Intergrated Pest Management, when you want to DO BETTER

When you know better, you do better.
- Maya Angelo
Nowhere is this quote more true than in the gardening world. After all, gardening is a constant battle to know better and do better. The mere fact that Mother Nature has her place in your garden ensures that nothing will ever be the same from year to year.

As gardeners we learn how to gauge and use the cycles of nature. The plant life cycle, the insect life cycle, the seasons and the weather predictions, moon phases and the webs woven between it all. And that my friend is the basis of good Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices.

Unfortunately we have trained the last two to three generations of gardeners to reach for a chemical answer when faced with a problem in the garden. Technology is always the buzz, and following World War II synthetic pesticides were all the rage promising to eradicate pests. Even as the hippies of the 60s and 70s turned to natural alternatives following the publication of Silent Spring, chemical answers persisted. And now this generation grabs any bottle stamped "Organic" and thinks they have a green answer.

But a chemical is a chemical and Americans are lazy. You are not going to walk into your local big box and have them turn you away from the RoundUp end cap and rows of products and send you out to consider cultural, physical and biological practices first. Nope. And if you knew this organic gardening stuff was going to involve some biology and earth science maybe you would have paid better attention in school. But here you are and NOW you want to DO BETTER.

And that is where I found myself after that experience with the school district. I wanted to know how to do better. I was a young mom, at home for the first time in many years, and so I signed myself up for a natural gardening class that the county was offering. And being a Type A personality I also signed myself up for a Master Composter class at the saem time. It was in these classes that I first began to fit my beliefs into a better understanding. I learned natural lawn care, organic gardening practices and how to compost. At the root of all of these new lessons was a system called Integrated Pest Management. And as I learned more I began to connect the dots between waste reduction, toxin reduction, water quality and the ecosystem. Suddenly I knew how to become an active player in Mother Nature's game.

Integrated Pest Management, commonly referred to as IPM is a strategy that treats chemicals as a last resort. Before you even consider chemical products, natural or synthetic, you first use cultural, physical and biological methods to maintain a healthy garden and manage pests. Say the keyword "manage" with me. We are going to learn to manage pests, not eradicate them. As a gardener your role is to now manage a mini ecosystem. 

So, how do you integrate these practices into your gardening habits?

IPM begins with CULTURAL controls. I research and use native or adapted plants in my garden. These plants thrive in the climate and conditions of your garden. I also look for varieties that are resistant to disease and pests, as well as use companion planting guides to foster plant health.

I strive to reduce plant stress by selecting the right place for that right plant. I reduce stress by properly watering the plants, using drip irrigation whenever possible. I practice good garden hygiene, cleaning tools and managing debris. I regularly monitor my garden and check trouble spots. I am not afraid to dispose of a diseased plant.

 Next, you will use PHYSICAL controls. I hand pick slugs, snails, caterpillars and other pests. I use the hose on soft bodied insects, the spray will knock them from plants and kill them. I properly prune each season and remove dead and diseased parts from plants. 

I do vegetable garden. To protect early season fruits and vegetables I use  cold frames or row covers so that insects cannot lay eggs. The larvae is often the most damaging stage for foliage. In my greenhouse I use blue and yellow sticky traps. Pheromone traps are also available. This is where we all become armchair entomologists. 

For weed control I mulch or cover vegetable beds over the winter. I also {gasp} handpick weeds prior to seeding. That means a good raincoat, boots and some knowledge of a plant life cycle.

BIOLOGICAL controls will be familiar to many of you. These are controls that rely on living organisms such as beneficial insects. A popular biological control is the purchase of ladybugs. However, I will encourage you to plant flowers and plants that are source foods for these insects and their larvae and draw them into your habitat. One summer my kids brought me lady beetle larvae from a park a few blocks from the house. I was so proud they could identify the larvae {beaming}.

 If you create a balanced habitat you will find that within 3 years you will have an army of beneficial insects assisting you. Please remember that spiders and ground beetles are beneficial insects. Most garden books now include color photographs of beneficial insects to help with your identification.

I rarely, if ever, have to resort to chemicals. When I do my pesticide of choice is insecticidal soap. I do not use Neem oil. I have had my bouts with powdery mildew and aphids and I have learned not to be afraid to move a plant to better airflow, better sun exposure, or near a plant that attracts lady beetles. And I have learned to plan better. I am now very diligent about my research and mapping before planting.