How to battle bugs and be sensitive to the environment

Annette Ipsan
Frederick County Master Gardener

Pesky pests plague every garden. Fortunately, there are some options to chemical treatments. One of the best is integrated pest management.

IPM is a holistic approach to pest control that combines good gardening practices with knowledge about pests and problems, careful monitoring and a commitment to fewer toxic pest controls.

How do you use IPM in your garden? Start by building a healthy garden. Use compost and appropriate fertilizers. Plant, water and mulch properly. Choose plants well-adapted to our area and place them where they thrive. Plus, get rid of weeds and unhealthy plants.

Next, recognize not all bugs are bad bugs: Only one in 10 are pests. Hundreds of good insects and spiders help control bad bugs. Ladybugs eat aphids. Assassin bugs eat Japanese beetles. Parasitic wasps lay eggs on damaging caterpillars. Learn which bugs are good bugs and put them to work.

How do you attract beneficial insects? Create a diverse habitat by planting different types of plants for food, cover and nesting sites. Provide water in shallow containers. Reduce use of pesticides or stop using them altogether. Switch to insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils and Bt.

Why? Chemicals don't discriminate between good bugs and bad bugs.

One of the most important parts of IPM is checking your garden closely at least once a week. Become a plant detective.

Do the leaves, shoots, flowers and trunks look healthy? Are there any pest clues like droppings, webs or the pest itself? Is there physical damage from insect feeding or cuts from a lawnmower or trimmer? Is there anything around a plant that could cause problems like deep shade, soggy soil or a wall that reflects heat?

Over half of all plant problems are caused by environment, not pests.

Once you answer these questions, identify the problem. Books, the Internet and your local Extension office can help you find answers. Early detection and diagnosis makes the fixes easier, less expensive and less toxic.

How do you manage plant problems with IPM? First, put up with some damage. I can look the other way when leaf miners scribble trails on my columbine. Be patient. Wait for the good guys to control the had guys. Ladybugs will arrive about two weeks after aphids start munching roses, so I sit tight and wait for the cavalry.

Know treatment options: remove, do nothing or treat. Removing a problem plant is a valid option if the plant was inexpensive or isn't important, I'm more likely to toss a $2.99 annual than a valuable tree. Doing nothing can also be a good choice if the plant will recover on its own or is at the end of its life span. I know my lilacs will sprout healthy powdery mildew-free loaves next year. so I never treat them.

IPM advocates the least toxic treatments. Use a stream of water from a hose to knock aphids off roses. Handpick and destroy bagwoms, Japanese beetles and tomato honrworms. Prune out damaged areas in trees and shrubs. Use biological controls like predatory mites. Try pest barriers such as floating row covers. Use pesticides as a last resort, selectively and only as a spot treatment.

IPM promotes watching carefully, knowing plants and pests and responding in a way that is kindest to the environment. It is responsible gardening at its best.

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