Integrated Pest Management for the Lawn

Leaf Raking

It sounds complicated, but the steps of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) are straightforward, preventative, and tackle infestations at a systematic level. IPM for the lawn is a sustainable method of pest control that removes the energy sources, shelters, and desirable habitats of common lawn pests.

A comprehensive approach to pest control is more than pesticide sprays and granular barriers. In fact, the sole utilization of synthetic chemicals is not only harmful to the environment but is only a temporary solution to the complex nature of pest infestations. With a pesticide-only approach, your pest problem creeps back up on you right when you think the bugs are gone for good. 

IPM’s multi-faceted approach attacks the root cause of your pest problem and prevents infestations in the long term. Let’s take a closer look at how you can practice IPM for the lawn. 

What is Integrated Pest Management?

IPM methods can help treat anything from lawn-destroying pests to invasive plants. From large-scale agricultural settings to the inside of your home, IPM management strategies have a wide application overall. In this article, we’ll talk about IPM for your lawn

While you might be tempted to reach for the cheapest spray to wipe out the crabgrass, using an IPM approach to control pests means avoiding traditional pesticides unless you’ve exhausted all other options.  And even if you do use pesticides, you must apply them in the safest manner possible. 

Before spraying and spreading, check out how IPM works down below. 

How does Integrated Pest Management work in the lawn?

A large component of IPM is pest prevention. Preventing problematic species means you’ll need to alter the current state of your lawn. 

Pest prevention is ultimately what drives IPM as a low-risk method of pest control. Ideally, you prevent pests such as insects, weeds, and rodents from becoming a problem by practicing the following the methods:  

Find your action threshold

In IPM, the action threshold is where you want to begin. It’s as simple as determining how much pest activity you (or your lawn) can tolerate before applying chemical or non-chemical controls. 

In the context of lawn care, say you find a stray white grub wriggling in the dirt. This doesn’t necessarily warrant applying grub control measures to your yard. 

But when large brown patches develop on your lawn or several grubs are in the soil, this is a sign of a larger issue. That’s when it’s a good time to apply IPM strategies to combat this specific pest. 

Biological control 

Biological control involves introducing common predators, competitors, diseases, and natural enemies found in the environment to your lawn. To put it simply, a pest can’t continue eating away at your lawn if something else is eating it! These methods are commonly used in IPM biological control:

  • Install bird feeders to introduce natural predators to lawn pests. 
  • Apply Bacillus thuringiensis to the lawn, a bacteria that can wreak havoc on various pests. 
  • Release beneficial nematodes, microscopic worms that destroy pests. 
  • Apply natural pheromones to disrupt the mating cycles of pests. 

Introduce resistant plant varieties  

Resistant varieties of plants will better withstand a pest infestation. Certain turfgrasses are bred to have a higher tolerance to unfavorable conditions, such as extreme temperatures, disease, and pests. 

Cultural control 

It would be a wise idea to get familiar with the state of your lawn. Knowing what needs work and what’s working well will help you better tackle cultural control in your yard. 

Cultural controls are specific lawn care steps you take to stop the reproduction and endurance of pests on your lawn, such as: 

  • Water the lawn correctly (not too much or too little).
  • Treat your soil regularly with aeration and amendments.
  • Balance nutrients with the correct fertilizers and supplements.
  • Grow the proper plants, such as trees, shrubs, and grasses, that withstand the local weather conditions.
  • Mow the lawn to increase air circulation and prevent moisture.

Mechanical 

Mechanical control in IPM is simply the manual removal or exclusion of pests in the lawn.  Examples include the removal of water sources, food sources, shelter, entryways, or the pest itself. Here’s how you can put mechanical techniques into practice:  

  • Install fences and barriers to keep larger pests out (such as deer).
  • Manually pick pests off of the lawn, shrubs, and trees (also known as handpicking in IPM).
  • Deploy mechanical traps for pests.
  • Manipulate pest habitats, such as removing loose debris, tall grass, thatch, or leaf piles. 
  • Remove empty flower pots that collect water. 
  • Aerate the lawn to help improve drainage and prevent stagnant water (mosquitoes love stagnant water)

Monitoring

Monitoring in IPM is not only important for determining what treatment methods to use, but also checking how a particular control is working and if further interventions are needed. When you begin an IPM strategy you want to begin and end with monitoring. 

