Integrated Pest Management—What Is It?

Above: Plucking scarlet lily beetles off your lilies as soon as you spot them is an effective way of controlling the pest. Photograph by Hobbs Luton via Flickr, from Search &; Destroy: Scarlet Lily Beetles.

Inspect your garden every day (or at least every other day) during the growing season for pests and disease. Identify what they are and what problem they are causing. Finding a problem early makes it easier to solve. A small infestation may not need treatment. It may just need to be found by the good bugs. Give it a couple of days to see what happens. Or if you find one hornworm on your tomatoes, you can just pluck it off. Problem solved. But if you accidentally knock into your tomatoes and a cloud of whiteflies erupts, then you have a bigger problem.

Select your control to match the problem, starting with the least toxic first. Hand picking pests off plants may make you a bit squeamish, but it’s nontoxic and doesn’t harm anything but the tomato hornworm. (Leave it if it has what looks like eggs on its back. That’s the work of a small braconid wasp, Cotesia congregata, and it will take care of the hornworm for you.) Whiteflies may be able to be knocked off with a strong stream of water from a hose. You can protect your cucumber seedlings from cutworms by placing a toilet paper tube over the seedling.

Above: Got a slug problem? Spread used coffee grounds around plants that are vulnerable to be being munched on—the grounds are naturally abrasive and sharp, and soft-bodied critters avoid rough surfaces. See Gardening 101: How to Use Coffee Grounds in the Garden.

If you have to use chemical controls, use them sparingly and specifically. Pick the least toxic option, such as insecticidal soap or neem oil, first. Always read the directions before every use and follow them exactly.

Monitor the results and situation. Is your choice of method working? Remember, the goal is not to completely remove the pest, since that forces the ecosystem out of balance. The goal is to bring the level of damage under control to a reasonable level with the minimum harm to the environment.

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Frequently asked questions

What is integrated pest management?

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a holistic approach to pest control that aims to minimize the use of synthetic pesticides. It focuses on preventing pest problems through practices like monitoring, identification, habitat manipulation, biological control, and the use of least-toxic pest control methods.

Why is integrated pest management important?

Integrated pest management is important because it promotes sustainable and environmentally-friendly pest control practices. It reduces reliance on chemical pesticides that can be harmful to human health, beneficial insects, and the environment.

How does integrated pest management work?

Integrated pest management works by incorporating multiple strategies to manage pests effectively. This includes regular monitoring and scouting for pests, identifying the pests and determining their lifecycle stages, implementing cultural practices to create unfavorable conditions for pests, using natural predators or biological controls, and as a last resort, using least-toxic chemical controls.

What are some examples of integrated pest management techniques?

Examples of integrated pest management techniques include crop rotation, trap cropping, physical barriers like nets or fences, introducing beneficial insects or nematodes, handpicking pests, using insecticidal soaps or oils, and utilizing biological controls like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

Is integrated pest management suitable for home gardeners?

Yes, integrated pest management is suitable for home gardeners. In fact, it is highly recommended for home gardens as it offers a more sustainable and eco-friendly approach to pest control.

Are there any drawbacks to integrated pest management?

While integrated pest management has numerous benefits, it may require more time, effort, and knowledge compared to conventional pesticide-based approaches. It may also have a lower level of immediate pest control efficacy, as some methods take time to show results or require consistent monitoring and intervention.

Can I completely eliminate the use of pesticides with integrated pest management?

The aim of integrated pest management is to minimize the need for synthetic chemical pesticides. While it is possible to significantly reduce pesticide use, complete elimination may not always be feasible, especially in severe pest infestations. However, integrated pest management aims to prioritize the use of least-toxic pesticide options when necessary.

Where can I learn more about integrated pest management?

For more information about integrated pest management, you can consult resources like local agricultural extension services, gardening books, online gardening forums, and reputable websites dedicated to sustainable gardening and pest control.