Bugs! They are not everyone's favorite topic, but they need to be discussed. Insects as a species are essential to healthy ecosystems. They are productive pollinators, they enrich the soil, and provide food for other wildlife. The challenge is to distinguish helpful bugs from pests.
Pests are bugs which cause plant disease, slow growth, or loss, or present a risk to human or animal health. Our goal is to control the pest population such that it does not cause adverse effects. In years past, chemicals were used to combat unwanted bugs, but time has revealed that some of those chemicals can have extremely adverse effects on our soil, plants, waterways, wildlife and our own health. Today, there is a movement towards Integrated Pest Management.
What exactly is Integrated Pest Management (IPM)? IPM is a sustainable approach to managing pests through biological, cultural, physical, and chemical control methods. For more information on IPM, click here.
How do IPM programs work?
IPM is not a single pest control method but, rather, a series of pest management evaluations, decisions and controls. In practicing IPM, growers who are aware of the potential for pest infestation follow a four-tiered approach. The four steps include: setting action thresholds,monitoring and identifying pests, prevention and control. These steps can be employed easily in both commercial and residential landscapes.
- Set Action Thresholds. Decide how many pests you can tolerate. Sighting a single bug does not always mean control is needed. The level at which pests will either become an economic or health threat is a critical guide to your pest control decisions. Ask yourself, is treatment necessary to save a mature tree? Would plants be difficult or impossible to replace? Is the garden pest a carrier of disease? A "yes" to any of these questions should prompt you to the next step.
- Monitor and Identify Pests. Not all insects, weeds, and other living organisms require control. Many organisms are innocuous, and some are even beneficial. For example, certain types of ladybugs eat whiteflies, spiders control ant and fly populations, bees are essential for pollination of certain types of fruit trees. It is important to identify the bugs in your landscape accurately. Ask a professional for help. This monitoring and identification removes the possibility that pesticides will be used when they are not really needed or that the wrong kind of pesticide will be used.
- Prevention. As a first line of defense, IPM programs work to manage the crop, lawn, or indoor space to prevent pests from becoming a threat. In an agricultural crop for example, this may mean using cultural methods, such as rotating between different crops, selecting pest-resistant varieties, and planting pest-free rootstock. In the home environment, this could mean selecting certain plants to attracts "pest eaters" and creating good gardening habits, such as not over-watering and leaving standing water. These control methods can be very effective and cost-efficient and present little to no risk to people or the environment.
- Control. Once monitoring, identification, and action thresholds indicate that pest control is required, and preventive methods are no longer effective or available, IPM programs then evaluate the proper control method both for effectiveness and risk. Effective, less risky pest controls are chosen first, including highly targeted chemicals, such as pheromones to disrupt pest mating, or mechanical control, such as trapping or weeding. If further monitoring, identifications and action thresholds indicate that less risky controls are not working, then additional pest control methods would be employed, such as targeted spraying of pesticides. Broadcast spraying of non-specific pesticides is a last resort.
What You Can Do
Consult your garden center manager or landscape professional to inquire if he or she is familiar with natural ways of managing garden pests. Finding an educated "consultant" that you can depend upon for reliable information is key over the long term.
Familiarize yourself with the pests and plant diseases most common for your type of plantings. Accurate pest or disease identification is crucial in choosing control; recognize the beneficial predators and whether they may provide adequate control without any interference. You can use our Garden Pest Directory to help you.
Routinely check your garden or landscape for pests and disease. This allows for early detection; only treat when pests are present, and when it seems that plants are not resisting them. Adjust your prevention methods as necessary.
Stick to your damage threshold. How many pests can be tolerated before unacceptable loss occurs? Try to hold out. Losing a few plants may be an acceptable loss. Losing mature trees may not be. Focus on prevention, but treat when your threshold is reached.
Devise solution for pest or disease. First try cultural, physical/mechanical or biological control options; if that fails use appropriate chemical control.
Evaluate your treatment. Did it work? Is there a better way to do it next time? Can you use this approach again on this site or other sites?
The U.S. EPA offers extensive information for homeowners, apartment dwellers, building managers, schools and landscapers about how to identify and safely combat pests inside and outside. From reading pesticide labels to controlling mosquitos, there are a lot of useful tips on this webpage. The EPA also offers a detailed Fact Sheet on Integrated Pest Management. You can also join their PestWise program or subscribe to the newsletter and get even more assistance with environmentally friendly pest control.
This is a very detailed website published by the IFAS to "coordinate UF/IFAS IPM research and extension... [and] to assist the target audiences with IPM education and training by making information on alternative pest management technologies more accessible. Use it to access interesting and helpful information on everything from whiteflies to bed bugs to lovebugs!