Spring has sprung. The receipts from the garden centers are getting longer and longer, and your neighbor has started mowing their lawn at 7 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Unfortunately, spring heralds the arrival of pests of all kinds, but before you reach for your favored herbicide, you may want to consider developing an integrated pest management plan. Integrated pest management is a method of pest control that aims to minimize the risk to people and the environment while still providing long-term control of pests.
So, what are the steps to setting up an integrated pest management program?
The first step is to scout your garden often so you know when a new pest appears. Then you can identify the pest and keep tabs on how many of them are present in your landscape.
Once you discover what the pest is you can research its lifecycle and what treatments work against it. Some pests are only vulnerable during certain stages of their life, so this research is imperative to finding successful control methods.
Next, you need to decide what your goals are for pest management. As many gardeners are aware, you are never going to be completely pest-free; for this reason, it is important to consider how much damage you are willing to tolerate. In a personal flower garden this tolerance may be higher than in a farmer’s soybean field since the flowers are not being sold for profit.
Deciding on this tolerance threshold will then give you a good idea of when it is time to implement pest control.
Good pest control always starts with prevention. Choosing plants that match the environmental conditions of your landscape will ensure that the plant will remain healthy, and thus more able to resist pests and diseases. Rotating crops in your garden will reduce the number of pests that will persist in the soil, and mulching will prevent soil-borne diseases.
Simple sanitation such as removing and destroying infected plants from your landscape is incredibly important for preventing the spread of disease.
Exclusion can be effective for larger pest problems: for example, you could fence off areas from deer. Additionally, selecting resistant varieties of plants will increase your chances of avoiding pests and disease.
When the predetermined threshold of damage has been exceeded, then you need to act. The three types of pest control are physical controls, biological controls, and chemical controls.
Physical controls should be your first course of action; this includes actions such as weeding and hand-removal of caterpillars. Biological control is the use of living things to combat pest species; an example of this would be encouraging beneficial insects who are the natural enemies of pest species.
Chemical control should be the last resort in an integrated pest management plan because it is less effective in the long-term against the pest species.
Herbicides will kill the target weeds, but often it harms other plants as well, and if you do not change the environment more weeds will sprout to take their place. Integrated pest management uses all three of these control methods to create a comprehensive program that is more effective than any of the individual parts.
After putting a plan into action, the only thing left to do is to sit back and watch.
Observe your plants to see if the pest population decreases in number and make note of when the damage levels on your plants fall below the acceptable damage threshold. This last step feeds back into the first step of integrated pest management: monitoring.
If you need help with any step of developing an integrated pest management plan, reach out to Forsyth County Extension at 770-887-2418.