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Weekly Gardening Guide: IPM - Integrated Pest Management

June 2, 2015

The subject of this week’s blog is IPM – or Integrated Pest Management!

First of all, I think its time we start calling our “tip” of the week what it really is …. The “blog” of the week! We truly did start out this section of the newsletter with the intention of giving you one quick little tip consisting of 1 or 2 helpful sentences and sending you on your way. However, the combination of my miraculous ability to use 15 words to say a 5 word sentence, and the fact that you are all avid gardeners has lead me to think that we should be giving you more than just a snippet of information. At first I was worried that we would be boring you with these “essays”, as Sarah calls them, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive! So thank you all for reading and enabling my addiction to rambling on ☺

I would, however, like to introduce a new aspect to our blog in an effort to appease both those looking for a more in depth look at these gardening issues as well as those just looking for a quick tip. Its called “tl;dr”, and for those not familiar with today’s internet lingo it stands for “too long; didn’t read”. It is usually a brief summary or “abstract” of the information contained in a blog, essay or rant on social media. The things these crazy kids come up with, am I right?

Here is this weeks “tl;dr”:

IPM stands for Integrated Pest Management. It is a government implemented program that sports fields, golf courses, parks and agriculture must abide by in order to prove that they are doing their part to reduce their use of pesticides. Essentially what it means is that they will combine any and all available mechanical, cultural, biological and chemical techniques in a combination (integrated) approach to reducing pests. This is all in an effort to achieve the same efficacy as “conventional” pest management, with a significant reduction in overall pesticide use. Read on to hear more about how you can implement this system into your home lawns and gardens!

And now, the FULL version!

As many of you know, my background is in the golf turf business. However what you may not know is that the pesticide laws in the Ontario golf industry underwent a serious revision in 2008 at the same time as the residential pesticide ban went into effect.  When residential pesticides were removed from the landscape industry, golf had their list of pesticides cut down from 275 to 95 active ingredients, and additionally had legislation put in place which mandated them to follow the new IPM programs implemented by the province. Fortunately, I was attending Guelph in the early 2000’s and they foresaw these changes on the horizon. As a result I spent a good portion of my degree studying and practicing the principles of IPM. Quite frankly, and as you will read in the following, IPM is not a new concept it is simply a SMART one. In fact any good turf manager or farmer already used many of these techniques to control pests and encourage a healthy crop of vegetables or turf! Its just that now they had to prove it!

I will not bother spending any time explaining Integrated Pest Management from a bureaucratic standpoint, as its quite dry and boring, and frankly doesn’t apply to the home gardener. All you need to know is that IPM is now a requirement by all golf courses, sports fields, orchards, nurseries, farms and greenhouses. The ultimate goal of IPM is simply to reduce the amount of pesticides sprayed. It has resulted in a lot of change in the industry and a LOT of paperwork. If you’d like to read more about the legal aspects of IPM, you can visit this website: http://www.ipmcouncilcanada.org/epar/en-CA/Default.aspx

Taking an integrated approach to managing pests in your gardens means utilizing all possible tools in your arsenal in combination with each other to reduce a) the number of pests in your garden b) the amount of damage those pests do to your plants or c) how quickly your plants are able to recover from that damage.

A very commonly used illustrative device to demonstrate how a disease or pest becomes a “pest” is called the “disease triangle”. (but can also be called the pest triangle) I have shown a picture below. The pest triangle shows that you need all 3 “sides” of the triangle for a pest to survive. You need 1) a susceptible host 2) a pathogen (or insect pest) 3) the correct environment or conditions for infection or attack. All it takes is eliminating one of these parts and you will eliminate the pest!

Well, the least practical “side” to eliminate is going to be the host. Imagine you had an aphid problem on your willow tree and I told you that the best way to deal with it is to get rid of your willow – that wouldn’t be very helpful now would it!? However, this may be helpful if you know you have a Japanese Beetle issue in your area, so you might avoid planting their favourite plants in the first place. But for now, lets assume we’re talking about already established gardens – in which case we’ll assume the host is here to stay.

The second hardest to deal with is #2 – eliminating the pest. Eliminating the pest entirely is quite nearly impossible unless you have a completely controlled environment – which an outdoor garden is not! The reality is pests are out there in the form of spores riding the rain drops through your soil, or insects catching the breeze through your trees (did you know this was going to be so poetic?). The trick becomes reducing their numbers in your garden. And this is where side 3 comes in.

Remember how I said all you need to do is get rid of 1 of the 3 sides of the pest triangle? Well, one thing we have some control over is the environment in our gardens! I’m not talking about the temperature, or rainfall, or cloud cover - these things are beyond our control. I’m talking about reducing the environments that are favourable to our garden pests. This could mean repelling them with smells they dislike (such as aphids and garlic), or making it physically difficult for them to grow or spread, such as most fungi on a dry leaf.

