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The Greener View: Integrated Pest Management

Jeff Rugg on

The methods used in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) have been around for as long as gardening has been around. The word "integrate" means to incorporate separate compatible parts to form a unified whole. The pest can be anything that is alive that can cause harm to people or their animals, crops and property. We try to manage the whole program for economical, safe, long-term pest control.

In an IPM system, environmentally and economically sound decision-making comes first, instead of knee-jerk reaction spraying. Pests are only controlled if necessary, and other control methods are considered before pesticides. Safer kinds of pesticides are considered, and reduced pesticide amounts are used for less chance of pests developing resistance. This all differs from programs that ban the use of pesticides (which are allowed using IPM), and it differs from organic programs that require the pesticides to be organic in origin.

Most homeowners wait until plant problems become obvious before searching for the cause. Incorrect identification of the cause can result in useless pest-control methods and wasteful, unsafe pesticide use. The first thing that needs to be done is to determine the cause of the problem. If the problem turns out to be caused by a pest, then we need to decide if the pest is still causing damage and if the damage is tolerable.

Monitor your landscape regularly (weekly before you mow the lawn). You can stop most landscape problems from getting to be bigger problems that require pesticides. Finding pests before they have created a disaster allows you to determine if there is a threshold level that must be met before controls are needed. In many cases, the acceptable level is much higher than finding just one insect. A pest threshold of one may be needed if the pest is a heron eating the fish out of your goldfish pond or if it is one cockroach found in a kitchen. The same pest may get a different threshold depending on who is monitoring and the type of damage it might do. Damage threshold levels may change with different stages of plant development, and they can vary from plant variety to plant variety as well.

Once a pest is found that may increase to a level where damage is going to be significant, we must select a control measure that will most likely produce an economical reduction of the pest population. The control must also be the least disruptive to natural controls of the pest, like predators. It should be the least hazardous to human health, the least toxic to non-target organisms and the least damaging to the general environment. It needs to be easy to carry out effectively and cost-effective over both the short and long terms.

For many of our landscape pests we can use a cultural control to increase plant health to prevent pests. For instance, mowing a lawn creates stress to the grass plant, so it is necessary to fertilize and water correctly to help keep the grass healthy enough to prevent weeds from getting into the lawn. Proper care upfront helps prevent the need for herbicides.


Some plant diseases can be prevented by using plants that have a resistance to the disease. Many newer varieties of perennials, shrubs and garden vegetables are resistant to disease organisms. Biological control agents, such as using ladybugs to eat aphids, helps prevent the need for insecticides.

IPM is a pest-control strategy that uses a complementary array of ecological methods, from natural predators and parasites, pest-resistant plant varieties, cultural practices and biological controls to using pesticides as a last resort. It can be used outdoors in the landscape, garden and farm. It can also be used indoors at home, in schools and in businesses.

By continuously monitoring for pests of all kinds, the pest population can be kept at tolerably low levels that allow wise decision-making to occur regarding the type of control measure to use.


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