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What is Integrated Pest Management?


manage plant problems

Managing plant problems 

Weeds, ants, rats and gophers, snails, and slugs – these are just a few of the pests that may take up residence in your garden. A fast and easy way of dealing with unwanted creatures is to spray or bait them with a poison. These methods may work in the short term, but aren’t good for your family, pets, garden, or other wildlife that may be indirectly impacted. Rather, use an integrated pest management approach that helps you solve pest problems while minimizing the impact to people, animals, and the environment.


Integrated Pest Management:
A fancy name for common sense practices

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common sense practices. It is a decision-making process using science-based information to manage pests by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.


Why use IPM?

You can help maintain a balanced ecosystem by practicing IPM. Jon Sullivan, Pixnio
You can help maintain a balanced ecosystem by practicing IPM. Jon Sullivan, Pixnio
There are many good reasons to utilize an integrated pest management approach. In addition to its primary purpose of reducing the number of pests, it can:
• Help you maintain your garden as a balanced ecosystem
• Reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides that can harm air, soil, water, plants, and other living things
• Protect beneficials and natural enemies in your garden


How do you practice IPM?

The IPM process involves:
Monitoring plants to assess pest numbers and damage
Identifying the host plant and pest
Determining your threshold, either aesthetic or economic (when to act)
Taking action to manage pests, beginning with the least toxic method
Evaluating the effectiveness of the chosen method 

Your interest in managing pests is based in part on your level of tolerance for a specific pest. You may not mind a couple of spiders in the garage but having an army of ants in your kitchen is not okay. A few tiny holes in your spinach is fine, but deer eating your roses may be unacceptable. 

Most important - making a correct identification. 
Often the trickiest, and the most important aspect of IPM is identifying the pest. Before you treat anything, you’ll want to be sure you know what you’re dealing with.

Sources to help you include:
• Reference books available at local libraries or on-line
• On-line sources like the University of California IPM website
• Local nurseries
• Master Gardener Help Desk, HelpDesk@marinmg.org  

Don’t start treating a problem until you’re reasonably sure about the identification of the pest you want to manage.


Choosing methods

The Integrated Pest Management pyramid. Photo: US EPA
The Integrated Pest Management pyramid. Photo: US EPA
When you reach the stage of choosing prevention and/or control methods, opt for those that give the best results while keeping environmental impact as low as possible and staying within your budget. These include:

Cultural methods:
• Selecting plants with known disease resistance
• Maintaining healthy and vigorous plants through proper soil health and cultivation
• Changing soil type, pH, or nutrient levels
• Modifying irrigation practices; too much water can increase root disease and weeds
• Maintaining good garden sanitation 

Fencing is the most effective way to prevent deer from damaging your garden. Pxhere
Fencing is the most effective way to prevent deer from damaging your garden. Pxhere
Mechanical and physical methods:
• Manually pulling weeds or hand picking insects
• Washing pests off foliage with water and pruning them out
• Installing physical barriers like fencing to keep deer out and planting in wire baskets to exclude gophers
• Using mulches for weed management

Biological methods:
• Encouraging natural enemies – birds, lizards and toads and predatory insects such as ladybugs
• Utilizing pathogenic microbes like BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) for treating caterpillars. 

Chemical methods:
• Start with the least toxic chemicals like horticultural oils, insecticidal soaps, plant-derived products like neem seed extracts, and pyrethrum.