There are 4 key aspects to an IPM approach to pest management and they are; cultural, mechanical, biological and chemical.

Cultural and mechanical practices are the most easily implemented techniques for the home gardener. And perhaps the most important. These mainly focus on maintaining a healthy plant and encouraging the proper growing environment to make the plant strong enough to battle pests. Though most often these practices could be considered “preventative”, sometimes you are “curing” an issue, by say mechanically removing diseased branches or leaves. You probably own all of the tools required to carry out these techniques and with a little bit of understanding anyone can do it! Most gardens are small and manageable and we gardeners are intimately familiar with our “hot spots” and “trouble areas” from previous years. Focus on these areas first. Fertilizing, watering, cultivating, and mulching are all considered cultural techniques. Pruning, raking away diseased foliage, etc. these are mechanical. And these are all techniques that you can do yourself with a little bit of know-how!

Biological and chemical pest controls are the other 2 parts of the equation. These are more often, though not always, a curative approach to pest control. Some of these products are a little bit more difficult to obtain for the homeowner, however there are a few readily available options that can work in harmony with a balanced IPM program in your own gardens. Biological controls are any pest control products which are living when they are applied, or which germinate/hatch or multiply in order to attack a pest. These range from pathogenic fungi such as Sclerotinia minor (a fungal dandelion control), to ladybugs being released into your ornamentals to feed on those pesky aphids! Other biologicals include BTK bacteria for caterpillars, praying mantis for many insect pests, Bacillus subtilis bacteria for rose diseases, and of course nematodes for grubs! There are many more, however it is important to know that most biologicals are extremely species specific meaning they will only attack a single pest and not a broad range like many chemical options.

The last aspect of IPM is chemical control. Before I begin, I need to say something important; not all pesticides are dangerous, and not all chemicals are toxic! These 2 words have gotten a very bad rap in the media of late, and it has all but deleted their actual, literal meaning from the dictionary – but until Webster’s comes up with some new ones we’re stuck with them (I’m still waiting to hear back about Planti-freeze!). “Pesticide” simply means – a product that kills pests, and it can be as mild as dish soap or as dangerous as arsenic. “Chemical” simply means – any compound produced by a chemical process. Chemical processes happen literally EVERYWHERE in every aspect of life. From the production of chlorophyll in a plant, to the condensation of air to form water, and even cyanide one of the most dangerous compound known to humans which is produced by some plants inside of seeds! These are chemical processes, and these are chemicals – despite the way it seems to be used lately, it shouldn’t be neither a negative word or a positive one! So please keep that in mind as we go forward!

When it comes to chemical pesticides, our minds immediately go to products like Killex, Raid, Sevin, Roundup and other pre-pesticide-ban products. However, we still have many products available to us that would be considered chemical controls that were not affected by the ban. One example is Pyrethrin. This is a chemical which was originally discovered in the chrysanthemum or “pyrethrin daisy”. It is a potent insecticide to many garden pests, and works on contact to kill mites, aphids, and even Japanese beetles. It quickly breaks down in the sun and therefore poses little risk to non-target species. Other chemical pesticides still available include mineral oil (a very safe and very affective miticide), chelated iron (a herbicide which works by over nourishing the weed with iron), lime sulphur (a fungicide widely used in organic farming), and other horticultural oils, acetic acid (vinegar) is a very common non selective herbicide and is sold commercially under several trade names (whoops, secrets out). There are a huge number of “home remedies” for insect, disease and weed pests, and while I cant officially recommend trying anything that is not labelled for that purpose, you may discover that there is some sound science behind many home remedies for chemical pest control! If you opt to try any home remedy please do a bit of reading on it first and please be careful!

One final key aspect of IPM which I did not yet mention is recovery. Pest attacks will happen, its almost unavoidable with the extremely volatile weather we are treated to here in SW Ontario and the growing number of invasive insects being introduced. More important than any prevention technique might be your plants ability to recover from an attack. And that is directly related to your plants health! A plant that can quickly bounce back after an attack is a plant that lives to grow another day! And this ultimately comes down to the overall health of your plant.

If it seems like I’ve talked in circles, that’s good, because that’s exactly what IPM is all about – it all connects! It should literally all tie together like one giant circle of life – cue Lion King soundtrack – and it is literally your best chance against any pest!

I hope you learned something from this, and yes – I did once again break my record for word count with this one. But I enjoyed writing it and I hope you enjoyed reading it.

As always if you have any questions or comments don’t hesitate to call or email!

Happy Gardening!



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