Friday, October 9, 2009

How To Deal with Pests

Of the garden variety, of course. Dealing with the cubemate that smacks their gum or the dude down the hall that uses speaker phone is 100% something I cannot help you with. But you have my sympathies.

My garden this year, mercifully, has been almost pest-free. However, I know that in future years I may not be so lucky. I had been hearing about integrated pest management (IPM). You know, that it was a great, holistic approach to controlling the creepy crawlies in the garden. So, I looked into it.

To be clear, IPM is not organic gardening. Chemical pesticides can be used in IPM practices as a last resort. But using IPM practices can be compatible with organic gardening. Basically, IPM is a process by which you first decide on your threshold tolerance for damage. Then, you monitor your plants frequently. Next, when you see damage, you identify the pest. After identification you move onto cultural (meaning growing environment), biological or chemical controls. And finally, at the end of the season you evaluate the effectiveness of what you did during the year and decide on what you will do different for the next season. It's an iterative process.

What does this mean? Basically every few days, you stroll around your garden looking to see any signs of damage. Then, if you see the damage, you figure out the cause and employ first cultural, then biological, and, if it comes to it, chemical controls to selectively eliminate your pest. Next, you evaluate how things went and how you can improve for the future.

Sounds so intuitive doesn't it?!? It also sounds familiar! Of the many books I read this winter to gear up for having a more successful garden, all of the organic ones suggested monitoring, doing preventative cultural practices and selectively eliminating the problem pest. The large difference from what I read in organic gardening books/magazines and IPM, aside, of course, for the permitted use of chemicals, was the evaluation part at the end. It totally makes sense when you hear it, but it's totally not something that occurred to me. I mean, I certainly have reflected on what plants were successful and which weren't, but pest management? Nope. Perhaps because it's more enjoyable to think about plants than bugs?!?

Below is an action plan I designed for the 4 most common pests in the DC/NoVA area. This year I, unbeknownst to me, I largely followed the monitor and cultural controls with very good results. Next year, I will work more on beefing up the biological before jumping into chemical (reaching for insecticidal soap is much easier than attracting ladybugs!!).

Click image to enlarge and print.

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