Arguably the biggest issue in any lawn, ornamental landscape, or vegetable garden is pest problems.
Whether it be from insects, disease or weeds, damage from pests may cause lawns and landscapes to look unattractive, or vegetable gardens to be unproductive.
When pests problems occur, a common question is “What can I spray to make it go away?” with little regard as to why a problem occurred in the first place.
Although chemical controls can be effective, there are many other methods of pest control you can employ to help mitigate problems. By using integrated approaches to pest management, you can effectively control pests as well as save your wallet and reduce overuse and overreliance on chemical pesticides.
What is integrated pest management?
As the name implies, integrated pest management relies on a series of techniques to aid in the process of treating pests when they become problematic. An effective IPM program relies on managing the environment and pest suppression rather than the outright eradication of pests.
For an IPM program to be successful, you must first know about the environmental conditions of your yard and how they allow pests to thrive. This means choosing plants based on their growing requirements and reducing plant stress. When you over water, over fertilize or put a plant in the wrong place, plants become stressed, which makes them more susceptible to attack and infestation from pests.
Vigilant monitoring for pests is crucial in an effective IPM program. Monitoring on a regular basis will give you the ability to address pest issues before they cause serious damage to plants. The earlier you treat a problem, the less likely it will spread to other parts of the plant and ultimately the less work you have to do.
IPM also requires proper identification of a problem and knowledge of the biology of the pest that attack particular plants. So when choosing plants for your yard, it is also important to consider the pest problems they may have.
If you choose Leyland Cypress trees for example, then you should be familiar with the biology and treatment of the bagworm that attacks it. By knowing more about the pest and environmental conditions that led to the problem, you can create a less suitable habitat for pests and decide when and how to treat a problem.
Cultural controls for pest management
When you get to the point where treatment is required, you have several management options in your “IPM Toolbox.”, including cultural, mechanical/physical, biological and chemical controls. The most effective way to manage pests is to use a combination of these methods help control pests in the long-term.
Cultural controls are practices that reduce establishment, reproduction, dispersal and survival of pests. In a sense, these are the practices that home gardeners have the ability to change themselves.
For example, watering appropriately and on an “as-needed” basis, or not over fertilizing are types of cultural control. One very useful type of cultural control is crop rotation. If you have a vegetable garden or annual bed, rotation of crops can greatly reduce the likelihood of root diseases and attack from nematodes.
When rotating crops, always be sure to rotate with plants from different families like tomatoes on a rotation with broccoli or carrots.
If you have the space, interplant crops with a diversity of flowering, non-crop plants which will aid in making crop plants less noticeable to pests.
This will also ensure pollination of plants as well provide habitat for natural enemies that attack insect pests. Physical barriers around plants, like cheesecloth around the base of squash plants can be effective in the control of squash vine borers.
Also consider a plant’s mature size and space plants proper distance apart. Appropriate spacing between plants increases airflow and helps reduce foliar diseases. Selection of disease-resistant varieties will also help mitigate plant stress and disease issues.
Seed catalogs and nurseries will often list the diseases to which plants are resistant. If you do not know, contact your local extension office. In the next article, we will discuss biological and mechanical controls as a part of your home IPM program.
To learn more about IPM, visit http://haywood.ces.ncsu.edu, where you can post your questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact the Haywood County Extension office. For more information on home gardening in general, visit extensiongardener.ces.ncsu.edu.
Sam Marshall is the horticulture agent for the Haywood County Cooperative Extension Service.