Integrated pest management (IPM) is a holistic approach to managing pests. It relies on assessing the local ecosystem to control pests, long-term, through a variety of techniques that include biological control, use of resistant plant varieties, modification of cultural practices and habitat manipulation.

Synthetic chemical pesticide use only occurs when absolutely necessary and according to strict guidelines. In IPM, growers select and apply pest control measures in a manner that minimizes risks to human health, beneficial organisms and the environment.

Anyone who gardens or raises crops can use IPM, including small-scale gardeners. The idea is to first use preventative measures. If issues still occur, respond to pest problems with the least toxic, low-risk options.

Integrated pest management practices also help gardeners and farmers learn how to apply low-risk solutions and evaluation when more aggressive measures are needed. IPM is a holistic but not strictly organic approach to gardening, which compels growers to consider their landscape in terms of the whole local ecosystem. Its goal is not to annihilate pests at any cost (as with the use of pesticides) but to reduce them to levels that do not threaten plant health.

Good Pest, Bad Pest

Stick traps
One way to monitor pests on plants is by using sticky traps.

Not all living organisms require control as most are innocuous, while some are even beneficial. Your integrated pest management strategy should include monitoring pests to accurately identify them. By doing so, you can make appropriate decisions on controls and when and how to use them, which also removes the possibility of unnecessarily using a chemical pesticide.

The pests you’ll want to pay attention to are organisms that damage or somehow interfere with desirable plants. Pests can destroy plants simply by feeding on them which occurs with aphids, russet mites, broad mites, spider mites, thrips, whiteflies, leaf miners, fungus gnats and caterpillars. They can also transmit diseases. Aphids are the principal carriers of mosaic viruses. In addition to weakening from pests feeding on them, plants then become vulnerable to diseases such as TMV, fusarium wilt, and root rot.

How Does Integrated Pest Management Work?

Integrated pest management is a long-term solution as you take steps to prevent pests from becoming a problem through several methods. The most important part of IPM is pest and disease prevention. By using natural pesticide products like Trifecta Crop Control and/or biocontrol, pests, mold and mildew should never become an issue.

If pests are present, rather than eliminating them immediately with the use of chemicals, IPM growers perform several different actions, considering environmental factors that affect pests and their ability to thrive.

Regularly check your grow site to correctly identify which pests are present and ascertain what damage they have caused. Correctly identifying pests is key to understanding whether the insects in question will become a problem and what the best possible management strategy is.

If control is required, use cultural controls first to reduce the attraction of pests. Then, select biological controls such as natural enemies that reduce pest reproduction, dispersal and survival. Mechanical controls, like steam sterilization/solarization of soil, come next followed by chemical controls such as pesticide, but only when needed.

Scientific research powers IPM, with most programs having six basic principles that translate into commonsense practices. These are:

  • Prevention
  • Identifying pests
  • Monitoring pest numbers and damage
  • Pest management guidelines
  • Preventing pest problems
  • A combination of biological, cultural and chemical tools

Prevention is the first line of pest control and can include using a natural pesticide such as Trifecta Crop Control, rotating crops, and selecting companion plants to help repel pests, which have minimal cost and presents little or no risk to the environment.

Integrated pest management also calls for an action threshold to indicate some type of pest mitigation is required. Effective biocontrols are the first line of defense as these are the least risky for humans and the environment. Depending on the size and location of your grow, biocontrols may not be the best option and it may be time to move onto targeted spraying of natural pesticides on affected areas.

The Advantages of Biocontrol

Biological Control
Biological controls are introduced to a plant in a greenhouse.

Biocontrols are completely natural. While you can handpick some pests off your plants, you can’t be there constantly, while others are often too small to see. However, when you introduce natural predators into the environment, they will do the work for you. Various predators, parasitoids and pathogens will naturally reduce pest population and disease resulting from infestation on plants. Biocontrol is usually don’t in one of three ways:

  • Conservation and encouragement of naturally occurring insects and beneficial organisms
  • Purchasing and releasing beneficial species
  • Buying and releasing biocontrol species specific to certain pests

Biocontrols are generally inexpensive, easy to use and take advantage of mother nature. To help you determine what pests are attacking your garden and which biocontrols to use, take a look at our biocontrol guide.

Attracting Beneficials Into Your landscape

As we just noted, one of the main ways to use biocontrols is to attract beneficial insects into your environment so they can control the bugs that wreak havoc. Providing food, water and nesting places through a diversity of plants that attract beneficial insects goes a long way toward reducing or eliminating pesticide use. Many adult beneficial insects need pollen and nectar sources to survive and multiply, so planting various annual and perennial flowers to ensure that something is always blooming will attract them.

Provide water by making sure plants have sufficient water and mulch. Shallow, open containers of water will attract toads, frogs, turtles, snakes and birds, while trees and shrubs will provide shelter and hiding places. Straw will attract beneficial spiders.

Many plants attract beneficial insects and some can even act as companion plantings to your crops. Consider planting these within or near your garden:

  • Carrots
  • Yarrow
  • Dill
  • Queen Anne’s lace
  • Fennel
  • Anise
  • Coriander
  • Parsley
  • Mint, thyme, safe, oregano, basil and bee balm

Planting a flower garden nearby will attract beneficials. Include a variety of blooms to make your garden attractive to many different species. Consider planting native wildflowers, zinnia, marigold asters, daisies, black-eyed Susan, coneflowers, mum, nasturtiums and poppies.

Biorational Controls
Categories of biorational pesticides. PHOTO CREDIT

Biorational Versus Traditional Chemicals

Chemicals can be natural or made by humans. Not all manufactured chemicals are toxic to people, while some plant-based chemicals are. With the move toward organic growing, many people erroneously believe that all conventionally manufactured chemicals are equal in toxicity, but they are not.

Examples of biorational chemicals are insect pheromones that growers can use to confuse insects and stop them from mating or attracting them to a trap. Other natural chemicals work as attractants, repellants or antifeeding agents. Conventional pesticides are generally synthetically produced compounds that act as direct toxins. When conventional chemicals are chosen in IPM because all other controls have not had the intended effect, the idea is to use those with the least toxicity and in the smallest possible amount.

Develop Diagnostic Skills and Learning to Decide

We always recommend taking a preventative approach. By applying Trifecta Crop Control as a preventative for crops, you can ward off most pests for your entire grow season.

You can develop diagnostic skills on a wide range of plant problems by patiently observing and consulting reliable reference materials. IPM decision-making involves a six-step process and some paperwork as you need to track results. First, you need to determine what problem or pest is present. Once you know, determine how severe the infestation is through traps, its history, aesthetics or poor yield.

Monitor pest or disease progression carefully and become familiar with its life cycle. Determine a control threshold and assess management options: doing nothing or applying cultural, biological or chemical controls. Establishing thresholds for the use of each option also comes with time.

Always select the least toxic or invasive options first. Besides knowing what pests are present and what stages of development they are in, reasonably assess what conditions may increase or decrease the problem. Determine how much crop damage is acceptable before you apply a control or move onto a more aggressive one. If an action threshold has been reached, select and apply an option and then measure how well it works and record the results for future reference. Continue to monitor plant health to determine if another control is needed. Controlling pests in this manner is an effective long-term method of growing crops in harmony with your environment.