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August 26, 2020

Integrated Pest Management: A Holistic Approach to Pest and Disease Control

By Amanda Rose Newton

We have all been there.

Just when you think everything is under control, fungi or pests decide to invade your garden!

The good news is there is a way to get ahead of the bugs and diseases BEFORE they start as well as manage those that are already making themselves at home.

Integrated pest management (IPM)

IPM is by no means a new tactic, as it has been integral in agriculture and urban pest control for decades, and it is certainly something home gardeners can benefit from as well.
IPM works by utilizing many different types of controls, from simply removing pests and weeds by hand to crop rotation.

This allows chemical controls to be used as a last resort, ensuring the productivity and diversity of your landscape that also happens to be inhospitable to pests.

IPM In Six Easy Steps

When you think about it, a pest is merely an organism you do not want.

For most of us in the garden, this means plant-feeding bugs, weeds, and disease-causing fungi and bacteria. All of us have different tolerances when it comes to pests and a few bugs on a shrub might not cause alarm to one but might not be an ideal curbside appeal for another. IPM allows you to design your own control program based on your unique needs in 6 easy steps.

1. Know Your Enemy

Proper ID is key! Knowing who or what you are dealing with allows you to select the right controls and tactics to help manage the problem. If you are unsure what is causing the damage, bring it into Rockledge Gardens! Our Information Specialists are always happy to have the challenge of diagnosing a potential plant problem. You can also visit our blog post looking at common plant problems in Brevard County.

2. Monitoring

This is as easy as just getting out and taking a stroll through your garden each evening. A simple walk around consistently allows for you to get to know your space, and be more likely to notice when things are not right.

Doing this practice BEFORE there is an issue, and continuing AFTER is recommended for best results. I highly recommend from experience, writing numbers of pests seen and on what plants to determine trends season to season. Armed with this knowledge, you will be able to make confident control selections.

3. Establish Thresholds

How much damage is too much? When the survival of the plant is severely jeopardized by the presence of a pest, it is time to take action. Different plants have different thresholds, and knowing your plants and pests aids in making the best judgement.

4. Preventing Problems

Simple acts like practicing good sanitation (clean up those dropped starfruit and toss those old plumeria leaves), using resistant cultivars, and creating habitat for natural enemies (that eat pests) all go a long way in creating a landscape that is not desirable to pests and pathogens.

A few Quick Tips:
o Always sterilize your tools between plants
o Make sure your compost/soil, etc. is free of weed seeds
o Purchase plants from a trusted nursery

5. Control

If you find yourself at the point of need to take action, you are not limited to purchasing an expensive chemical insecticide, herbicide, or fungicide. If you are concerned about maintaining the biodiversity, environmental integrity, and health of your yard, the following options offer a sustainable alternative.

Predators in the garden:

Believe it or not your yard likely already has predators of many of the undesirable insects in your garden. Ladybugs, Green Lacewings, Hoverflies, and Assassin bugs all feed voraciously on many soft-bodied pests such as mealybugs, whiteflies, scale, and thrips.

NOTE: Learning what bugs are “good” bugs as part of your IPM plan will help ensure you do not accidentally take out your own personal aphid eating machines.

Parasitoids: Wasps (and a few flies and beetles) have made a comfortable niche out of laying their eggs directly into a ready food source, caterpillars being the most common choice. Differing from parasites in that they kill their host eventually, proof they have been at work can be seen in mummified aphids or caterpillars with pupae on their backs.

Pathogens: Often referred to as biorational pesticides, these are generally beneficial pathogens or fungi that specifically target certain pests. Bacillus thurigiensis is a bacterium commonly used against the larval stage of insects such as caterpillars, grubs, or mosquito larva. It only harms that developmental stage and is relatively safe for pets, people, and the environment. It is commonly sold under the tradename “Bt” or “Thuricide”.

Chemical Controls: If you do find you must employ chemicals as a last resort, IPM programs suggest choosing the most specific, least toxic possible.

Botanically Based- This class relies on plant extracts that happen to work as natural pesticides and includes familiar products like Neem oil (from neem seeds), and Pyrethrin (from Chrysanthemums). Keep in mind these are NOT specific, and will harm a broad range of pests, including predators and parasitoids!

Preventatives- You are probably noticing that IPM programs LOVE stopping problems before they start. There are several fungicides, such as Copper, that can be applied to certain plants at the beginning of the growing season. Often, this slows down the ability for fungi to make their move.

6. Evaluate

This understated last step is the single most important. Integrated Pest Management does not stop when your problems are eliminated, it becomes an integral part of how you view your garden and influences the actions you take.

Create a garden journal (digital is fine, too) and record what you see season to season and year to year. You will be amazed at how useful a tool this is in determining what you plant, where you plant, and what steps to take to best solve all your garden problems. Seeing what did or didn’t work last year will help shape your ever-evolving management plan to support your growing efforts for continued success in the long haul.