Keep bad bugs at bay the healthy way

A look at non-harmful pest control and prevention methods

Healthy plants are more resistant to disease

Pests are a fact of life but there is nothing more frustrating than having your garden ravaged by insects and diseases.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a process for attaining long-term environmentally sound pest control and prevention by using the least harmful and most effective solutions. Successful implementation of IPM requires an understanding of the ecology of your plants, the behaviour of the pests and the nature of the surrounding environment. When an IPM program is implemented correctly, chemical pesticide use is greatly reduced and often becomes unnecessary.

Preventing pest problems is the true foundation of IPM and the key to successfully managing pests in the long term. The idea is to implement good horticultural practices in order to grow healthy plants in a healthy ecosystem. By doing this, you will decrease the pests’ impact on your garden and may eliminate their detrimental effects entirely.

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Download a quick-reference chart for keeping bugs at bay (PDF)

Proper identification of the pest and affected plant is necessary to plan your next moves. Regularly inspecting your plants will help you determine what plant health issue you are facing. If you can implement routine and effective preventative measures, you may not need to resort to any other treatment options. There are numerous non-chemical techniques you can employ. Cultural controls (good horticultural practices)are the least invasive way to deal with pests. These include activities such as removing dead plants, rotating vegetable or bulb crops, selecting resistant plant varieties and cultivating. Healthy plants, just like healthy people, are more resistant to diseases and other problems. Proper irrigation, fertilization and soil amendments are all ways that you can improve your garden’s health.

Targeting the pest directly does not require dowsing the problem with chemical pesticides. Physical and mechanical techniques such as pruning, hand-pulling weeds, fencing and trapping can be very effective. Mulch your garden or plant ground covers to shade out weeds.If your roses are infested with aphids, consider hosing them off with strong sprays of water – just remember to allow the leaves to dry quickly to avoid disease problems like black spot!

2010 Healthy Garden Guide

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Biological control – using good bugs to fight bad bugs – may be used effectively in the home garden. Products such as Bacillus thuringiensis (or Bt) control caterpillars, while tiny worms known as nematodes will control white grubs and weevils. Using good quality composts or compost teas provides nutrition and introduces good organisms to help suppress plant diseases. Try attracting naturally occurring beneficial insects into your garden by planting flowers such as sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima; pictured above).

If it becomes necessary to use a chemical pesticide to deal with your problem, make sure it is a product that is safe to have near your home, family and pets. Products like horticultural soaps and oils for insects, sulphur products for diseases, and corn gluten meal and acetic acid for weed control are more environmentally friendly and are usually allowed under municipal pesticide bans.

Any gardener can apply the concepts of IPM to their routines. With good planning, closely observing your plants, and diagnosing problems early, you can have a rewarding and bountiful garden for years to come.

Peter Isaacson, President of DessIsaa Horticultural Consultants Inc., has more than 10 years of experience focusing on urban landscapes and production nurseries to promote the benefits of IPM and pesticide risk reduction.