Integrated Pest Management At Home: Protect Your Garden the Natural Way

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Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is becoming increasingly popular as gardeners learn about the potential dangers of chemical pest management.

IPM programs are made up of multiple, combined common-sense pest management practices. It’s an all-inclusive way to control pests and is environmentally friendly, affordable, enjoyable, and wise.

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When using IPM techniques, you don’t rely on one product or pest control method. Instead, you assemble an arsenal of best practices and tools to deal with and manage pests in an ongoing manner.

Successful IPM relies on maintaining healthy soil and garden conditions, keeping a close watch on your yard and garden, and choosing your methods carefully.

What has come to be known as “traditional pest control” consists of frequent, repeated applications of pesticides.



With IPM, pesticides are only used sparingly as needed. The main focus is on pest prevention. This involves keeping your yard and garden healthy, paying close attention to your property’s plantings and residents, and using various natural products, natural enemies, biological controls, and methods.

In this article, we’ll describe these practices and provide solid tips on controlling pests safely and effectively in your yard and garden with IPM. Read on to learn more.

What is Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and How To Use It In Your Garden

IPM is the perfect choice for your home food production garden because it allows you to grow healthier fruits and veggies with a combination of mechanical, cultural, and biological pest deterrents with just an occasional dash of chemical pesticide thrown in.

Just remember the four essential principles:

  • Monitoring
  • Identification
  • Prevention
  • Treatment

1. Pest Monitoring

Vigilance is especially important in your vegetable garden. You must monitor your yard and garden regularly to be familiar with your native and introduced flora and fauna.

It’s important to understand which plants and animals in your environment are benign, harmful, and helpful.

You should at least stroll through the garden daily, examining the plants. Keep a notebook and take pictures to record the condition of your plants.

Carry a magnifying glass to examine plants carefully for signs of eggs or for tiny pests such as aphids.

By keeping a close eye on your yard and garden and correctly identifying pests, beneficial insects, invasive or harmful plants, and desirable native plants, you can make smart decisions about management and control.

2. Pest Identification: Know your pests!

To use IPM techniques effectively, you must familiarize yourself with the types of insects (pests and benefits) you are likely to encounter in your area. This includes knowing what both pests and beneficial insects look like at each phase of life.

Online tools like the University of Minnesota Extension’s “What Insect is This?” can be very helpful in getting a positive ID on your local fauna.

Knowing when to intervene and when to allow nature to take its course is a delicate balance. It’s important to understand that there are two beneficial types of bugs: predators and parasitoids.

Predators include:

  • Green Lacewing larvae eat a wide variety of pests in great numbers.
  • Aphid Midges and Ladybugs are voracious aphid hunters.
  • Dragonflies eat hundreds of mosquitoes daily.

There are many more, depending on your location. These good bugs actively hunt and eat harmful insects like aphids, scale insects, caterpillars, and whiteflies.

Parasitoids (often small wasps or flies) lay their eggs on pests or their eggs. Their larvae feed on and eventually kill these pests.

All of these good bugs provide invaluable assistance in maintaining a healthy garden.

Of course, there are also bad bugs, such as:

And many more destructive pest problems. They wreak havoc in the garden by defoliating and destroying plants.

Recognizing and understanding the life cycles of common yard and garden pests and how they interact with the environment will provide you with a good basis for combating them effectively, economically, and in the least hazardous manner possible.

3. With IPM, the Focus is on Pest Prevention

Decisions and plans based on preventing pest encroachment are generally easier and less costly than those based on eradicating pest populations after they have invaded.

Simple steps in your home vegetable garden, such as crop rotation (i.e., shifting crops to different growth areas annually), can help prevent many plant diseases and pest infestations.

Applying an Integrated Pest Management System for the Home Garden

Follow these best practices to discourage pests from settling in your yard and garden:

  • Take advantage of natural plant resistance. Be careful not to purchase overgrown, pot-bound plants or exhibit any signs of illness.
  • Be sure to choose vegetable garden varieties that are disease and pest resistant. Always look for vigorous, healthy, well-branched plants with good root systems.
  • Take care not to crowd your healthy plants. Ample spacing and good airflow can go far toward preventing the spread of both pests and diseases.
  • Be sure to keep pests and diseases out of your garden by practicing good sanitation and hygiene. When you have been visiting another garden or a garden center, be sure to wash up before you handle your plants.
  • Clean all your equipment after each use by wiping the blades of clippers, rake tines, and shovels with a solution of one part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water.
  • Rotate crops to prevent diseases and pests from becoming well-established in any location.
  • Mulch open ground. Keeping a thick layer of mulch on bare soil is another good way to deny access to insect pests and some soil-borne diseases. It’s also an excellent way to suppress weeds and use water well.
  • Practice companion planting. Choose plants that repel pests. Planning your vegetable, herb, or flower garden to include plant varieties that are pest and disease-resistant or those that actually repel pests can make it easy, inexpensive, or even free to keep pests at bay.

