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INTRODUCTION

Integrated Pest Management, IPM, is all about trying, as much as possible, to keep chemicals out of the environment.  It is an attitude, taking care to use the least harmful solutions before resorting to spraying a chemical control.  Using chemicals is, as Bart says in his article, below, “like swatting a fly with a baseball bat; you may get the fly, but how much additional damage do you cause to get that one fly?”

Learn to create habitats for “good” insects so they will control the “bad” insects in your garden; learn how compost and compost tea builds immunity as well as soil tilth; and how to take care of your garden so that you cause the least problems.

--- Anne K Moore August 15, 2009 ---

THE IPM STATE OF MIND
Article and Photos by Bart Hayes, Horticulture Specialist
Department of Horticulture and Crop Science, The Ohio State University

There is nothing more frustrating than investing your time and money in a landscape or garden only to have it wrecked by pests and disease.  You can confront and control many of these problems by investing very modest time and money, before they even become a problem.  Although it can seem daunting, there is a relatively easy and intuitive approach to managing plant health issues:  Integrated Pest Management.

Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is less a technique and more a mindset.  It revolves around paying close attention to your garden, noticing an issue early, and then fixing it before it becomes a full-blown problem. 

IPM is not simply about insects and their relatives, but diseases, fertility problems, or any issue that keeps a crop from achieving its potential.  I could spend many articles talking about plant pest and disease identification, but it is probably best to refer to you local and state extension service for bulletins and updates on what pests are present in your area and when, and how to identify them.  Once you have accurately assessed what plant health issue you are facing, you look at how to manage those issues through cultural, environmental, biological, or chemical means.

Cultural control is usually the least invasive way to affect your garden’s health.  It involves things like removing the dead plants and plant parts, rotating your crops, or selecting varieties that are naturally disease and pest resistant.  For instance, those letters and numbers on the tomato label indicate pest and disease resistance.  Be sure to ask a knowledgeable nursery worker for the top plants and combination of traits best for your area. 

If you live in the desert, it can be difficult to grow plants that love high humidity and moist soils.  It can be done by modifying the growing environment.

Changing the environmental conditions of your garden is still relatively easy, but may involve some heavy physical activity.  Deciding on irrigation timing and techniques, fertilizers, and soil amendments are all ways that we modify the plant-growing environment.  Watering your garden is usually necessary at some point in the growing season, but changing the way you water can make a big difference. 

Water first thing in the morning so leaves and the area between the soil and the first set of leaves have time to fully dry.  These two areas are where most disease problems occur, usually due to too much moisture.  Also, consider drip irrigation; it saves water, keeps the leaves dry and you can put the exact amount of water the plant needs on the soil where it needs it. 

Making sure that your garden has sufficient fertility will help your plants stay healthy.  Healthy plants, just like healthy people, are more resistant to disease and pests when they are present.  Soil tests are always recommended before fertilizing or amending the soil.  One piece of advice that is always good is to add organic matter to the soil.  Organic matter supplies nutrition and fertility.  It increases soil porosity and water holding ability, making for loose but moist soil. 

Any organic matter is good, but the best is compost or a compost mixture for three reasons:   1.The compost is a waste product, using it saves landfill space.  2. It has a good mix of elements, nutrients, and components, just as good soil does.  3. It provides a huge boost to the biodiversity of organisms to the soil environment. 

Using biological control can be a sticky subject.  It is easy to confuse it with concepts like organic and sustainable, but the terms are not necessarily interchangeable.  The true meaning is to use one or a group of organisms against another.  I would consider using a cover crop to suppress weeds, encourage beneficial insects by planting flowers in a vegetable garden, or plant trap crops as forms of biological control. 

The best biological controls in the home landscape are compost or compost tea.  The wide diversity of organisms in compost provides for increased competition among all organisms, including the ones that lead to plant diseases.  With more competition for space and resources, it is harder for disease-causing organisms to get a good start, so they usually do not become a problem.  Also, you get some nutrition and organic matter without any more work; talk about multi-tasking! 

You can buy beneficial insects.  They work, but the effect is short term and you need to release them at a very specific time.  I say stick to cultural controls like row covers or planting later to avoid when the pests are a problem.

Working in greenhouses for many years, I used a lot of chemical control agents to reduce pests and diseases.  A greenhouse is an artificially controlled environment that has far fewer variables than a garden, so it is easier to use a chemical control.  But in a garden, there is so much going on at any given time, it is hard to understand all of the effects of a chemical control agent. 

I understand that it is sometimes necessary to use chemicals to limit the damage of a pest or try to save a crop, but it is always as a last resort.  Spraying a chemical to control a particular pest is like swatting a fly with a baseball bat; you may get the fly, but how much additional damage do you cause to get that one fly? 

It is best to speak with your extension agent or qualified nursery employee for some additional information and advice.  If you decide chemical management is the necessary action to take, use a product that is safe to have near your home, family and pets, and your insect neighbors in the garden.  I like horticultural soap, baking soda for mildew, Neem oil, and sprays containing Bt (a naturally occurring bacterium that will kill caterpillars when ingested) to kill pests or as repellants.  Spray at dusk or early evening to get the pests while they are still active, but not in full sun as it can sometimes damage plants.  Be careful and wash your hands immediately after you make applications. 

Pest and disease control in your landscape does not have to be difficult.  Any homeowner or professional can apply these IPM concepts equally to vegetables, flowers, turf, or anything else that is growing.  By good planning, closely observing your plants, and diagnosing problems early you can have a rewarding and bountiful garden and landscape for years to come.

 

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