Some helpful ways to become a pro at monitoring your lawn’s health and pests are: 

  • Manually check your lawn, trees, and shrubs on a regular basis. 
  • Use digital tools to monitor pest activity.
  • Set traps to monitor pest activity. 
  • Test your soil quality (visit your local cooperative extension online for more information).

Pesticides 

Pesticides are substances that kill, limit or repel pests. This includes any form of chemical control like insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Use pesticides in IPM only when other options have failed and you need to maximize control.

Think of IPM as a pyramid of strategies. Most sources agree that the majority of IPM includes maintenance, mechanical, and biological steps you take to control threatening species. Pesticides on the other hand take up a tiny sliver of the pie (or the tip-top of the pyramid). 

Safety First: if you’re going to use pesticides in your IPM approach, you must apply them in the safest way possible. 

First, it’s important to know that pesticides have three warning labels. Each label warrants a different severity of poison: 

  • DANGER means incredibly toxic or corrosive.
  • WARNING means a moderate amount of toxicity.
  • CAUTION is typically on pesticides that are least harmful but still require careful attention when using them. 

Here are simple ways to keep pesticides from harming more than the pests they target:

  • Utilize organic pesticides with degradable ingredients.
  • Follow the application instructions on pesticide labels very carefully.
  • Protect yourself with gloves, suits, eye goggles, and mouth coverings if needed.
  • Do not eat or drink while spraying or spreading pesticides.
  • Wash and sanitize hands and tools after handling pesticides.
  • Keep kids and pets indoors when applying pesticides to the lawn.
  • Promptly clean up any spills.
  • Store your pesticides securely and properly according to the manufacturer.

Practical Integrated Pest Management for your lawn

Releasing natural predators and monitoring pest activity sounds like there’s a steep learning curve to IPM. But here’s the good news: you might already be practicing IPM in the lawn via common lawn care practices. 

Let’s take a closer look at how proper lawn maintenance can benefit your IPM strategy:  

Mow your lawn 

Mowing your lawn properly is an important step in habitat manipulation. If the grass is overgrown, pests and diseases like to take refuge in those conditions. Here are a couple of easy pointers to follow:

  • Avoid mowing the grass during the hottest hours of the day.
  • Do not mow wet grass.
  • Do not remove more than one-third of the grass blade at a time.
  • Ensure your lawn mower has sharp blades so your grass is cleanly cut and not torn or ripped.
  • Vary the pattern you mow on a weekly basis. If you mowed the lawn vertically this week, try mowing it horizontally the next.
  • Find your grass’ preferred mowing height.

Water properly 

A lawn that’s too wet will attract pests. They love the moist conditions of an incorrectly watered lawn. Here’s how to water the lawn the right way: 

  • Water the lawn in the morning, ideally before 10 A.M. so the sun doesn’t evaporate the moisture before your turf can absorb it.
  • Avoid watering the lawn in the evenings. While too much sun will dry out the lawn, no sun after watering causes excess moisture to build up.
  • Don’t overwater the lawn. Most lawns that are already established only require 1 to 1.5 inches of water on a weekly basis. 

Remove thatch build-up 

Thatch is a layer of dead and living plant matter that sits above the soil but underneath the grass and builds up over time. While some thatch is beneficial for turf growth, overgrown thatch is an ideal spot for pests to eat, reproduce, and live. 

Remove lawn debris 

Removing lawn debris is a method of habitat manipulation that involves little work on your end. Remove the homes of pests, like wood piles, brush piles, leaves, and weeds. Store wood piles and rock piles away from your lawn and house to avoid pests taking shelter nearby.

Remove still water 

It doesn’t take much stagnant water to attract pests. Getting rid of still water helps prevent pests from hydrating and reproducing, such as mosquitoes. Locate still water in your lawn and remove the source. Here’s what to look out for: 

  • Stray watering cans or buckets that are collecting water
  • Planters and pots that leave a pool of water at the bottom of the saucer
  • Birdbaths with still water
  • Clogged gutters flooded with water

Pro Tip: Try adding a fountain or water wall to the yard as a fun DIY project. The moving water won’t attract mosquitoes. 

Aerate the lawn

Aerating the lawn is an important part of your lawn care routine. In essence, aeration is the act of removing small soil plugs from the ground to help loosen compacted soil, allowing for better flow and absorption of water, nutrients, and oxygen. 