Top 5 Insect Repellent Companion Plants

Marigold

Tagetes erecta (Marigold) is a beautiful flowering plant that repels many pest insects, including aphids, nematodes, and whiteflies.

Its strong scent is a natural deterrent, making it an excellent companion plant in vegetable gardens.

Marigolds also attract beneficial insects like ladybugs, which feed on harmful pests.

Garlic

Allium sativum (Garlic) is a good addition to your herb or vegetable garden and an excellent insect repellent.

Its scent repels pests such as aphids, Japanese beetles, and carrot flies. Additionally, the sulfur compounds emitted by garlic may act as natural fungicides.

Spearmint

Mentha spicata (Spearmint) is a fragrant herb that repels many common garden pests, such as ants, aphids, and cabbage moths.

Its strong aroma masks the scent of plants around it, and its rapid growth creates a dense ground cover that helps conserve water and discourages pests from settling in.

Catnip

Nepeta cataria (Catnip) is a member of the mint family with potent pest-repelling properties.

It deters pests like aphids, ants, flea beetles, and squash bugs. Be advised it does attract cats!

Tansy

Tanacetum vulgare (Tansy) is a perennial herb that repels many pests, including ants, flies, mosquitoes, and moths.

Tansy can be planted around the garden or used as a border, but it can be invasive, so you may need to take steps to keep it under control.

* Attract natural garden helpers. Adding pollinator-friendly plants to your landscaping and amid your vegetable garden can help you attract helpful, beneficial, and predatory insects and birds to your space.

Top 5 Companion Plants to Attract Beneficial Insects 

Yarrow

Achillea millefolium (Yarrow) is a perennial flowering plant that attracts beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps.

Its tiny, clustered flowers provide nectar and pollen for these insects, and its feathery foliage is an excellent shelter.

Fennel

Foeniculum vulgare (Fennel) is an aromatic herb that attracts beneficial insects like bees, butterflies, and hoverflies.

Its umbrella-shaped clusters of small yellow flowers provide abundant nectar and pollen, and Fennel acts as a host plant for swallowtail butterfly larvae.

As a bonus, Fennel’s strong scent helps deter certain pest insects.

Purple Coneflower

Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) is a beautiful flowering plant that attracts a variety of beneficial insects, including bees, butterflies, and predatory insects like hoverflies.

Its long-blooming, daisy-like flowers produce ample nectar and pollen, making it a reliable food source for beneficial insects all season long.

Buckwheat

Fagopyrum esculentum (Buckwheat) is a fast-growing cover crop that attracts and supports many beneficial insects, including bees, hoverflies, and parasitic wasps.

Its small, white flowers produce lots of nectar, and Buckwheat’s dense growth provides shelter and habitat for ground-dwelling beneficial insects.

Lemon Balm

Melissa officinalis (Lemon Balm) is an aromatic herb that attracts beneficial insects such as bees, butterflies, and hoverflies.

Its small, tubular flowers are rich in nectar, providing a vital food source for these pollinators.

Lemon balm’s lemony scent also helps mask the scent of neighboring plants, so it also deters some pest insects. On top of all that, lemon balm can attract predatory insects that feed on garden pests.

Discourage Weeds Rather Than Poisoning Them

Keep weeds (which provide some insects a good hiding place) under control by keeping your desired plants strong and healthy, using mulch, hand digging, and (as a last resort) carefully spot-treating with herbicide.

At the end of the growing season, plant cover crops to prevent having bare soil, which is an open invitation to pests and weeds. Legume-cover crops, such as alfalfa, clover, and sweet peas, are also helpful in creating healthy soil.

Don’t use widespread herbicides to control weeds. Herbicides (such as Glyphosate) kill all sorts of plants, not just weeds. The chemicals also soak into the soil and end up in the groundwater.

If you do need to use herbicides, do so sparingly with spot treat in a focused and targeted manner. Follow the packaging directions carefully.

Sanitation: Keep Your Yard & Garden Tidy

Avoid causing damage to trees when you mow or use your weed eater. Compromised tree bark gives insect pests a handy place to hide, lay eggs, pupate, etc.

Dispose of garden debris quickly and appropriately by composting it, burning it, or simply setting it out with the trash.

Don’t let it litter your yard because it will provide hiding places for pests and breeding grounds for plant diseases.

Use Physical Barriers Instead Of Chemicals

In the garden, physical barriers can be used to protect plants against insect pests. For example, row covers are a great choice for your veggie garden.

In addition to helping with pest management, they can protect tender young plants from cold, wind, and harsh sun rays.

