Integrated Pest Management for the Garden

Colorado potato beetle damage to plant

When nasty insects and diseases threaten your flowers and veggies, keep your interventions clean and safe. Use Integrated Pest Management for your garden and protect crops with fewer to no toxic pesticides. 

Long-term results in the garden go beyond a shed full of pesticide sprays. Biological control, cultural practices, and habit manipulation are safer and more effective tools IPM uses as pesticide alternatives. Integrated Pest Management is healthier for you, especially if you plan to eat anything you grow. It’s also better for the environment and the longevity of your flowers and crops.

What is Integrated Pest Management? 

Integrated Pest Management is an eco-friendly pest control system that protects plants by using a mix of methods, such as:

  • Changing cultural practices
  • Habitat modification
  • Mechanical control techniques
  • Biological control measures
  • Chemical control

IPM offers a long-term pest control solution by combining these methods to make your garden less attractive to insects, weeds, diseases, and other pests. Introducing resistant plants, correct garden maintenance, and removing still water all fall under an IPM approach. 

In gardening, reaching for cheap chemical insecticides or fungicides is especially appealing. The IPM approach discourages pesticide use unless it’s necessary. In IPM, pesticides are handled to have minimal impact on the ecosystem and target a specific life stage or behavior of a pest. 

IPM is essential when growing food but also important in managing safe and clean pest control on the entire property. You also can apply IPM tactics on your lawn and in your home.  

How to apply Integrated Pest Management in your garden

Here are the five steps of Integrated Pest Management to help you apply IPM successfully in your garden.

Step 1: Identify pest problems 

Photo Credit: Pexels

Familiarize yourself with your garden and the common pests that target your crops so that you can spot abnormalities right away. If you notice any of the following signs in your garden, then a pest or disease might be at large:

  • Holes in leaves, flowers, or produce 
  • Flies swarming around plants 
  • Soft, mushy produce that’s still connected to stems
  • Snail shells 
  • Mold on produce 
  • Droppings left on leaves 
  • Eggs on the back of leaves
  • Damaged plant stems or loose leaves 

Insects change their appearance during the life cycle. Learn to recognize eggs, larvae, pupae and adults to correctly identify pests in each life stage and be able to respond fast to infestations. Know when pests do their worst damage during the year and what that damage looks like. 

Identifying beneficial insects is also important to prevent killing them by mistake. Beneficial organisms include:

Learn their different looks during the life cycle. Beneficial insects also change and can look threatening when young.
Note: Some pest problems are difficult to pinpoint. If unsure about what’s damaging your garden, ask for advice from the local Extension Office.

Step 2: Monitor pest presence

Two Japanese beetles on a leaf with holes and damage on the leaf from their eating
Photo Credit: David Hill | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Keep an eye on your garden and scout periodically for pests and signs of their presence. Continuous monitoring is the key IPM tool that allows you to act timely while the pest problem is still easy to fight with eco-friendly methods. 

How do we monitor pests? Follow these tips to help you keep an eye on your garden culprits:

  • Watch daily for pest damage and signs of their presence.
  • Use a magnifying tool to ensure you recognize signs and pests correctly.
  • Install yellow sticky cards. They’ll attract small pests like aphids and mites and make monitoring easier. 
  • Keep a journal with your findings.
  • Decide if your garden is doing well as it is or if you need to intervene and how. Write your conclusion and actions in the IPM journal.

Step 3: Find your action threshold 

According to the EPA, the action threshold is a point at which damage from pest problems and environmental threats requires intervention to maintain the health of your garden. 

A single bug scurrying around the garden is not an infestation. Insects, microorganisms, and regular wear and tear from the environment are part of a thriving garden. But when pest insects are swarming, and leaf holes appear everywhere on your crops, you need to act. 

The action threshold is essential for a successful pest management strategy, and it plays two roles:

  • One is to prevent you from acting too early and aggressively – mainly with heavy pesticides that harm beneficial organisms. 
  • The second is to allow fast and effective action when needed to prevent severe pest infestations that require synthetic pesticides.

Step 4: Apply IPM strategies 

If you notice something is eating your veggies before you do or gray mold is making an appearance in your flower beds, it is time to deploy IPM control measures. 

While we’ll discuss these strategies in further detail soon, here are some examples of applying IPM techniques to the garden: 

  • Improve the care of your garden
  • Plant resistant species
  • Build exclusion barriers 
  • Use mechanical control 
  • Bring in more natural enemies
  • Apply pesticides

Step 5: Assess your progress and continue to monitor

Lady Bug Larvae
Photo Credit: Rolf Dietrich Brecher | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Check how effective your pest control interventions have been. Are you noticing fewer pests, or is pest damage still persisting? Remember that IPM methods might work slower than traditional pesticides and require more than one intervention. You also might need to change pest control measures to see further progress. 