A regularly aerated lawn will produce a deeper root system for your turf, leading to the longevity and strength of the lawn. The healthier your turf, the more resistant it will be to pests and diseases. 

Brownie Points: Aeration also helps improve water drainage, which means it can help drain the stagnant puddles that plague the lawn’s low areas.

Test the soil

Soil testing is not only great for monitoring the health and progress of your lawn, but it also serves as an important part of cultural practices. Detecting any nutrient deficiencies or poor pH levels can help you stay one step ahead of pests and diseases that prey on a weak lawn. 

Prepare a soil sample for your local cooperative extension. Search for your local cooperative extension online and follow its listed instructions. You’ll receive a full report after analysis. If you’re curious about the report, check out how to read a soil test.

Overseed

Last but not least, a well-rounded approach to IPM means a well-rounded lawn care routine. Overseeding is a crucial part and guarantees your lawn will be fuller and healthier when done properly. It’s a process where you apply grass seed over an existing lawn to help thicken dead zones or thinning areas. A thicker, healthier lawn means fewer run-ins with pests and fungi. 

Pro Tip: When overseeding, it’s important to know which grasses work best for the local climate of your city.

What are the pros and cons of IPM? 

Like anything in life, there’s usually a good and bad side. We’ve compared some of the pros and cons of an IPM approach so you can make the best decision for your turfgrass:

ProsCons
Minimal effect on the environment with its limited use of harmful chemicals.Requires extremely controlled methods when releasing natural predators to eradicate certain pests or weeds.
Maintains a balanced ecosystem through mechanical and biological maintenance by eradicating harmful species while promoting helpful ones.You’ll likely need to release natural predators more than once, as they will eventually escape from the area you release them in. 
Reduces costs by limiting or eliminating the purchase of expensive pesticides or pesticide application services that need to be done quarterly.Requires extensive research and education to correctly execute IPM methods.  
Prevents pests and diseases from developing natural resistance to chemicalsInvolves more resources and manpower to execute and monitor strategies compared to traditional pesticides. 
Provides a long-term solution to pest control. 

FAQ

Does IPM work for indoor pests?

Yes. You can use the strategies of outdoor IPM in your own home. Here are some methods homeowners can execute:
Keep a tidy space by cleaning up any spilled food and vacuuming regularly. 
Seal and store food properly.
Declutter to help limit spaces for pests to hide.
Seal cracks and crevices in the walls and foundation.
Reduce the humidity and moisture in your home.
Throw your clothes and bedding into the dryer to kill off any potential outside invaders.

How do I reduce the use of pesticides on my lawn?

Follow the methods of IPM to help reduce the use of traditional pesticides. Once you’ve taken the right steps for your particular pest or weed problem, make sure you’re monitoring your lawn regularly, testing soil, and taking note of any changes or new pests. The earlier you catch problematic species, the better chance you have at reducing the later use of pesticides.

Is IPM the same as organic pest control?

Integrated pest management is not the same as organic pest control. Organic pest control utilizes chemicals with strictly controlled ingredient lists. IPM uses chemicals as a last resort. If chemicals are used in IPM, they can be either organic or inorganic.

Does Integrated Pest Management save you money?

Think of IPM as “slow and steady wins the race.” While it seems cheaper and quicker to buy pesticides, the results aren’t long-term. Over time, you’re going to shell out more money treating the problem as it continues to resurface from short-term sprays.
 
You might also damage your lawn with toxic chemicals or kill beneficial microorganisms, shrubs, trees, or grass. As a result, you might need to invest in restoring your lawn’s ecosystem. 

While IPM takes time and resources, you’ll treat the problems of your lawn once and for all while also cultivating a healthy lawn that requires less expensive treatments over time.

Is it time to invest in a professional? 

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, Integrated Pest Management takes time and resources. However, it’s an environmentally sensitive way to tackle your pest problem while promoting the overall health of your lawn. While it’s possible to do it yourself, you could find yourself overwhelmed by lawn care techniques and constant monitoring.  

If you’re already running off limited time, consider hiring a professional who can take on lawn mowing and lawn care. Finding trained individuals through Lawn Love can take out most of the legwork behind IPM.

Main photo credit: Don LaVangeCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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.