I receive several calls asking how to fix problems and outside pests. The problems may be bugs in the garden, weeds in the pasture, muddy water in a pond, disease in the lawn.
Indeed there are several “pests” that we have in our ecosystem: insects, mites, fungi, weeds, mice and more. Each of theses pests control products have their own named control product. You treat insects with insecticides, mites with miticides, fungus is prevented with fungicides, and unwanted vegetation is controlled with herbicides.
It’s easy to understand how these are named, but controlling unwanted pests should start long before we run to the store and buy a conventional or organic spray.
To be better stewards of our ranch, landscape or potted plants on the back porch, we need to take a more broad-based “integrated pest control” approach.
Integrated pest control is a term that started only in the 1970’s, though your grandparents probably were using it long before then. IPM, as it is often abbreviated, takes an broader approach to controlling unwanted pests in your ecosystem and places the use of organic and conventional sprays at the bottom of the list of control measures.
While IPM has been used in commercial agriculture for decades, IPM has become more widely implemented in landscapes over the past several years. Some landscape managers may avoid IPM because it can require more time and effort upfront than their current practices. Although time means money, IPM programs can substantially reduce pest management costs and risks over time when compared to using pesticides only.
There are several steps to an IPM approach. We first have to identify the pests, watch to see if they are causing a real problem, and finally intervening when the pest poses a real threat.
It’s unfortunate the number of truly beneficial insects that I’ve seen “eradicated” because the homeowner didn’t want them in their garden. Do you know what the larvae of a ladybug looks like? It looks nothing like an adult ladybug and loves to eat aphids (aka plant lice).
After identifying pests, the next few steps is where IPM really shines. We start “controlling” pests with cultural methods, followed by mechanical, then biological, and, lastly, chemical methods.
Cultural control strategies manipulate the surrounding environment to promote plant health and minimize pest abundance. Properly watering plants is an obvious first step. Overwatering brings fungal disease problems. Extra nitrogen can promote plant growth, but can also accelerate insect growth and reproduction. Selecting a virus resistant tomato variety will provide better tomatoes. Thus we culturally take our first step to stop problems.
Mechanical control strategies can also provide effective pest control without adding much to the landscape’s ecosystem. Every vegetable gardener knows that hoeing kills weeds, and row covers can keep insects from feeding on some crops.
Biological control uses naturally occurring processes to limit pest populations. Simply increasing the amount and diversity of vegetation in a landscape limit any pest from affecting the entire landscape. My favorite naturally occurring biological control is a bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Bt can be dusted on tomatoes to control hornworms or used in a mosquito dunk to eliminate mosquito larvae in standing water.
Lastly, if chemical control is necessary, select a product that is safe and effective. There are biorational insecticides derived from naturally occurring plant chemicals, bacteria, or fungi, which can effectively control pests. Most synthetic pesticides are formulated to target specific pests or pest groups, rather than a broad range of pests. This allows landscape managers to control their target pests without destroying beneficial insects. Chemical (both organic and conventional) pesticides are very useful for the landscape industry and must be applied according to the label and state regulations.
I always feel a little sheepish when I’m asked “how strong should I mix this?” I do know the answer but there are so many formulations and brands that carry the same active ingredient. And I have no idea which one you will buy. The label provides directions, requirements, and restrictions for the safe use of a pesticide product, along with ways to minimize environmental risks, and the build-up of resistance. I know the print is small and it may take a little bit of time to find what you are looking for, but the label will tell you everything you need to know.
So as we consider chinch bugs in lawns, weeds in the flower beds, fungal wilt in the vegetable garden, and all other manner of problems we face, consider incorporating more of an integrated pest management (IPM) approach to have your very own Martha Stewart garden here in Angelina County.