Keep in mind that you should be monitoring before, during, and after applying IPM methods. 

Integrated Pest Management Practices

In this section, we’ll dive into the basic methods of Integrated Pest Management and how you can apply them to your garden. 

Cultural practices 

worker performing a soil test
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Cultural control comes down to the successful maintenance of your garden. There are many ways to stop the growth and perseverance of garden pests with cultural practices. Here are some examples: 

  • Test your soil and treat it properly with amendments and aeration.
  • Choose pest-resistant and disease-resistant plants.
  • Only bring healthy plant material into your garden. Use seeds, seedlings, and potted plants that are free of pests and diseases.
  • Plant crops that are suitable for your type of soil and sun exposure. Veggies require 6 to 10 hours of sun (depending on species) and well-drained soil.
  • Water and fertilize correctly. Moisture and overfertilization attract pests. A lack of nutrients and drought make crops less resistant to diseases and insects.
  • Apply mulch on your garden beds to prevent weeds from growing. Mulch also stops raindrops from splashing from the ground to the lower leaves bearing nasty plant pathogens.
  • Rotate crops every few years. This practice prevents specific pests and pathogens from building up in the soil. It also improves soil fertility.
  • Take care of your tools and clean them regularly. Disinfect after pruning diseased or infected plants. Use a 10% chlorine bleach solution.

Habitat manipulation

Photo Credit: Avi | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

For effective habitat manipulation, you must answer two questions: 

  • What can you do in your garden to keep pests away?
  • How can you attract and support the natural enemies of common pests? 

Here’s a list of IPM practices to help you start manipulating the natural habitat in your yard:

  • Pick up any loose debris where pests might shelter (or feed on). Dead leaves and stems, mulch that is too thick, and fallen produce fit in this category. Cover the fresh food scraps to avoid attracting insects and other pests if you’re composting.
  • Grow pest-deterrent companion plants between your crops to keep pests away. Some good examples are basil, marigolds, chives, catnip, onions, garlic, and thyme.
  • Use trap plants to attract insect pests and keep them from attacking your crops. Chervil and blue Hubbard squash are two common trap plants in vegetable gardens. 
  • Make natural pest enemies feel welcome. Grow flowering plants for food (pollen and nectar). Install hedgerows to shelter spiders and beneficial beetles during winter. Attract birds by installing feeders in your trees. 
  • Create exclusion zones. Fences and row covers are what we call exclusion barriers. They keep pests from entering your garden or planted areas. Install underground fences for digging pests like pocket gophers, moles, and voles, and above-ground fences for larger animals like deer. Row covers are useful against caterpillars and spider mites.

Biological control 

nematodes under a microscope
Photo Credit: snickclunk | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

When you’re managing pest problems in the garden, biological control serves to introduce naturally competing elements or organisms into the environment. 

There are three types of beneficial organisms that can help you control bad bugs:

  • Predators are large insects that feed on common home garden pests. For instance, ladybugs prey on aphids, whiteflies, thrips, and spider mites. Green lacewings and paper wasps feed on tomato hornworm eggs and young caterpillars. Birds, bats, and insect-eating mammals also qualify as insect predators.
  • Parasites use pest insects as hosts for their eggs. When eggs hatch, the newly born organisms feed on the insect host and kill it. This category includes braconid wasps, tachinid flies, and beneficial nematodes.
  • Pathogens are bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa that infect pests. Bacillus thuringiensis strains are used to control mosquitos, flies, gnats, caterpillars of moths and butterflies, and beetle larvae. Bacillus popollia is the first bacteria brought into the U.S. to control Japanese beetle larvae. 

The most effective IPM strategy is to support the natural enemies you already have in your garden. This biological control approach is called conservation and involves:

  • Reducing the use of pesticides to avoid reducing the beneficial insect population.
  • Growing flowering plants that provide pollen and nectar, like sweet alyssum, sunflower, milkweed, dill, and fennel.
  • Installing hedgerows to ensure winter shelter for spiders and beetles.

When the native predators in your yard are not enough to control pests, you can buy and add more of what you’ve got or bring in new types of natural enemies. This approach is called augmentation. 

Note: Conservation provides better results in open-space gardens. Augmentation is more effective in the controlled space of greenhouses.

