Pest Management in the Garden…Naturally!

Integrated Pest Management:  The More Natural Alternative

As a homeowner, you may have heard of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as a way of preventing and controlling pest problems in your garden areas. But what exactly is IPM?

Sustainable and Effective

ipm2In a nutshell, IPM is a science-based approach to managing pests. It utilizes a variety of safe, sustainable and effective tactics against common garden pests (such as insects, weeds, diseases, and rodents).

This is usually done through non-chemical means. Pesticides, when needed, are selected based on their ability to target problem pests and to minimize impact on beneficial organisms, people and the environment.

IPM was first developed for large-scale agricultural operations, but its basic tenets apply also to the homeowner. By using IPM, homeowners can minimize the use of chemicals to control pests, and only rely upon them for short-term solutions, when absolutely necessary.

IPM incorporates an understanding of many different aspects of science, including plant physiology, entomology, and plant pathology. By understanding the biology of particular plant species, insect pests, and plant diseases, you as homeowner will be able to apply specific IPM strategies.

IPM Control Strategies

There are four general IPM strategies that can be used to in pest management: cultural control, physical control, biological control, and chemical control. When employing IPM strategies, it’s important to look for the least-disruptive pest management measure possible. Natural solutions often are more effective and probably lower in cost.

Cultural Control

Cultural control measures emphasize modifying the natural environment to reduce the potential for pest problems. An example of this would be keeping your yard sanitary by removing old plant material, infested plants, and weeds that may harbor pests.

Optimizing plant health also falls into this category. This would include proper plant care, such as adequate watering, fertilizing and pruning to reduce plant stress.

One of the most effective cultural controls when planning a garden is to carefully select the proper plants for your climate zone and place them in the appropriate spot in your garden. You can also choose varieties that are naturally resistant to pests and diseases.

Cultural controls for weeds would include mulching and managing fertilization and irrigation to favor desired plants. Instead of favoring the weeds your’re trying to prevent.

Physical Control

Physical controls are activities that physically remove or block a pest from your plants.

It is best to use these controls when pest populations are low. Examples include spraying plants with water to dislodge pests, using barriers such as row covers or nets, insect traps, hand-pulling weeds, hoeing, and tilling.

Physical control can also be used for pests that build nests or feed together. For example, pruning out the branches containing webs made by sawfly larvae can reduce pest populations and damage.

Biological Control

Biological control is the use of beneficial insects, or a pest’s natural enemies, to reduce pest numbers. There are two different kinds of biological control: conservation and augmentative.

Conservation biological control is the process of attracting and keeping a pest’s natural enemies in a garden by providing them with needed resources. These resources might include nectar and pollen, alternative prey, water, and nesting sites.

Augmentative biological control occurs when you actually purchase a pest’s natural enemies and release them into your home garden for pest management. For example, some homeowners purchase lady bugs or praying mantises for this purpose.

For weed management, the saltcedar leaf-eating beetle has proven to be an effective biological control.

Chemical Control

Chemical control is used in IPM only after all other options have been explored. Many times, using a pesticide or herbicide can cause more harm than good. Many pesticides kill natural enemies along with the pest, and pest populations tend to rebound much more quickly than their natural enemies do. This can lead to a “pesticide treadmill,” where you’re trying to stay one step ahead of the pests. When researching your pesticide choices, be sure to choose “selective” insecticides and herbicides that are less persistent in the environment and affect only the targeted pest, leaving more natural enemies in place to help control pests in the long term.

Additional Tips

The National Pesticide Information Center recommends these additional IPM Techniques to prevent future pest problems and reduce the long-term need for pesticides:

  1. Water plants at ground level; wet leaves are more susceptible to disease.
  2. Remove dead plant material before spring; it can harbor diseases.
  3. Consider testing the soil for nutrients and minerals to plan fertilizer needs.
  4. Inspect your plants regularly in order to detect problems early.
  5. Consider contacting a master gardener for help identifying and managing pests..


Some Key Questions

If you’re considering employing these pest management techniques in your home landscape and garden, you may first want to determine your level of tolerance for imperfection. You can start by asking some key questions:

Do you need an insect-free lawn and garden?


Can you still enjoy an apple that has small marks on it?


Can you tolerate trees with some imperfect leaves?

Your level of tolerance for such imperfections will determine whether to treat the problem or to leave it alone. Bear in mind also that treatment does not always mean you must eradicate the pest; often reducing it is sufficient.

As its name implies, employing a truly “integrated” form of pest management requires that you consider the entire ecosystem–not just one segment of it.


Colorado State University Extension

University of Arizona Extension

University of Nevada Extension

National Pesticide Information Center

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