As the temperatures continue to get warmer, we continue to see more and more pests and diseases in our gardens and landscapes. When trying to manage these pest populations, consider using integrated pest management (IPM). IPM is an approach to reducing pest and disease populations to an acceptable level using a variety of different techniques. There are four major techniques used with IPM: cultural, physical/mechanical, biological and chemical.
The idea behind cultural management is growing and maintaining a healthy plant. A healthy plant is less susceptible to disease and they are better able to withstand attacks from pests. You want to grow the right plant in the right place at the right time. You want to make sure you are planting plants that are appropriate for the site they will be planted in. Obviously, you don’t plant a palm tree outside in Illinois. Don’t plant something that needs full sun in shade or that requires acidic soils in alkaline or neutral soils. This can prevent the plant from reaching its full potential and you may end up with a weak disease and insect riddled plant. In addition to selecting the right site for your plant, you want to make sure it is getting the proper fertilization and enough water. You can also alter the time of your planting to avoid a particular pest. For example, plant summer squash in early July to avoid squash vine borer. Some other management techniques used in cultural management are pruning, sanitation, and mulching.
The goal for physical/mechanical management is to physically eliminate pests. This can be done in a variety of different ways like hand picking caterpillars or bag worms; pruning out diseased branches, webworms or galls; pulling or hoeing weeds in your flower beds or vegetable gardens; or putting up barriers and preventing pests from getting to your plants such as bird netting or fencing for rabbits and deer.
In biological management, we are managing pests with other living organisms (natural enemies). Insects like lady bugs, which are actually a beetle, will eat small soft bodied insects like aphids, scale and mealybugs. Lacewing larvae, sometimes referred to as aphid lions, will feed on aphids, scale, mealybugs, small caterpillars, and occasionally mites. There are tiny parasitic wasps, not the large ones that sting, that will lay eggs inside of aphids and when the eggs hatch, the larvae will eat the aphid. There are other parasitic wasps that will lay eggs on caterpillars such as horn worms. You may have seen these in your garden before if you grow tomatoes; infected caterpillars will have a mass of white eggs on them. If you see this, don’t get rid of that caterpillar, eventually the eggs will hatch and the wasp larvae will eat the caterpillar. Insects can also be killed by fungus and bacteria. For example, Milky spore, which is a bacteria, can be used to control Japanese beetle larvae.
The final management technique, and the last resort in IPM, is chemical. The goal is to manage pest populations by using pesticides, whether it is an insecticide, fungicide, herbicide, etc. Before using any pesticide product make sure to read the label. The label will tell you where you can legally use it, what it will control, how much you should use, how often you should use and any precautions you need to take while using the product.