Mechanical control

This part of your IPM program is easy to execute. Mechanical control involves using physical means to remove or exclude pests from the garden. Here are some examples: 

  • Knock bugs off plants, flowers, and produce by handpicking or using a spray bottle or hose.
  • Place mechanical traps throughout the garden for larger pests, like rodents.
  • Pruning diseased or infested plants and safely removal of damaged parts.
  • Hand-pulling weeds from your garden beds.
  • Tilling the soil to get rid of weeds that cover large areas.

Mechanical control is also called physical control, and it typically includes corrective measures. It offers gardeners pest control techniques to use when pests are already present and start to become a problem.

Chemical control

Man applies pesticide in garden
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

In Integrated Pest Management, the use of pesticides is saved as a last resort. Pesticides include fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, and rodenticides.  

Pesticides must be applied in the safest and most environmentally responsible means possible. Here’s how to approach pesticide use as part of the Integrated Pest Management strategy:

  • Correctly identify the pest problem and apply a pesticide targeting that damaging pest. If unsure about the culprit, send a sample to the local Extension Office for identification.
  • Apply a selective pesticide instead of a broad-spectrum product. Selective pesticides only affect the target pest and don’t harm other beneficial organisms. 
  • Use spot treatments instead of broadcast applications. It provides better results and protects the beneficial microorganisms.
  • Read and follow the application instructions. 
  • Wear the proper safety gear, including chemical-resistant gloves, long pants, and long sleeves. 

IPM practitioners like to use “reduced risk” pesticides as classified by the EPA. Always start with selective and less harmful pesticides and leave the most aggressive as a last resort. The main chemical control products you can use are:

  • Botanical pesticides (biopesticides): obtained from plants or minerals and effective against bacteria, fungi, nematodes, viruses and insect pests.
  • Horticultural oils (neem oil, citrus oil, garlic oil) and insecticidal soaps
  • Insect growth regulators (IGRs): mimic insect hormones and disturb reproduction.
  • Synthetic chemicals

What are the pros and cons of Integrated Pest Management? 

There’s no perfect solution for pest control in the garden, but some components of IPM look better than traditional pest control methods. Of course, everything is a give and take. Some parts of IPM might not be ideal for you. 

Below, we’ve compiled a list of the pros and cons of IPM to help you decide if this approach is right for you. 


✓ Environmentally conscious approach to pest control
✓ Fewer pesticides applied to foods
✓ Promotes the long-term health of the garden’s ecosystem with biological, mechanical, and cultural controls
✓ Lowers care costs over time by removing the need for purchasing pesticides frequently or contracting pest control services
✓ Keeps pests, plant disease, and fungi from evolving into resistant varieties with limited use of chemicals


✗ Some biological methods involve highly controlled conditions, such as releasing predatory species or beneficial microorganisms
✗ Mechanical methods need to be performed on a regular basis, including trap setting and manual removal
✗ Time-consuming to learn and put into practice
✗ Requires more monitoring and careful attention before, during, and after applying treatments
✗ Uses more resources and manual labor than traditional pesticides

FAQ about Integrated Pest Management

What are the most common pests in vegetable gardens? 

The most common pests that love your vegetables are:

  • Aphids
  • Spider mites
  • Tomato hornworms
  • Whiteflies
  • Thrips
  • Cabbage maggots
  • Slugs
  • Ants
  • Flea beetles
  • June beetles
  • Japanese beetles

What are the 3 basic rules for an IPM program?

An IPM program has many components and practices but three essential rules that can easily guide you through the process:

  1. Know and monitor garden pests.
  2. Set an action threshold.
  3. Focus on prevention.

Is IPM the same as organic pest control? 

No, Integrated Pest Management is its own form of pest control. Organic pest control also uses chemicals, but they are strictly controlled, and some contain ingredients that degrade over time in the environment. In IPM, pesticides are used as a last resort, and they’re made from either synthetic or organic chemicals. 

Is it time to invest in a professional? 

IPM strategies are effective, yet they take preparation, research, practice, and, ultimately, time. Consider investing in a professional to care for your yard so you can focus on the health of your garden. Lawn Love connects you with the best local lawn care professionals who will tend to your yard while you keep pests off your peppers.

Main Image Credit: Olko1975 | Canva Pro | License

Sinziana Spiridon

Sinziana Spiridon is an outdoorsy blog writer with a green thumb and a passion for organic gardening. When not writing about weeds, pests, soil, and growing plants, she's tending to her veggie garden and the lovely turf strip in her front yard.