Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a common sense approach to managing problems in your landscape. The reason for using IPM can be understood when you think about two common insects pictured below: a lady bug and termites.
The former is a very beneficial insect, because it eats other insects, while the latter causes enormous damage. IPM allows us to protect beneficials, whereas using pesticides indiscriminately kills both beneficial and harmful insects.
IPM represents a ‘holistic’ approach to pest control. IPM is part of a total urban community ecosystem approach to gardening which promotes good managing and stewardship strategies. It involves understanding and careful examination of all factors (and their interrelationships) influencing plant growth. These include soil, water, air, nutrients, insects, diseases, landscape design, weeds, animals, beneficial organisms, weather and cultural practices.
The goal is to manage problems at an acceptable level rather than attempting to eliminate them. In many cases pest and disease problems can be prevented by selecting the appropriate plant species for your particular site and providing the best possible growing conditions. Regular observation or monitoring of the plants in your landscape is critical in helping you to decide if a problem requires corrective action.
Many factors impact plant growth. Too often gardeners assume that plant problems are caused by pests or disease. For example, insect damage may occur after a plant has been weakened by other factors including site problems, cultural practices or environmental and nutritional problems.
IPM is not a strictly organic approach. When necessary, chemicals are employed. However, broad spectrum residual insecticides should not be relied upon as the primary management strategy. Residual pesticides remain effective in the environment for days, weeks or months, impacting beneficial organisms as well as pests. Except for some serious fruit and shrub diseases, pesticides should not be applied on a scheduled or preventative basis. In all cases, the least toxic solutions should always be tried first.
The IPM approach compels you to consider your landscape as part of the larger urban community ecosystem to manage responsibly. Besides impacting your family and pets, your gardening methods often have consequences which extend far beyond your property.
IPM and landscape practices are discussed in on-line publications from the University of Maryland’s Home and Garden Information Center and the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources which has publications at two locations: Natural Resources & Water Quality and Lawn, Garden & Home. Two other websites containing relevant information are the Maryland Turfgrass Council and the University of Maryland’s Thorne Lab which specializes in insects.