The most effective strategy for controlling pests is to combine methods in an approach known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM). In IPM, information about pests and available pest control methods is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means while minimizing risks to you, your pets, and your environment.
Plants and pets can often tolerate pests better than you think. It is rarely necessary, or even possible, to totally eliminate a pest. Among the few exceptions are cockroaches, fleas, and ants in the house. IPM provides a means of making more rational decisions about pest control. Consider these five key elements of IPM:
Cultural and physical control practices begin before pest problems are encountered.
- Cultural control seeks to provide the plants and animals with a healthy growing environment. To prevent pest outbreaks from occurring consider the following:
- site selection
- plant selection
- sanitation (especially related to fleas and pantry pests)
- Physical control is another preventative strategy. Items to consider are:
- screens, floating row covers, or food containers with tight-fitting lids which act as barriers to pests.
- traps, baits, lures, and physical repellents.
- mulches to reduce weed growth and maintain adequate soil temperatures and moisture.
- proper pet grooming to reduce problems with fleas and ticks
2. Accurate Identification
To be able to effectively treat a pest, you must first know something about the organism. Some important information to gather includes:
- The physical features of the pest;
- What healthy foliage looks like;
- What host (the animal or plant on which an organism lives) or location the pest prefers;
- The pest’s development and life history;
- Characteristics of the damage caused
- The time of year, weather conditions, etc.
3. Monitoring the situation
- Just because a pest is present does not mean it is a problem.
- Be vigilant so you know when to act.
- It is also important to know what a healthy plant looks like; it can be easy to confuse a natural process with a pest problem. Bald Cyprus and Dawn Redwoods are deciduous, and lose their leaves in the fall. Bermudagrass goes dormant and turns brown over the winter.
- Don’t jump to conclusions. Not every problem is caused by a pest. Could the problems be caused by too little or too much water, fertilizer, or sun?
4. Setting thresholds
- Don’t base pest management programs on total elimination of a pest. If you identify a pest as the cause, the next step is to determine the extent of the damage.
- Recognizing that some insects are beneficial to your lawn; do you need to get rid of all of them?
- Can the plant or pet tolerate the pest?
- Are conditions right for the rapid spread of the problem?
- After you have determined the tolerance level (also called the threshold), you may select a pest management option that will keep damage below that level. Usually your goal will not be eradication of the pest, but to reduce the population instead. Keep in mind that by eliminating a pest, you change the whole system. This may cause a die off of beneficial insects or allow other insects to become a pest instead.
5. Take action
When a threshold level has been, or is likely to be, reached, select the best biological, chemical or combination of control agents.
- Biological control uses beneficial insects to control outdoor pests. This strategy requires that you:
- tolerate the helpful insects and some of the pest insects that they need for food.
- use insecticides which kill only the target pest, not the beneficial insects.
- provide food and shelter for the beneficial insects (e.g., flowering plants which provide nectar).
- Chemical control may be the most practical solution to your pest problem. It is important that you:
- Treat only the areas where the pest is present.
- Apply pesticides when they are most effective. Certain stages in a pest’s life cycle are more susceptible to control than others. Understand the pest’s life cycle before using pesticides.
- Select a pesticide that is pest specific, if available; remember, do not kill the beneficial insects.
- Always read the label before purchasing any pesticide. When making a pesticide application, always follow the label directions exactly. For more information on pesticide labels, see ‘Reading the Label‘.
Compiled by Wayne Buhler, PhD.