Integrated Pest Management (IPM)! Have you heard the term? IPM is a method that uses a whole bag of tricks to control pests in our gardens. The theory is to always try the least toxic method first. If you have bugs that are bugging you, before taking any action, consider these four steps.
1. Know your insect! Not all insects are harmful or need control. Many are beneficial, eating or parasitizing harmful insects in your garden. Many, if they aren’t beneficial, are only hanging around doing no damage at all. By getting a positive ID you can plan your attack when it will have the most benefit. If your timing is off, you may get no results at all.
2. What’s your tolerance? How many insects, or how much damage, are you willing to accept. Seeing one or two insects doesn’t mean you have to do anything. You will never be insect free so decide on your level of tolerance. If only the bottom berries are being eaten, maybe that’s okay with you and you’ll harvest the rest with no worries. However, there may come a time when you decide to try controlling the problem. It’s your own level of tolerance.
3. Prevention is the first line of defense when it comes to IPM. When planning your garden think about how to eliminate problems before they arise. Consider crop rotation and companion planting. Knowing the life cycle of insects and the host plants they prefer will give you a lot of needed information when it comes to controlling problems in your garden.
4. Control. How will you control this problem? Start with the least toxic method;
a. Cultural control. Plant the right plant in the right place and give them the cultural conditions they require. Look for plants with natural disease resistance. Pay attention to correct watering and fertilizing. Something as simple as changing the time of day you water may eliminate fungal problems. Crop rotation may eliminate disease or insect problems. A simple, cultural change may be all that’s necessary to correct a problem.
b. Mechanical control. Handpick insects. Remove infected leaves and branches. Pull weeds. Use row covers, especially on troublesome crops like cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower that reliably have problems with the cabbage moth.
c. Biological controls. This includes beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings and preying mantis to control harmful pests. Use plants whose umbrellas-like blossoms (Queen Ann’s lace, parsley and even carrot) encourage beneficial insects. Pheromone traps work by disrupting the mating cycle. Bt, a bacteria, affects caterpillars and larvae, and works on mosquito larvae to name only one.
d. Chemical control may be necessary if all else fails. Read the label before spraying and follow the directions carefully. Use only the labeled amount, not more. Spray on a calm day to avoid drift. If you’re using the spray on a food crop, check the number of days you must wait between spraying and harvesting.
Everybody wins with IPM. Consider using it in your garden!