Making use of Integrated Pest Management

The constant struggles between pests and gardeners are inescapable and unending. In any garden, one can expect diseases, bugs and many other kinds of wildlife that compel the gardener’s attention through the growing season.

During the first half of the 20th century, many synthetic insecticides were being developed, and were used indiscrimately, showing little regard for any harmful side effects.

As time went by, common sense began to prevail and more reasonable treatments to manage weeds, insects and plant pathogens were brought into use and referred to collectively as Integrated Pest Management.

This system encourages the growth of healthy crops using natural mechanisms where possible, keeping risks to plants, people and the environment in general to a minimum.

When IPM strategies are used, it may be necessary in the end to use chemical controls, but they are resorted to only after other methods prove ineffective.

President Richard Nixon directed all federal agencies to advance the application of the IPM methods in 1972, and President Jimmy Carter extended its implementation in 1979 in agriculture, horticulture and conservation.

Because completely eliminating a particular pest from the land is usually impossible, and not even desirable in some cases, and the means that would have to be used for this result are often unsafe, IPM practitioners establish tolerance levels and apply controls only when these are exceeded.

Obviously, careful monitoring is needed and, besides simple observation, trapping systems are used.Statistics are kept on plant pathogens and insect populations, with area temperatures and local conditions taken into account.

Before remediation is started, preventive practices are put into effect with species selection and cultural techniques applied with regard for local conditions.

Mechanical controls are the first options and may include techniques already familiar to the home gardener such as picking off pests, and using netting and fencing to exclude birds and rodents. Where damage to crops is minimal, decisions have to be made regarding further action. Economic impact is considered along with health risks, environmental factors and accurate pest identification.

When intervention is deemed necessary, the least harmful biological and chemical treatments are decided upon. This may include such measures as the introduction of sterile insects or targeted spraying with pesticides, such as pheromones. Broadcast spraying is used only as a last resort.

The home gardener can use these principles in the same way as the farmer or agricultural producer.

I sometimes wonder whether the pests have their own version of IMP (probably known as Integrated People Management), with strategies that identify time and place for habits that drive the gardener wild.

Be that as it may, IPM is good for the environment and for us.

Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program.

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