Holistic medicine is defined as a form of healing that considers the whole person: body, mind, spirit, and emotions. Holistic practitioners believe this approach to medicine is the best path to optimal health and wellness. Even though plant life differs greatly from other biological creatures, namely humans, many horticulturists are embracing the concept of achieving optimal health and wellness through a holistic approach. This holistic ideology can be witnessed in gardens where the horticulturist employs integrated pest management. Integrated pest management, or IPM, is the practice of focusing on long-term prevention of pests and/or pest damage by managing the ecosystem.
IPM is a comprehensive method of dealing with pests over the long-term, instead of simply treating pests that are currently a problem in the garden. IPM employs long-term solutions, such as selecting certain crops that are better at withstanding pest attacks or using hybrid disease resistant crops. It also incorporates preventative measures, such as utilizing air filters on intake ports to prevent mold spores and pest insects from entering an indoor garden or greenhouse. All in all, integrated pest management is taking a holistic approach to pest and disease control. The principles of IPM are to look at all of the contributing factors and all of the possible remedies and then make a decision of when and how to take action. IPM can be applied in just about any type of garden: indoor, outdoor, or greenhouse. Integrated pest management is a broad term that encompasses many different products and procedures that may be unique to particular growing environments. In other words, each garden space is a unique ecosystem and each IPM program should be tailored to that specific ecosystem.
Every garden is unique which means that not all IPM programs will work the same for every gardener. However, there are some general guidelines that apply to just about every IPM program. For a program to be effective, it must incorporate prevention, regular monitoring, damage assessment, and action (when required).
Preventing problems before they occur is, arguably, the most important component of integrated pest management. As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Preventing issues before they occur will not only save time and effort, but also money. After setting up any type of garden, the first order of business should be to incorporate pest and disease prevention. Preventative measures may include air filtration devices that limit or eliminate molds and pest insects from entering an indoor garden or greenhouse. It can also include companion planting and/or methods or plants that attract beneficial insects.
In order to properly treat or prevent a pest insect, proper identification is crucial. Monitoring sticky traps, closely examining the plants and growing medium and utilizing reference books or the internet are all practices used to properly identify a pest insect. In order for an IPM program to be effective, regular monitoring is a must. The longer a pest insect or disease has to take hold of a crop, the more difficult it will be to eradicate it. Put another way, if preventative measures do not keep a pest insect or disease out of the garden, early detection is critical to minimizing the damage and increasing the chances of a successful recovery.
In addition to identifying the pest insect itself, it is important to be able to assess how big the pest insect population is and the damage that has been done (or can potentially be done). This area of IPM is very important because a gardener must fully understand the situation in order to accurately determine the most suitable treatment for the pest insect or how to best manage a pest infestation. Simply put, some pests can cause more damage and/or at a faster rate than others. Some pest insects may not cause significant damage, which means treatment could be counterproductive. A general understanding of how a certain pest will affect a particular crop is very important when determining if/what action is necessary. Implementing the correct and most effective action for a pest or disease can make all the difference in an integrated pest management program.
Drawing from his or her own experiences or the knowledge gained from the experiences of others, a horticulturist can set up guidelines for action within his or her IPM program. Essentially, a guideline for action is a threshold that helps determine when particular action is needed. These thresholds will be subjective depending on the particular pest and garden.
When action is necessary, a good IPM program will initiate a combination of control methods that will best rectify the problem for the long-term. In other words, the holistic approach applies to both the prevention of problems and the treatment of problems in the garden. Different types of controls used in an integrated pest management program include physical, cultural, biological, and chemical. The most effective way to manage pests over the long-term is to implement multiple control programs. IPM programs normally implement a combination of treatments or control practices that will prevent or treat a problem from many different angles. Again, the idea behind effective IPM is a combination of preventive and control options. The following are just a sampling of different control methods that can be used in an IPM program.
Physical control refers to a solution that kills the pest directly or physically stops them from entering the garden space. Screens or physical barriers to keep out birds and insects are examples of physical controls. A couple of examples of physical controls in an indoor garden are air filtration devices and/or screens to limit the entry of pest insects and spores into the grow space. Using a pressurized water sprayer to “wash” pest insects off the plants is another example of a physical control.
Cultural controls are practices that reduce the pest’s ability to become established. For example, a change in irrigation practices can reduce moisture at certain times throughout the day, thus reducing the ability of particular pests to reproduce. For indoor and greenhouse growers, manipulating the light cycles, temperature, or humidity to influence a pest’s ability to establish can be considered cultural controls.
Biological control is the use of beneficial plants, insects, or microorganisms to prevent or control pests and pest damage. Just about every pest has a natural predator. Companion planting and/or releasing beneficial insects into the garden are examples of biological control. The supplementation of beneficial microorganisms to strengthen a plant’s immune system is another example of biological control.
The use of pesticides is an example of chemical control. For most integrated pest management programs, chemical controls are only used when needed and are almost always used in combination with other techniques to both maximize effectiveness and create long-term solutions. Put another way, chemical control is generally viewed as a last resort and is used only when other control methods have failed to keep the pest under the predetermined threshold for chemical control action.
An integrated pest management program can be a very effective way to prevent and control unwanted garden visitors. The holistic approach of an IPM program is an efficient and effective way to keep crops growing healthily, while minimizing potentially harmful treatments. By preventing problems before they begin and implementing multiple controls when pests do sneak into a garden, a horticulturist can rest assured that he or she is doing everything possible to keep the garden healthy. Since every aspect of an integrated pest management program is aimed at promoting healthy plant development, an IPM program is essentially the ultimate multifaceted approach to crop protection and pest maintenance.
For agriculturists, an IPM program is generally looked at as a way to ensure and protect profits. Similarly, hobbyists and indoor horticulturists can use these programs as tools to help minimize problems and maximize the return on the investment. Regardless of the size or type of garden, implementing an integrated pest management program can be an effective way for a horticulturist to ensure healthy plants and maintain an economically viable operation.
Eric Hopper resides in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula where he enjoys gardening and pursuing sustainability. He is a Garden & Greenhouse senior editor and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.