What is integrated pest management (IPM)?

by Caroline Brown

Many gardeners might say that integrated pest management, or IPM, means using organic pest control methods. There’s some truth in that but IPM is actually a lot more complex. IPM is first and foremost a pest managment strategy that emphasizes minimum impact on humans, the environment, & non-harmful organisms.

IPM means using a pest control strategy instead of moving straight to chemical insecticides, which a lot of people do simply because they’ve seen the products in stores or in advertisements. They don’t know about other alternatives. In controlling garden bugs, remember that not all of them cause problems. For example, lady bugs (lady beetles) are good bugs to have in your garden because they eat bad bugs like aphids. So, only worry about controlling bugs if they’re causing problems in your garden.

IPM focuses first on cultural controls such as choosing the right plant for the right place, choosing resistant varieties, keeping your garden clean, and rotating crops. If you practice good cultural controls and still get pest problems, move to mechanical controls such as physical barriers, hand picking, or traps.

If the pest is still getting the best of your garden, you can try an appropriate biological control. Examples are attracting beneficial insects to your yard, Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a bacterial that poisons certain insects, or parasitic nematodes, which are roundworms that kill certain soil dwellers.

IPM stresses that chemical controls should be your last resort, and focuses on those that are least harmful. Examples include insecticidal soap, horticultural oils, and botanical insecticides. IPM does not discourage the use of inorganic (mineral-based) and synthetic insectides–they can be used as the final tactic if nothing else has worked and the level of pest damage to your garden is unacceptable.
Another important thing to remember, if you have a problem in your garden, make sure it’s an insect that’s causing the problem–it could be a plant disease instead. If you’re sure it’s an insect, find the bug and identify it. Use an insect guide, or it you’re not sure, call your local cooperative extension service or master gardener hotline–they may ask you to send them a bug to make sure it’s identified correctly. They’ll also ask you describe the damage that you’re seeing or maybe even send them a damaged plant part such as a leaf that’s been eaten. Once the bug is properly identified, they can help you develop an IPM strategy that you feel comfortable with.
Resources:

Check with your state’s primary cooperative extension service. At the state level, IPM education is an important priority and most states have in-depth websites.
UC IPM Online — University of California’s IPM portal, loaded with data

URI Greenshare Factsheets — The University of Rhode Island has a easy-to-understand series of factsheets on insect (and animal) pests.

PRO New England — Pest Resources Online for New England

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