Integrated Pest Management for the Garden

image of a pest with text overlay

Whether you’re planting a flower garden to add a pop of color to your space or slashing the grocery bill by harvesting your own veggies and fruit, gardening can be as rewarding as it is practical. But when pest problems and plant diseases get to your petunias and peppers before you can, consider applying Integrated Pest Management for the garden. 

Long-term results in the garden go beyond a shed full of pesticide sprays. In fact, using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as an alternative to pesticides is safer for you, especially if you’re planning 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 a system of pest control that includes cultural control, biological control, and habitat modification. It offers a long-term pest control solution by utilizing a combination of methods to make your garden less attractive to insects, weeds, diseases, and other pests. Introducing resistant plants, garden maintenance, and the removal of still water all fall under an IPM approach. 

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

4 steps to Integrated Pest Management

Step 1: Identify the problem 

Pexels

Familiarize yourself with your garden and its beneficial organisms so that you can spot abnormalities right away. Beneficial organisms include pollinators, such as butterflies and bees, and hungry predators, such as lady beetles (ladybugs) that prey on destructive mites and aphids. 

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 stems or loose leaves 

Step 2: Find your action threshold 

You might not even need to apply controls depending on the depth of your pest problem. According to the EPA, the action threshold is a point at which the damage from pest problems and environmental threats needs your attention and the proper intervention to maintain the health of your garden. 

For example, if you see a single bug scurry around the garden, it doesn’t mean there’s a larger issue that needs immediate attention. Insects, microorganisms, and regular wear and tear from the environment are part of a thriving garden. 

Monitoring and learning about the conditions of your garden is an important part of determining the right control methods in combination with your action thresholds. When you monitor any current pests or diseases, and what they impact, you know when to deploy an IPM intervention based on the limits you set for your garden. You’ll also limit the potential need for pesticides or their improper use later on. 

It’s important to determine what your action thresholds are when establishing your garden rather than after any pest problems begin. It’ll ensure you’re most prepared and help you strategize more effectively. 

Step 3: Apply IPM strategies 

If you notice something is getting to your veggies before you do, or gray mold is making an appearance in your flower beds, now is the time to deploy some strategies in IPM. 

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

  • Use biological control
  • Use mechanical control 
  • Plant resistant species
  • Build exclusion barriers 
  • Improve the care of your garden
  • Apply pesticides 

Step 4: Assess your progress and continue to monitor

Check how effective your controls have been. Are you noticing fewer pests or is pest damage still persisting? You might need to change measures to see further progress.

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

How to apply Integrated Pest Management in the garden

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

Biological control 

Lady Bug Larvae
Lady Bug Larvae
Rolf Dietrich Brecher | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

When you’re managing pest problems in the garden, biological control serves to introduce naturally competing elements or organisms into the environment. For instance, ladybugs are natural predators of common pests in the garden, like the tomato hornworm. 

Some gardening sites allow you to purchase natural enemies online. Other forms of biological control include introducing nectar-producing flowers and plants that attract the natural enemy of garden-destroying pests. 

You might also try applying neem oil or other horticultural oils to disrupt pest pheromones and reproduction.

Mechanical control

Rodent sitting and eating
Ken Wilcox | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

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

  • Knock bugs off of plants, flowers, and produce by handpicking or using a spray bottle or hose.
  • Place mechanical traps throughout the garden for larger pests, like rodents.
  • Create exclusion zones with fences, row covers, or other barriers around plants and flowers.
  • Drive out pests with steam. Heat treatments usually involve a service professional to heat the soil and raise temperatures high enough to kill pests.

Cultural control 

broadleaf weed
Dinesh Valke | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.0

Cultural control comes down to the successful maintenance of the garden. If you’ve familiarized yourself with the health of your garden, this step comes easy. For example, if leaves that once looked green now look dry or scorched, you’ll know it needs less sunlight and more water

There are many ways to stop the growth and perseverance of common garden pests with cultural control. Here are some examples: 

  • Remove weeds regularly 
  • Water and fertilize correctly
  • Treat your soil properly with amendments and aeration
  • Keep the garden clean and free of trash
  • Remove any sources of food or water when applicable
  • Remove infested plants or produce
  • Pick up any loose debris where pest might shelter 
  • Take care of your tools and clean them regularly

Pesticides

Man applies pesticide in garden
Shutterstock

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

While there are many misconceptions about pesticide use in IPM, it’s essential that pesticides be applied in the safest and most environmentally-responsible means possible. IPM practitioners like to use “reduced risk” pesticides as classified by the EPA. 

What are the pros and cons of IPM? 

There’s no perfect solution to 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 the right choice for you. 

ProsCons
Environmentally conscious approach to pest controlSome biological methods involve highly controlled conditions, such as releasing predatory species or beneficial microorganisms
Less pesticides applied to foodsMechanical methods need to be performed on a regular basis including trap setting and manual removal
Promotes the long term health of the garden’s ecosystem with biological, mechanical, and cultural controlsTime consuming to learn and put into practice 
Lowers care costs over time by removing the need for purchasing pesticides frequently or contract pest control servicesRequires more monitoring and careful attention before, during, and after applying treatments
Keeps pests, plant disease, and fungi from evolving into resistant varieties with limited use of chemicalsUses 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 benefits of nematodes?

Nematodes are mostly beneficial and few are plant parasites. Some nematodes eat organisms that cause disease and are an excellent method of biological control. They also enhance the soil quality leading to healthier plant and crop development because they excrete plant-available nutrients.

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. 
Keeping your lawn healthy will help the overall environment around your property. In other words, don’t let the pests from the grass creep into your garden. Lawn Love connects you with local lawn care professionals who will tend to your yard while you pick the pests off your peppers.

Main Image Credit: Text overlay with Canva Pro

Sandy Choephel

Sandy has been a freelance writer for several years and has expertise in content creation, social media, and ghostwriting. On top of being a professional writer, she is a full-time musician and multi-instrumentalist.