Cooperative Extension Service 
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Extension, P.O. Box 68,  LaBelle, Florida 33975-0068   Phone (863) 674-4092

Hendry County Horticulture News

Integrated Pest Management - Beyond Chemicals

The development of modern pest control chemicals has lead many gardeners to seek chemical solutions to their garden problems.  This increasing reliance on chemicals has in turn lead to a number of environmental problems including environmental pollution, pest resistance, destruction of beneficial organisms, pesticide misuse and adverse effects on human health.  Recent studies have indicated that the quality of runoff from residential yards and gardens flowing into our surface waters and underground aquifers is more contaminated than that coming off agricultural fields and only exceeded by the runoff from industrial sites.  Approximately 30 - 40% of the pesticide used in Florida is in urban areas.  Pesticides aimed at the 1% of the insect population considered harmful, wipe out the other 99% as well, depleting the food supply of birds and other wildlife higher on the food chain.  Pesticides can also adversely affect fish and aquatic life and ultimately upset the entire ecosystem.  Dependence on pesticide usage has caused many gardeners to forget or ignore traditional gardening techniques that supported the production of food and fiber long before the advent of the chemical era.

After many years of reliance on chemical pest control, growing environmental awareness coupled with the increasing failure of many pesticides to control their intended target and economic reality has lead to the development of an alternate pest management approach commonly known as Integrated Pest Management or IPM.  This environmentally sound approach to pest control is simply a combination of pest control methods designed to reduce the need to spray pesticides.  When they are needed, the IPM approach is to use the most environmentally friendly pesticide to minimize pests and their effects.  In addition, to providing an ecologically sound way of controlling pests, integrated pest management is usually cheaper and provides other positive benefits to the garden.

There are a number of steps one can take to adopt an IPM strategy at home.  It has been said that a gardener's foot prints are the best fertilizer.  Become familiar with your garden.  Make it a habit to walk around your yard at least once per week and look closely at the plants from shoot tip to soil including the upper and lower leaf surfaces.  When detected early most pest problems can be eliminated before they become major threats.   Learn to identify beneficial insects such as assassin bugs, praying mantis, spiders, big-eyed bugs, lady beetles and wasps.  Novice gardeners are sometimes guilty of using chemicals in error against these beneficials.  Keep in mind that plant problems are often caused by something other that an insect or disease.  Yellow leaves may be caused by drought, cold damage, too much sun, fertilizer deficiency, improper pH, over watering, or root problems.  Learn to properly identify pest problems to avoid a mis-diagnosis and only use chemicals when absolutely necessary.

Purchase clean pest free seed and plants.  The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has a certification program to ensure disease and insect free planting material.   Observe plants closely before purchase and look for healthy specimens with no visible pest problems.  Select resistant varieties when available.  Plant breeders have incorporated genetic resistance to many diseases and some insects into many cultivars.  For example, Floratam and FX-10 Saint Augustine grasses are noted for their resistance to chinch bug damage. Tomato varieties should incorporate VFN (verticillium, fusarium, nematode) resistance. Incorporate native plants where possible in the landscape, these have usually evolved a level of resistance or tolerance to local insects and diseases.

Rotate the garden plot and the location of plants within the garden as often as possible to avoid the buildup of pests.  Till or plow the soil well in advance of planting.  Garden soil should be turned and free of weeds at least 30 days before planting. Keep plants growing vigorously and in a state of good health by proper watering and fertilization.  Healthy plants are often able to withstand insect attack. Clean up and dispose of diseased or infested plants to reduce the spread of pest problems.

Large insects can often be removed by hand and destroyed without the use of pesticides.  Most plants that produce fruits or pods can withstand 10-15% foliage loss with lead reduction in yield.  Do not panic and spray at the first sign of leaf damage.  Insecticides and fungicides should be carefully selected to control the pest in question.  Do not expect any insecticide to kill 100% of target insects and do not keep spraying to achieve this goal.  Select soft chemicals when feasible.
Insecticidal soaps and oils will provide adequate control of many gardens pests with reduced environmental impact.  Biological agents provide a nonchemical alternative for the control of certain pests.  Bacillus thuringiensis, commonly called Bt is very effective against most caterpillars.

Not all pest problems can be controlled by cultural or biological means. When chemical use is warranted, select a pesticide that is effective but the least toxic to the environment.  Spot spray affected plants where possible.  Blanketing the landscape with pesticides is wasteful and environmentally harmful.  Try mixing up smaller amounts of chemicals to amounts which can be used on site.  Spray insecticides in the evening to reduce mortality to bees and other pollinators.

Increased awareness of IPM methods and adoption of ecologically based pest control techniques will contribute to a cleaner environment and a better more productive home landscape and garden.  Good luck and good gardening!

Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service.  Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975,  e-mail - or phone 863-674-4092 or  863-983-1598.  You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle.   Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an Equal Employment Opportunity - Affirmative Action Employer authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap or national origin.

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