From the Vine – Landscape IPM

— Written By and last updated by Patricia Burch

I always get calls from panicked homeowners who have found a pest in their landscape and want to know what they can spray to kill the said pest. Some of the time, they don’t even know what the pest is, or what type of plant that the pest is on, they just want it gone. One caller stated that he had black and grey worms eating all his wife’s flowers and he had been given orders to kill them or he would be in the dog house. I knew from my 20 years of marriage, that this caller was in desperate and immediate need of assistance. I asked him to email me a picture of the worms and I would get back to him. Luckily for him, I was able to identify the worms and offer him a solution that kept him from the dog house. But the solution that I offered wasn’t to fog the yard full of pesticides. It was a simple method of control called hand picking. From the picture, I counted about 20 caterpillars on the flowers. I told the worried caller to just pick them off and drop them in a cup of soapy water and his problem would be solved. He called back later to thank me for the advice and said it took him about 10 minutes to pick all the worms off the flowers.

When dealing with any pest of the landscape, the best method for management is to implement an Integrated Pest Management system (IPM). An IPM is a simple ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques that includes cultural, mechanical, biological, and chemical controls.

Cultural controls should be the first tool out of the toolbox when finding a pest in the landscape. Cultural controls include taking soil samples, planting the right plant in the right place, planting resistant plants, using rotations in annual plants, and supplemental irrigation. In other words, keep plants stress free and healthy by giving it what it needs when it needs it.

Mechanical controls include hand weeding, handpicking insects, traps, barriers or covers, pruning and using proper sanitation practices to deter pests.

A great way to prevent voles from eating bulbs and plants is to incorporate gravel or Permatillâ into the soil and around the roots at planting. This acts as a natural barrier and keeps voles away from prized plants. Biological controls include beneficial insects and parasites along with natural bacterium and pathogens. Let nature help you. When you fog the landscape with chemicals, you not only are killing the pests, but all the predators that are helping you fight them.

The last tool in the IPM toolbox is chemical, which should be the last tool you bring out. These include natural chemicals such as insecticidal soaps and oils, copper and sulfur sprays, pyrethrum, spinosad, and others. Synthetic chemicals include man-made herbicides, fungicides, and Insecticides. If you are worried about the lasting effects or residue of pesticides in your landscape, know that years of research have been conducted on each of these chemicals before going to market. Read and follow the label directions of all pesticides and you will not have problems with any chemical controls.

For more information on IPM and landscape pests read the Pesticide Use Best Management Practices for Homeowners.