IPM: a sensible, knowledgeable approach to managing landscape pests

By now you realize that as you venture into your landscape, you’re not alone. Yes, it’s a jungle out there. Like the characters of  Wizard of Oz trudging into the dark forest, you may be chanting “Aphids and borers, and mites, oh my!” Sure, we share our shrubs and trees with a wide assortment of insects, diseases, viruses, and bacteria. Some of these pests are as fond of your newly plahibiscus and beented crapemyrtle as you are. Fortunately, some pests are fodder for helpful, beneficial critters that feast on them, thereby protecting our shrubs and trees.

When you encounter pests in your landscape, deal with them sensibly. Avoid the typical knee-jerk response to apply a pesticide to vanquish the pest. After all, you may end up killing beneficial insects and as the saying goes, “kill a beneficial insect and you inherit its job.” To manage pests this year, follow a game plan that involves knowledge and common sense. It’s called Integrated Pest Management or IPM for short. It’s a decision-making process that involves the following four components:

  1. Monitor your landscape for the presence of harmful and beneficial organisms. Inspect your shrubs and trees on a regular basis. Examine them for signs and symptoms of pests. Generally, most plants have few problems if they are planted in the right location and receive proper care.

While examining your plants for problems, check them for beneficial insects–the arch enemies of insect pests.  Beneficial organisms consist of predators, parasites, and diseases. Predators kill and eat their prey. Parasites live in or on their prey, feeding on its tissues and eventually killing it.   Beneficial pathogens consist of a variety of viruses, fungi and bacteria that naturally infect and kill harmful pests.

By monitoring the garden and landscape, you have more options for controlling pest problems when you detect them early

  1. Identify harmful and beneficial organisms.Determine if the pest has the potential to cause cosmetic or health damage. To help you ID beneficial insects in your landscape, see Beneficial Insects, Butterflies, and More Around the Home and Garden.
  1. Evaluate the extent of the pest problem and decide if pest management tactics are warranted. While it’s difficult at times to accept any kind of plant damage, some is just cosmetic and poses no real harm to the plant. For example,  fall webworms and gall-forming insects are common pests that produce unsightly webs and galls, but do not necessarily threaten the health of the plant.Southern pine beetles, on the other hand, demand immediate action when a tree exhibits signs of an infestation. Southern pine beetle-infested trees need to be felled and  removed quickly to suppress outbreaks that will afflict nearby pines.
  1. Choose appropriate control measures. Try cultural and mechanical controls first. A cultural approach could be proper watering and fertilizing to help shrubs and trees cope with or outgrow the injury. Mechanical controls involve handpicking insects and discarding them in a jar of soapy water, dislodging them from tree branches with a strong spray of water from the hose, or pruning out heavily infested or infected shoots.

Consider a pesticide only as a last resort: when pest levels have reached damaging levels and your other tactics have not been successful. Use pesticides sparingly to control the targeted pest. Before purchasing and using any pesticide, read the label and follow all directions and precautions.

Keep in mind that healthy landscapes have a wide variety of beneficial creatures as well as a tolerable levels of damaging critters. With IPM you work with Mother Nature to maintain this balance while keeping harmful pests at bay.

© Bob Polomski 2015

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