Integrated pest management (IPM) is a widely accepted practice for controlling the insect pests that eat your garden vegetables. The integrated part of IPM is a combination of historically proven methodologies along with more current deterrents such as botanical and chemical applications. The key is first to learn the life cycles and habits of the insect pests. Good gardeners know their bugs. Second, choose the best, most effective application for ridding the garden of the problem. This approach, along with a few basic good garden practices, will help increase your yield and enjoyment of the food you grow.
There is no way to keep all of nature out of your garden. The best a gardener can do is to work within the balance of nature, and balance is a lot easier to maintain than it is to regain. IPM is a combination of knowing when and why a problem is likely to occur, taking steps to avoid the problem in the first place, keeping an eye out for changes, and using low-hazard, economical control methods when necessary.
What Integrated Pest Management Is
Integrated pest management is a technical-sounding term for using common sense and foresight in your garden to avoid most problems and to catch and control those that do occur as early as possible. The EPA defines IPM as “an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices.”
IPM was initially developed for commercial farmers, in response to the high financial and environmental costs of using synthetic pesticides. Home gardeners have adapted the principles of IPM, and it can be effectively employed against vegetable garden pests without the heavy use of synthetic pesticides.
IPM isn’t a single control, it’s a process or system that blends with the flow of the seasons in a vegetable garden. Garden pests and problems come and go. What gardeners need to keep in mind about IPM is:
How can you prevent problems from happening? Keep a healthy garden and plant varieties that are suited to your site. Know what insects and diseases are prevalent in your area and plant resistant varieties.
Plan your garden well by staking plants to keep them off the ground and dry and by interplanting vegetables to slow the possible spread of problems. Make use of trap crops and row covers, to exclude and divert garden pests. Encourage beneficial insects.
Once the garden is planted, water regularly so plants aren’t stressed by drought. Mulch to prevent splashing soil and pathogens onto plants, and remove and dispose of diseased or infested plants. Rotate your crops to prevent the problem from over-wintering. Remove all plant debris in the fall, so there is no shelter for over-wintering garden pests and spores.
Is it really a problem or just an isolated incident? Know what you’re dealing with by monitoring your plants regularly. Watch for the first signs of garden pests, like skeletonized leaves, damaged fruits, wilting, webs, and color changes. Check the undersides of leaves.
Identify the problem before treating it. Is it a disease, an insect, a nutrient deficiency, rabbit damage, or something else? Once the problem is correctly identified, you will be able to determine the most successful solution.
Is it going to spread or is it temporary? Some problems are seasonal. Squash borers will mature and leave the garden by mid-summer. Cucumber beetles will spread disease throughout your crop.
How much damage am I willing to tolerate? Don’t overreact. One hornworm should not send you to the shed for the sprayer. Consider these questions:
- Is the insect making the leaves ugly, but not harming the vegetable?
- Will the problem be gone before any real damage is done?
- Is this an isolated problem that will clear up when the weather changes or the insect moves on?
- Am I willing to sacrifice some dill to have swallowtail butterflies?
How can you stop it before the damage spreads? When the problem won’t go away on its own, start with the gentlest solution first.
Trapping garden pests with diversion crops, lures, or sticky bands is useful for lowering pest populations and for monitoring how bad the problem actually is.
Hand removal is easiest if started early. Remove the infected or infested plant before it has time to spread. You can monitor for pest egg masses on the undersides of leaves and squash or remove the eggs before they become a problem. Many beetles are slow-moving, especially while mating, and you can knock them off plants into a jar of soapy water. Borers can often be cut out of the affected plant part without killing the plant.
Pesticide use may become necessary. There are dozens of organic and botanical pesticides available for use on edible crops like vegetables. Start with the one that is the least powerful and the most effective.
Why Bother Using IPM
IPM is beneficial because if you can keep your garden in balance, you’ll have fewer problems in the long run. For example, you won’t lose entire crops of vegetables to a single infestation. Your garden will be a safe place for kids and pets to visit.
Using a combination of environmental, cultural, and gentle solutions will allow the “good” insect population to survive. You need these insects to control the pest insects and to pollinate your plants. Your soil will remain healthy and fertile, which will make your vegetables that much more nutritious.