Integrated Pest Management (IPM): Part I - Introduction
What makes it so easy? Because the principles of IPM require that you actually do less. You don't reach for the spray every time you see an aphid. In fact, you may do nothing at all.
This may sound scary. Nobody wants their prized roses chewed apart or their cabbage infested with caterpillars. But by creating a sort of "balance of power" in your garden, you can have beautiful plants and improve the environment at the same time.
The EPA defines Integrated Pest Management as follows:
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.
In short, when you see a pest in your garden, you always start with the least toxic action: you do nothing. But you MUST watch and monitor to see if the problem gets worse.
If it doesn't get worse or resolves itself entirely, be glad for your luck and continue on your merry way.
If the pest situation does get worse, then it's time to ask some questions:
1. At what point do I decide to do something to control this pest problem?
Decide how much damage you're willing to tolerate before you do something about it. (The EPA calls this an ‘action threshold‘...I call it the ‘point of panic‘.) Obviously, you want to avoid an all-out infestation. If your plant is obviously beginning to suffer, it's time to do something.
2. What kind of pest(s) am I dealing with?
This is extremely important. You may not have a pest on your hands at all, but a beneficial insect. (Some of them are awfully ugly, but real do-gooders). Identifying your insects will also help you to customize what pest control method to use, if you decide to go that route.
3. Is the environment around the plant the best it can be?
A less than ideal environment can cause all kinds of problems for a plant. Is there enough light? Is it in poor soil? Have I over-fertilized? If a plant is weakened by adverse environmental factors, pests will attack it. Sometimes merely correcting the initial problem will eliminate the secondary pest problem.
4. If I decide to treat for this pest, what is my plan?
In other words, do I really need to use pesticides? Sometimes a simple blast from the hose or a release of lady beetles will do the trick.
Integrated Pest Management is, in short, a study in patience. In a world where we routinely stomp on spiders and reach for the Raid at the first sign of a wasp, IPM instead suggests that you should welcome beneficial insects to your yard and when dealing with pests, you should always start with the least toxic method of control.
In Part II, we'll look at some more specific methods of pest control using IPM principles.
A couple of great IPM Links:
IPMnet.org Pocket Guide of Natural Enemies
EPA.gov IPM Site:
* The logo shown above is used in Australia to accredit crop growers who utilize IPM