We share our gardens with a multitude of insects, spiders, mites and other arthropods. Your idyllic Garden of Eden is actually more of a Jurassic Park where multi-legged creatures feed on our plants and each other, or play a part in returning plant materials back to the soil.
Not all insects or mites are plant pests. Most are either of no direct impact on our landscape and gardens or may be beneficial in one way or another. So having six or eight legs doesn’t necessarily warrant a death sentence. Our focus is often on those insects that damage our plants but efforts to control them can have unintended consequences to our plants, beneficial insects, and the environment.
This is a quick overview of Integrated Pest Management as it relates to our home gardens:
1) Prevention: As a first step (and the foundation of ecological pest control), manage the environment to prevent pests from becoming a threat. This may mean developing a lawn or garden ecosystem that attracts beneficial insects who then prey upon pest insects. Cultural practices, such as rotating between different crops, selecting pest-resistant varieties, and planting pest-free rootstock, have also proven extremely effective in mitigating the threat of pests. Likewise, some soil-management practices boost plant defense mechanisms, making plants more resistant and/or less attractive to pests.1 These preventative measures are preferable to reactive measures, as they are very effective, cost-efficient, and present little to no risk to people or the environment.
2) Monitor and Identify: If an insect has taken residence in your garden, start by asking whether is it a pest or not. Begin with an accurate identification of the “suspect.”
3) Set Action Thresholds: Should it prove to be a pest, we can then ask if the damage warrants control efforts. More often than not, we simply tolerate a minor level of damage.
4) Use Least Damaging Strategy of Control: If pest damage is deemed unacceptable, then we make a pest control plan. Effective, less risky pest controls are chosen first, including physical controls, such as squashing pests or removing highly-infected plants. Insecticidal soap or pheromones (that disrupt pest mating) may also be less-toxic options. If further monitoring shows that these methods are not working, we may then ask which pesticides are labeled and effective in controlling the pest. Consider their toxicity, persistence in the environment, and potential for damaging beneficial insects or other secondary undesirable effects. Always choose the safest, most effective, and most targeted product with the least danger of secondary effects. Finally, inquire about the proper timing and application of the product. Misapplication can mean poor results, harm the environment, and can waste your time and money. Broad spraying of non-specific pesticides is a last resort and generally not recommended.
This section is loaded with helpful resources to guide you in all these factors in order to help you manage pests effectively and safely. It also provides the opportunity to learn about beneficial; insects and how to build a garden that attracts and sustains them.
If you have questions about pests, call the Gardening and Horticulture Hotline at (512) 854-9600. Digital images can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more-complex pest questions, the Hotline will refer you to Entomologist Wizzie Brown.
1 Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (USDA SARE): Manage Insects on your Farm (http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Manage-Insects-on-Your-Farm/Text-Version/Managing-Soils-to-Minimize-Crop-Pests/Managing-Pests-With-Healthy-Soils, accessed 5/23/2013)