What is Integrated Pest Management (IPM)?
Organic and All-Natural Pest Management Made Easy
‘IPM’ Stands for Integrated Pest Management and is a common term for a pest management system for crops. The ‘Integrated’ piece arises due to the varied nature and combination of Cultural, Biological, and Chemical controls used to combat pests. If you are managing pests using an organic or all-natural approach, here are some easy tips to help you get started and prevent problems before they happen.
Sticky Pads are a great tool for identifying Pest outbreaks before they happen. When hung from plants, or placed around the base of the plant, these can be an invaluable resource that can potentially save your crop! Sticky Pads should be used throughout the growing season, and placed in potential hot spot areas such as near doorways, on the outer layer of crop groupings, near vents and fans, and near water line inlets and outputs.
Be sure to inspect plants at each watering, or at minimum once a week. A thorough inspection means checking leaves from various areas of the plant, first from a far back view, then by selecting a few leaves and examining the color,shape, underside and topside, as well as the stem. It helps to take the time to check top-to-bottom if it is possible.
Use in conjunction with your sticky pads during plant checks to identify some stand out markings or features for the pest in question that may be threatening your plant. Check out our Blog Series on various common pests and how to ID them - fast!
References are key. Make sure you have multiple resources available, including but not limited to your local pest control specialist. It always helps to have a second opinion and a professional opinion when you are dealing with a crop that may have monetary implications if the wrong approach to control is used.
Identification & Action
Once you have Identified the pest population, you can create an action plan for dealing with them based on the severity of the infestation. Sticky pads with grids can be helpful to count or approximate level of infestation to determine what degree of action should be taken.
Low numbers of pests should be dealt with delicately, utilizing primarily environmental controls and a review of biotic/abiotic factors. Some Biotic factors include surrounding foliage, predatory population, and general hygiene in the crop area. Cultural controls are also an effective yet simple means of physically excluding pests. Here are a few ways you can utilize cultural controls to reduce pests.
Fallen or decomposing leaves, spilled organic inputs, and other decomposing organic matter can attract pests. Be sure to keep a clean growing area and ensure all rows are free of debris. Store all organic matter and green waste outside and in a sealed container, such as a compost bin or green waste refuse bin.
Temperature and Humidity levels should be kept as stable as possible to prevent issues from too much moisture, or too much heat as a contributing factor to pest infestation.
Watering and Feeding Schedules
It is important to keep an eye on the amount of over/underwatering that may be occurring in your garden as well. Some pests feed only on weaker plants, and are deterred by strong, healthy plants. Overwatering can lead to root disease and creates an ideal environment for pests like fungus gnats. Using pots with aeration and drainage such as Geopot Fabric Pots, can be a great first step to avoiding these issues from occurring and spreading. This is especially true of systemic plant diseases, such as fusarium, which can be carried by pests and spread throughout the garden. Over feeding can cause plant morphology to change unexpectedly, and can be mistaken for a pest issue in some cases – be sure to research fertilization rates and signs of over fertilization and deficiency in your crop to eliminate this as a variable.
Do your best to exclude your crop from outside pests getting in. This can be as easy as deploying a bug screen or some 40% shade cloth over exposed areas to reduce the likelihood of entry. Some pests will also favor dark, damp areas with crevices and cracks, while others will favor hot spots in your garden, or even congregate near fans and vents. Humidity is also key in enclosed spaces, and can help act as a form of exclusion by creating an ideal environment for natural predators, or an unfavorable environment for pests.
Some plants act as hosts for pests, so be sure to read up on your native plant habitats and the potential interactions they may have with plant species. Identifying and learning the characteristics and seasonal behaviors of these plants and the pests/bugs that interact with them can be just as important as the knowledge of the crop you are growing. Some plants can act as host plants for predatory species as well, resulting in benefit for neighboring crops and a reduction in pest populations both naturally and year-round.
In the event of a confirmed pest problem, after cultural controls have been put into action, there are ways to increase the natural predator population. This will naturally cull the number of pests and drastically reduce infestation from occurring if done early enough. Timing is key, as some predatory insects take time to hatch or become active. There are multiple forms of natural biological controls that can be employed safely in organic and inorganic IPM programs.
Predatory mites are a great resource for controlling pest mites, and have proven to be extremely effective in closed environment scenarios. Predatory mites should be regularly applied at first signs of pests to prevent infestation. It is recommended that you contact your local biocontrol specialist or a trusted company to help identify the right predatory mites for your garden.
Praying Mantis and Ladybugs are a staple in any organic IPM regimen for a reason. Tough, active, and effective, these insects will seek out pest insects and actively control the populations at pre-infestation levels. It is recommended that you contact your local biocontrol specialist , or a trusted company to help identify the right predatory insects for your garden.
Chemical Controls should be used as a last resort, or as a preventative in cases where the insecticide does not have a high potential for phytotoxicity. Additionally, chemical controls can harm pre-existing insect populations that are beneficial to your IPM system, and ones without multiple mechanisms of action can create resistant pest populations due to very short birth cycles in pests. Here are some examples of how to use a safe, natural method in the event of an outbreak while avoiding harmful chemicals.
If things begin to look too tough for predatory insects and mites alone, it may be time to call in the big guns. Guard 'n Spray contains a unique blend of oils designed to dessicate, suffocate, and starve insects without harming your plants. As an alternative to predatory insects, or more complex microbiological controls, horticultural oils offer an effective yet gentle solution to what is a very common problem. Made from food-grade ingredients and usable through multiple delivery systems, Guard 'n Spray and horticultural oil products are an effective first strike against new or established pests.
An additional benefit comes in the form of it’s safe, OMRI-Listed formulation being suitable for use on organic and food crops. Many chemical insecticides contain chemicals that can be harmful to your health in high doses or when stored in plant tissues when consumed. It is recommended you spray as much of the plant as possible, including both sides of the leaves. For more information on how to use Guard n Spray effectively, check out the instructions here.
Microbiological controls are an important tool in modern agriculture. By effectively managing cultural controls, biological controls can act as the final step in preventative maintenance by buffering root zones, surfaces, and growing media from outside invaders using a variety of different techniques. Nematodes, Certain Bacillus species, and other Bacteria such as Beauvaria are effective at combating pathogens such as fusarium, Pythium, and pests. It is recommended you consult with your local biocontrol specialist to help find a microbiological control program that works best with your unique pest issues.