Gardening is a fun challenge each year. But each year gardeners may be unlucky and end up with pest problems. These pest problems can be frustrating and expensive, and result in the loss of plant life.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a method of determining when treatment is necessary for a particular garden pest. IPM is not difficult to use and uses concepts that most people are familiar with already.

IPM is a decision-making process. It uses regular monitoring to determine if and when treatments are needed. The goal is to keep the number of pests low enough to prevent damage and frustration. It uses the least toxic chemical controls as a last resort. Treatments are only used when the must be to prevent economic, medical or aesthetic damage.

Treatments are chosen when they will be most effective at eliminating the pest and least disruptive to natural pest controls. This decision-making process offers each gardener the opportunity to decide how they want to address a pest problem. Here are the tools for doing so.

First, decide whether or not a particular insect is a pest. This is the first and most important step. It is important to understand that not all insects are pests. For example, one caterpillar may be seen a sign of health in a garden and nothing is done about it. However, when there are many caterpillars on a plant concern for the plants health may arise making the same caterpillar a pest in the gardener’s eyes.

Next, consider whether or not the damage being caused or the annoyance is tolerable. Some level of pests is usually tolerable to a point. So, the question becomes when does it go too far.

Then, find out how much the pest population can grow before it causes this level of damage.

Finally, figure out a treatment level that keeps the number of pests low enough that they do not cause damage. In most cases, it should be kept in mind that complete elimination of the pest is unrealistic. It would also disrupt the natural ecological balance.

Being observant is a key skill to IPM. A gardener must understand how various elements of the environment interact. It is also important to understand how the gardener’s activities influence the environment around them.

Monitoring of pests can be done in various ways. For example, other gardeners may report encountering a certain pest, a gardener can casually look for pests without recording these observations, then observing with written notes, then careful inspection with written observations, and so forth until one is doing statistically valid quantitative sampling. The key is to match the level of monitoring to the importance of the pest problem.

Once observations are completed, another crucial decision can be made. This is when and where to treat the pests. Any sort of treatment must be timed and located correctly.

Consider the life cycle of the pest and seasonal variations of the pest and its natural enemies. Monitoring the treatment will show whether or not pest management goals are being met.

IPM is a basic decision-making process for controlling pests. Although is requires some observation and monitoring it is a simple, economical, and environmentally healthy way of keeping garden pests under control.

Happy gardening!

Jayne Bielecki is a nurse educator, naturalist, and environmentalist in the Chippewa Valley who enjoys working with nature. Most days you can find her happily digging in the dirt.

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