreat indoors in August, returning to the garden in September to see who made it.

My money is on Allium millenium because it is a thug in the garden, blooming its little head off while its daintier garden border buddies struggle to keep up. (Here’s looking at you, Raspberry Truffle echinacea.) The recently planted Low Scape Mound Aronia is killing it too, while the inkberries are shedding as fast as possible. Don’t worry, inkberries make a September comeback–cooler weather, and all.

So, take a stroll through the garden and repeat these words, “It’s July and normal.” A few examples:

  • Hydrangea leaves look chewed, spotted, drooping, and near death.
  • Cherry trees are beginning to show yellowing leaves that drop when August/September arrives. (Hey, you bought them for the blooms, not the great fall color.)
  • Roses are struggling under Japanese beetles, yellowing leaves, and black spot.
  • Japanese maples have tip burn.
  • Maple leaves are drooping.
  • Every single tall flowering perennial is now flopping in the garden.
  • Dogwood leaves are a greyish-sickly color.
  • Inkberries are shedding.
  • Hosta leaves have giant holes and chewed edges.
  • Red Buckeye trees that were glorious in spring have brown and drooping leaves.

I could go on as I’m sure you could, but let’s focus on what we can do. Below is information on Integrated Pest Management IPM, which teaches us how to care for our plants without loading up on chemical products. It’s an important read for the overall health of your garden and your sanity in these hot months, so grab your glasses and skim it, study it, or bookmark it for later. And, kindly remind yourself that perfection is as unattainable in the garden as it is in all aspects of life, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have tools to help us during the fungus-prone, heatwave, pest-ridden, doldrums of summer. We do.

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. .

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.

Integrated Pest Management combines several actions–some before you even plant your plants–to prevent pests and diseases in the first place. Look at it this way. Plants, like people, when stressed, get sick. Bugs show up, diseases arrive, and weeds win the battle because plants are too stressed to fight back. So, we begin our actions in the planning phase. It’s called cultural controls.

Cultural controls (Proper planning for the garden is key.)

  • 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 the 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, which allows for air circulation and sunlight on all sides at maturity..
  • Thin young vegetables and flowers, after germination, to avoid overcrowding.
  • Water at ground level in the mornings to avoid wet leaves that create 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/diseases is key.
  • Develop gardens that invite beneficial insects (those that prey on the bad guys).

Mechanical Controls (In other words, hands-on gardening. )


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 repellents for moles (read about moles and voles here).
  • 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: (Letting the good pests and bad pests sort some of this out themselves.)

  • Plant habitats that encourage 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 pesticides 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 your 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. Learn their life cycles.

Imperfection (Perfection in the garden with whistle-clean leaves 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.

Written by Cinthia Milner, landscape consultant, and blog writer.

BB Barns serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.