Pests are destructive insects or animals that damage crops and landscape plants. Integrated Pest Management (usually referred to as IPM) applies techniques and strategies to manage insect pests through economically and environmentally sustainable practices. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s IPM Program summarizes the goal of IPM as “not to eradicate pests, but to eliminate pest problems by strengthening and stabilizing the landscape so that conditions are more favorable for plants than for pests.”
The first step in applying IPM techniques is prevention. That means, to the extent possible, creating conditions that are unfavorable for pests. Selecting plant varieties that are resistant to pest damage is a good place to begin. Keeping plants healthy with the correct amount of water and nutrients discourages pests that seek out vulnerable or sick plants. And, adding plants that attract pest predators can keep some problems under control. (Natural enemies gallery)
Monitoring and pest identification
Monitoring means checking garden and landscape plants frequently. You may see the culprit in action or just the damage it caused. The type of damage is usually a function of how the pest feeds on the plant—chewing, sucking, burrowing. Here’s a guide on identifying common insect damage. The University of California’s IPM site provides in-depth information on various pests organized by plant categories e.g., flowers, fruit trees, nuts, berries, and grapevines; lawns and turf, trees and shrubs, and vegetables and melons. Correctly identifying the pest is key to knowing whether it is a problem that requires action or not and selecting the best management strategy.
Four-legged pests (wildlife) damage vegetable and fruit crops more than trees, shrubs or turf and are more likely to dig up or consume entire plants.
IPM’s integrated management strategy
Approaches for managing pests are often grouped into the following categories:
Biological control—using natural enemies such as predators, parasites, pathogens, and competitors to control pests and their damage.
Cultural controls—practices that reduce pest establishment, reproduction, dispersal, and survival.
Mechanical and physical controls—removing the pest directly by hand-picking or vacuuming or blocking the pest’s access by using plant covers.
Chemical control—In IPM, pesticides are used only when needed and in combination with other approaches for more effective, long-term control. Pesticides are selected and applied in a way that minimizes their possible harm to people, other organisms, and the environment. Implementing IPM means using the most selective pesticide that will do the job and be the safest for other organisms and air, soil, and water quality; use pesticides in bait stations rather than sprays; or spot-spray a few weeds instead of an entire area.
AgriLife IPM divides chemical control into four categories: microbial insecticides, organic either botanical (plant-derived) or fermentation products (spinosad, abamectin), “Near-organic” and “Inorganic” Insecticides and synthetic insecticides.
In protecting plants from wildlife attacks, two control strategies are recommended: exclusion and repellents. The University of Massachusetts Center for Agriculture describes how to implement exclusion options such as fencing off areas or covering individual plants and types of repellants including plant extracts and animal products.
Practicing IPM means beginning control with the least aggressive action. Monitoring the impact of that action or treatment and establishing a damage threshold that must be surpassed before moving to a more aggressive or toxic control strategy.