IPM (Integrated Pest Management)

A term like IPM might sound foreboding, but I can tell already from our first week of school that the concept of Integrated Pest Management is an important, current and relevant topic.  So far, every single class we've had has touched on IPM in one for or another.  This may be a wordy post, but I can't overstate the importance of IPM and I want to share what I've been learning :)

IPM is a holistic, whole systems approach to managing pests that focuses on prevention of pests instead of eradicating them after they show up - it is better for the environment, and human exposure.  Just like people, healthy plants in a clean environment are less likely to get sick than stressed out plants in a filthy environment.

As a grower, I'm interested in IPM for a number of reasons (reducing chemical use, minimizing crop shrinkage, better working and environmental conditions) but I think Integrated Pest Management is important for the home gardener as well :)  Today I'm going to introduce the basics, and I'm sure you'll be hearing more over the semester and year!

The IPM approach to pest control minimizes chemical pesticide use by using proactive environmental and cultural strategies, as well as maintenance and sanitation to keep the plant healthy .. "preventative medicine" if you will. The next step is inspection and early monitoring of any pests or problems (stressors can eventually lead to pests).  Once a problematic pest is identified, all options are considered.  First physical, behavioural, environmental responses are considered, then biologicals (predatory insects and organisms) or organically / biologically derived insecticides.  If those don't work -- responsible use of synthetic chemicals is a last resort but can be an important component of integrated pest management (I'll be explaining why in a later post).  The last, but very important step is keeping records and evaluating the response actions.

What does this mean for the homeowner?  Here is how you can apply the basics of IPM at home

  1. PREVENT: Be neat: Keep your home clean. Wipe up spills; don’t leave pet food exposed for long periods; remove clutter that could be breeding grounds for pests. Block access: with fencing, caulking, and barriers such as netting / screens. Store dry food in tightly covered jars. Don't leave out sweet or greasy foods (which attract ants) Healthy environment: Grow pest-resistant plants, shrubs, and trees.  Grow healthy plants. Avoid injury to trunks and stems (from mowers, weed whackers) that enable pests to gain footholds. Maintain an adequately but not overly fertilized lawn.  Sanitation: Remove and destroy diseased leaves / plant materials. Clean up plant debris at the season’s end.
  2. MONITOR: Look routinely around your home (indoors and outdoors) and on your lawn, trees, and plants for pests or signs of their activity.  Deal with the problem as soon as you see it and you will not have to use as strong of a response treatment.
  3. IDENTIFY: the pest, decide if there is really a problem you need to manage. Many living organisms we may think of as pests may not be causing any harm. Determine whether you’ve found a “friend” or “foe” and whether the pest has reached an unacceptable level.
  4. CONSIDER: Mechanical responses: hand pick or spot-treat pests, hand dig weeds, use barriers or insect traps. Biological controls: Encourage beneficial insects. Use alternatives -- Insecticidal soaps are effective against aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies, scale, and some other pests. Bacillus thuringiensis or “Bt” is a bacterium that combats leaf-eating caterpillars and other insects.  Horticultural oils such as neem oil are now available at most garden centers. Responsible Chemical Use: is only considered as a last resort, but should not be excluded entirely.
  5. EVALUATE: If you don't keep records of what pests you've had and evaluate how you've treated them .. how will you know what to do if it comes up again?

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