Integrated Pest Management for the Home Gardener

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Studies have shown that gardening provides many health benefits: fresh air and exercise are of course good for you, and gardening also provides mental health benefits. Research has shown that gardening helps “recovery from mental fatigue, improves outlook and life satisfaction, restores concentration and improves productivity” (from a 2011 study). On the flip side: nothing will make you crazier than watching your pampered tomatoes suddenly wilt down, or Japanese beetles skeletonize your roses. Insect pests and diseases can quickly disrupt one’s “happy place”!

Man has been battling insects and diseases on “their” plants for hundreds of years, and mother nature isn’t about to give up any time soon. There is no magic bullet when it comes to managing garden miscreants. However, having an understanding of both the plant (“host”), and insect pest or disease needs, can help the gardener become more proactive rather than reactive, and this can bring some peace of mind.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a proactive management method that gardeners of any size or experience level can use to improve outcomes in their garden. There are four aspects to IPM: Prevention, Avoidance, Monitoring, and Suppression.

  • If you are experiencing disease problems with your tomatoes, “Prevention” may involve choosing tomato varieties that have a higher level of disease resistance. Often, specific disease resistance characteristics are listed on the tomato label, as initials representing different diseases.
  • “Avoidance” may mean a gardener will avoid using a plant which will inevitably bring problems, such as Euonymous with scale insects, and selecting a more resilient plant for the landscape.
  • “Monitoring” comes in when the gardener knows problems are likely, and scouting, along with early detection, can help reduce the damage. For example, in a small planting, scouting roses for Japanese beetle or squash for squash bug can help one keep ahead of the problem, by removing the early arrivals with hand picking, thus eliminating the need for pesticides.
  • Monitoring may be used in conjunction with “Suppression”: in larger plantings, pesticides may be needed, but by spraying early – before large population buildup – plants can be saved and less pesticide used. Another good example of Monitoring and Suppression is managing Squash Vine Borer. The adult moth, which flies during the day, has a distinctive red body and black wings, and makes its appearance around the end of May. By monitoring the moth’s arrival (by observation or by making some simple traps), the gardener will know the larvae will soon follow. The adult lays an egg at the base of the vine and the larva hatches in about a week. The larvae will then crawl into the vine stem and begin working its damage. By monitoring the adult and knowing the timing of the arrival of the larvae, exclusion and/or pesticide tactics can be used more effectively.

While it takes some time and effort to understand the difference between a spot caused by a disease and one caused by sun scorch, or the difference between a squash bug and an assassin bug (one’s a pest and one’s a predator), gaining a holistic view of the garden reduces fear and frustration and can improve your gardening experience. I once received a call from a woman who was very upset that her parsley was covered in small brown worms that were decimating her herbs. “They are parsleyworms”, I told her; “also known as Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.”  I, for one, don’t mind giving up some parsley in exchange for beautiful butterflies.

If you’re interested in learning more about insect pest and beneficial insect identification, disease management, and more about IPM, consider attending Extension’s Pest Management class on Monday, May 8, 7-8:30 pm, at the Ag Services Center in Rockingham. The class is free, but pre-registration is requested. Call the office at 910.997.8255 to pre-register.

Written By

Photo of Paige BurnsPaige BurnsExtension Agent, Agriculture - Horticulture (910) 997-8255 paige_burns@ncsu.eduRichmond County, North Carolina
Updated on Apr 25, 2017
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