Hopefully I’m not daydreaming. It seems there are more articles appearing in garden publications promoting the technique of IPM for the home gardener. IPM is short for integrated pest management. The process minimizes the use of chemicals and emphasizes natural and low-toxicity methods such as crop rotation and beneficial predatory insects.
How, when and where, did we develop the ideology that all aspects of our life, including our gardens had to be perfect? Sometimes problems, imperfections should just be accepted as nature at work. Sometimes we are the creator of our problems.
An example would be an aphid invasion. Aphids are the most common garden problem. What are the causes? The causes might include: lack of sunshine, too much water, inappropriate plants for climate or location, excessive use of nitrogen rich fertilizer (the first number of N-P-K) which encourages too much tender, leafy growth. Drastic pruning of trees or shrubs also stimulates growth of succulent suckers.
A classic example of applying IPM techniques was documented in South Carolina. Over 300 acres of tomatoes were suffering plant damage and crop loss despite the weekly spraying of insecticides to rid the plants of the tomato hornworm.
It took several years for agriculture agents to convince the farmers to stop the weekly spraying. Through observation, documentation, and research, it was discovered the spraying had been more effective at killing the tomato hornworm’s sworn enemy, a tiny parasitic wasp. A year without spraying revived the wasp population, reduced the hornworms, saved money and boosted yields.
It is unrealistic to expect that you can attain a pest free garden. The best we can do is to plant landscaping material that will draw in the beneficial insects. There may be times that you find it necessary to spray. Choose the least toxic product on the market and most importantly follow the directions. If it advises not to spray within a specific temperature range, then don’t spray even though it may be more convenient for you. The consequence is likely that you will burn the plant.
Lock out the bad guys. A sheet of floating row cover creates a non-toxic barrier to the white cabbage moth protecting your cabbage, kale and broccoli. The white cabbage moth can wreak havoc in the garden. Nasturtiums are said to act as a decoy plant that the moth will lay their eggs on instead of the Brassica family of vegetables.
The beneficial insects that we need to encourage include green lacewings, ladybugs, hoverflies, parasitic wasps and tachinid flies. This list is just a few of the good guys. Do research at the library or on the internet and learn how to identify beneficials so you can claim bragging rights to being able to draw them into your garden. Although not considered a major beneficial, even the dreaded yellow jacket, in addition to being somewhat of a pollinator, has value in feeding on garden pests.
A few basic plant suggestions might include fern-leaf yarrow that attracts all the above except for the tachinid fly. The common yarrow attracts all but the lacewing.
Dill attracts all but the tachinid fly. Golden marguerite attracts all the above. White sensation cosmos, Queen Anne’s lace, buckwheat, fennel, lemon balm, parsley, lemon gem marigold tansy, and crimson thyme are valuable in attracting beneficial insects. The common dandelion that everyone feels so compelled to get rid of has value as one of the earliest pollinators in addition to attracting lacewings and ladybugs.
More than one plant of a variety needs to be planted. You need to think in terms of clusters not straight row plantings. You may feel that your garden is going to look chaotic with flowers intermingling with vegetables but think of the good you will be doing be eliminating chemical sprays.