|Written By Lara Wadsworth
Integrated Pests Management, or IPM, is the best way to prevent and treat pest issues in a garden, greenhouse, or farm organically. The idea is to use as many tactics as possible to prevent and eradicate pests with natural processes and tools, without the use of pesticides if possible. Some pests can develop immunity to a certain chemical or deterrent when it is used over and over again. Eventually, they will become immune or resilient to these processes. The sparkle of IPM is that a combination of tactics makes it very difficult for pests to develop this resiliency. Even if immunity to one tactic occurs, there is another right behind it to catch any fall-through. The main component of any IPM strategy is to use as many tools as possible to achieve your garden's immunity to pests! Listed are the most common and reliable IPM tactics available to the organic gardener.
Methods of Control
Integrated Pest management involves targeting pests with different methods. These include biological, cultural, mechanical and physical, or chemical control options. Biological options utilize natural processes and substances to repel, confuse, or redirect pests from thriving in your garden. Cultural control involves making smart decisions in what you plant and how you care for your garden. Mechanical and physical control methods are those that create a physical barrier, trap, or kill a pest directly. Chemical control methods may include some organic or naturally sourced options such as Neem Oil or Diatomaceous Earth. Integrated Pest Management practices recommend chemical control be used as your last option. And when used, should be as targeted as possible. By utilizing an assortment of targeting methods, pests are less likely to build up resistance over time.
8 Recommended Pest Control Tactics
Perhaps one of the hottest topics in the gardening world these days is the use of beneficial insects. This umbrella term covers a wide variety of insects that look and act differently, but all target garden pests in some way. Some popular choices are ladybugs, lacewings, praying mantis, and parasitic wasps. There are only two main ways to utilize this tool: to purchase them and then release them, or to incorporate plants in the area to naturally draw in native beneficial insects. The first way is the easiest but more expensive. The latter is more difficult to achieve, but once done is far more effective and cheaper than buying in non-native species (no matter how beneficial they are). A lot of learning can go into this tool, but it is ultimately one of the best because it can theoretically become autonomous.
Lacewing Beneficial Insect
Ladybug Beneficial Insect
Horticultural Oil and Related Mixes
You are likely familiar with the fact that there are many pesticides on the market for every bug under the sun. However, using artificial pesticides is not only harmful to the beneficial bugs around, but can also leach into waterways and impact human health as well when improperly used. Luckily, there are horticultural oils! These natural, organic substances, when used properly can greatly decrease plant pest presence without the negative impacts on the environment. Neem oil is one of the most popular and can be purchased at nearly any garden center or home improvement store. Remember how I mentioned that using many different tools is the best option? Even within the category of Horticultural Oil, there are a wide variety of ways to mix this useful substance with other organic substances to increase its effectiveness and vary its usability. Mixing it with rubbing alcohol and dish soap is one example. Each gardener develops their own secret sauce that they claim works the best.
Planting other plants that deter various pests can be a fantastic way to start your IPM program. Marigolds, onions, chives, and hot peppers are all known to deter various harmful bugs. Interplant them with your more susceptible herbs or flowers to spread immunity!
Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
Also known as DE, Diatomaceous Earth is another organic substance that can be applied to gardens and fields. This unique powder essentially gets into the joints of bugs such as ants and aphids and deters them from crawling closer to your plants. It is best when applied directly to a problem area or if used as a deterrent. Remember that it dissolves when wet, so it should be used after the plants have been watered and reapplied after each irrigation. Take care when handling DE, as some people develop mild rashes from it, and it can also cause lung irritation if breathed in. Wearing a mask and gloves protects the applier while also benefiting the garden!
Row Covers and Barriers
Sometimes, the best line of defense is a physical barrier. Especially when it comes to larger pests such as rodents and deer. Simply putting up a sturdy fence and cover, or using a sound device, is the best medicine for protecting your precious produce. Other barrier methods include prickly plants around your border, row covers to protect against bugs, and shiny windmills or mirrors to deter birds. The ideal barrier will protect the plants while not inhibiting sunlight, water, or proper airflow. This is one category where creativity can abound! What structure can you come up with to protect your harvest?
Hormonal or Scent Apparatuses
Hormonal (Pheromones) or scent traps can be purchased and displayed throughout the garden. The idea is that they will either trap or deter certain pests. For example, I have used a triangular trap hung on apple trees which was filled with sticky traps and the mating pheromone of a certain pest we were dealing with at the time. It was incredibly effective! Similar items exist that give off undesirable scents or hormones, which are meant to deter a certain pest from even entering the area to begin with. This is popular with small pests like aphids and large pests like deer!
Maintain Healthy Plants
Cultivating healthy plants is one of the absolute best defenses against pest infestations and the onset of disease. Many common garden pests have evolutionarily developed in order to sense when a plant may be struggling or suffering in some way. Therefore, ensuring proper irrigation, fertilization, providing adequate sunlight, and optimizing soil health are critical IPM tools. This includes the important component of crop rotations. It is similar to humans! If your immune system is low for some reason, you are way more likely to get sick than if you are perfectly healthy. Your plants want to be healthy and will reward you with resilience if they are allowed to be!
Of utmost importance, no matter which IPM tools you apply in your garden is to be consistent with applying them. None of these tactics are one-and-done activities. For example, if you use a Horticultural Oil Mix spray, it should be applied monthly, weekly, or bi-weekly depending on your infestation status. Even a pest-free garden should be regularly tended to with these tools in order to ensure pest immunity. Diatomaceous earth should be applied multiple times throughout the growing season as well. Whatever you do, be consistent! Set a schedule and follow through. This will ensure your success.
Regardless of where you live or how you garden, your pest management program will ultimately determine your success level. Where there are plants (especially a lot of them), there will be pests. This should be a law of nature if it is not already. Create your schedule, collect data, and follow through with your selected tools. But remember: that the more, the merrier!
|Lara Wadsworth, True Leaf Market Writer
I am a native of Southwestern Michigan, where I also reside, and I love all things plants! I got a Bachelor's Degree in Horticulture and found the first work-from-home job I could get. Now, I spend my days writing for TLM, playing with my dog, eating delicious food with my husband, and plotting my next landscape or gardening move. I believe everyone should get down and dirty in the soil now and then. Happy Gardening!