How To Use Row Covers in Your Garden

Choose Treatment Options With Care

With IPM, you choose carefully from the least risky methods to those that may present more risk.

Your choices will range from simply picking pests off plants and dumping them into a bucket of soapy water to very limited and targeted use of precisely chosen chemical products.

Top 6 Easy, Organic Garden Pest Treatment

  • A blast of water and a dose of patience may be all needed. Many small pests, such as aphids, can simply be knocked to the ground by a strong spray from the garden hose. Still, other pests are very short-lived and don’t do much damage. Once you’ve identified them, waiting them out may be the best option.
  • Handpicking (physical removal) is something you should do on a regular, ongoing basis. A bucket of soapy water is an excellent final destination for big pests, such as potato beetles, tomato hornworms, and the like.
  • Diatomaceous Earth and other natural powders can be sprinkled around the garden and on plants to deflect and kill pests. See our guide HERE.
  • Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a natural soil-dwelling bacteria that makes proteins toxic to caterpillars when eaten. You can safely spray or dust Bt onto food crops. The proteins aren’t toxic to humans and other mammals, and Bt isn’t harmful to most non-target wildlife. [http://npic.orst.edu/ingred/bt.html]
  • Pheromones that disrupt pest mating can also be useful for monitoring insects. The idea is to use synthetic pheromones to lure pest insects into traps. Specific products are available to target specific pests.
  • Slug and snail traps can be made by simply placing shallow beer dishes around your yard and garden. The creatures will enter to drink the beer and will drown. You can also prevent slugs and snails from entering parts of your garden by surrounding the area with copper mesh, as shown here.

Organically Deter Snails (Part 2) From Your Outdoor Container Garden

Conventional Pest Control May Be Needed For Severe Situations

With IPM, you first make good use of a vast array of safe and appropriate strategies for pest management. You take many preventative measures, and pesticide use as a preventative is rare or nonexistent.

The reason for this is that excessive use of pesticide applications generally presents far more risks than benefits. Moreover, many safe alternatives can provide the same or better results.

If all else fails, you may decide to make careful use of mild, commercial, or natural insecticidal products, such as:

  • Neem oil is a botanical pesticide derived from the neem tree. It has insecticidal, antifungal, and antifeedant properties. It disrupts the pests’ feeding and reproductive cycles, thus helping to reduce their populations. Neem oil helps control aphids, mites, and certain caterpillars.
  • Insecticidal soaps are derived from fatty acids and are often considered a low-toxicity option for controlling pests. These soaps suffocate pests upon contact and are effective against soft-bodied insects such as aphids, whiteflies, and mealybugs.
  • Spinosad is an insecticide derived from the fermentation of a naturally occurring soil bacterium. It is effective against a wide range of pests, including caterpillars, thrips, leaf miners, and fruit flies. Spinosad affects the pests’ nervous system, causing paralysis and death, but has low toxicity to humans and beneficial insects when used as directed.
  • Pyrethrin is a natural insecticide derived from chrysanthemum flowers. It has a rapid knockdown effect on many insects, including aphids, beetles, and leafhoppers. Pyrethrin breaks down quickly in the environment, minimizing its residual impact. It is often used in IPM strategies for targeted pest control, but care should be taken to avoid harming non-target beneficial insects such as bees and ladybugs.

Be Safe!

Always use any spray early in the morning or at dusk to avoid affecting bees and other beneficial insects. Even with mild sprays, take proper precautions to protect your eyes, airways, and skin.

Remember to carefully read and follow the label instructions, consider the target pests, and adhere to local regulations and restrictions.

If in doubt, consult with local agricultural extension offices or certified professionals for specific product recommendations suitable for your region and gardening needs.

Successful IPM Takes Thought & Patience

Have realistic expectations, and don’t overreact. Take note of what works and what doesn’t, and adjust your methods accordingly.

A solid IPM program will keep pest insect numbers low, but you will probably still see the occasional pest.

Don’t overreact and reach for the pesticide spray. Instead, try natural methods such as hand-picking first.

Spraying or distributing pesticide chemicals broadly in your yard or garden is greatly discouraged because this practice will negatively impact beneficial insects, birds, and reptiles, contaminates soil and groundwater, and is not usually effective.

With IPM techniques, your approach will be very different than using toxic chemicals to kill pests.

A good IPM plan works with the environment rather than against it. Instead of attempting to poison targeted insects (and incidentally poisoning non-targeted insects and other potentially beneficial fauna), your goal is to actively engage with your environment, work, and partner with beneficial plants, insects, birds, reptiles, and other garden residents and create a balanced, healthy environment that naturally excludes pest insects and resists plant diseases.

Refer to the advice presented here to get started on a successful lifelong Integrated Pest Management program in your yard and garden.

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