Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
The pressures of maintaining a perfect yard have forced people to over-maintain their landscapes. Over-watering and over-fertilizing can cause excessive plant growth, and improper mowing and pruning weaken plants and grass, leaving them prone to pest damage.
Blanket pesticide application has become the quick-fix norm for lawn maintenance. But the use of pesticides and insecticides is a one-dimensional approach to pest management, resulting in environmental contamination, pest resistance, and the destruction of beneficial insects.
The environmentally-sound alternative to pesticide use is a combination of pest control strategies known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM promotes the use of the least toxic method of pest control, pest-resistant plants, and the natural enemies of pests.
IPM utilizes five components to reduce the risk of exposure of harmful pesticides to people, animals, and the environment:
1) Cultural IPM
This is the proper selection and maintenance (mowing, pruning, and irrigation) of your lawn and landscape plants. Keeping landscapes healthy reduces susceptibility to disease and reduces the need for chemical treatment.
2) Biological IPM
This is the release and/or conservation of natural enemies and beneficial organisms. Natural enemies (such as ladybugs or mantids) can be purchased and released in pest-infested landscapes. Landscapes can also be designed to provide habitat for natural enemies.
Work with nature! Planting a variety of flowering plants in your landscape can increase the population of beneficial insects that eats the harmful insects.
3) Genetic IPM
This is the breeding of grasses and plants that are resistant to key pests. When designing a landscape, the selection of resistant plant species is an integral part of IPM. Talk to a nursery specialist for more information about such plants.
4) Chemical Controls
When chemicals are necessary, choose a newer, more selective chemical such as a microbial insecticide or insect growth regulator. While these new chemicals may only target a few pest species, they may be applicable in certain situations. Be sure to read all labels carefully and follow the directions for proper application.
When chemical treatment is necessary, be sure to just treat the affected plant or area. Indiscriminately using chemicals is wasteful, increases the amount of harmful run-off, and kills both pests and beneficial organisms. Following pesticide application, beneficial insect populations are slow to rebuild.
Natural Products For Insect Pest Management
A variety of oils and soaps can be used to control some insect pests and mites. For example, insecticidal soaps made from plant oils (such as cottonseed and palms) can be used to control some pests when the plant oils are applied directly to the pests. Care must be used when applying soaps to plants. Some species of plants may be quite sensitive to the spray and you could hurt the plant. Test the spray on a small area first to see how the plant reacts.
- Learn more about natural products for insect pest management
If you use a lawn-care service or pest control company, ask them to give you advance notice of spraying, and require them to get your permission before chemicals are sprayed near your home. Always ask if safer alternatives are available.
5) Pest Monitoring
Understand the lifecycle of a pest and know which plants and conditions it prefers.
Check your plants regularly
Make it a habit to walk around your yard every two weeks and look closely at your plants. Identify pests and spot treat when necessary.
Treat problems early
The early stages of insect infestations can be addressed by picking off insects by hand or pruning plants.
Common Pest Insects
The Southeast's warm and humid climate creates a breeding ground for many pest insects. Although often annoying, pests provide food for other insects and animals. Be sure to use the least toxic method of pest management when dealing with them.
Although not native to the Southeastern U.S., these insects swarm the roadways twice a year - usually in May and September in Florida. Both sexes of the small black and red insects sit, crawl, and fly end-to-end during the prolonged mating process.
Least toxic control: Bugs should be washed off cars as soon as possible to prevent paint damage.
The imported fire ant from South America can be found in many areas of the Southeast. Their irregular sandy mounds can be up to three feet across and two feet high. Fire ants are aggressive defenders so treat them with caution!
Least toxic control: No control method permanently eliminates fire ants. Non-chemical controls include pouring hot water or a water and soap solution over mounds. However, in many cases, this will only cause the ants to move, not be eliminated. Chemical controls include baits found in stores. Use baits as directed. If fire ants detect any danger to the colony, they will move and not take the bait.
These soft-bodied insects live in colonies that house hundreds to thousands of individuals hidden in tunnels and burrows inside wood or in the soil beneath rotting wood. Termites chew and swallow wood but cannot digest it. Instead, microscopic organisms in their guts break down the wood into basic nutrients the termites can absorb.
Least toxic control: Above ground or in-ground baits. Each situation is different--always contact a termite control specialist first to discuss whether baits will work. Baiting is a hit-or-miss process because the termites must find the baits themselves.
Of the many species that are found in the Southeast, most cockroaches live outdoors, often in leaf litter or decaying wood. These pests are scavengers - feeding on sugary and starchy foods indoors and decaying plant matter outdoors. They feed at night to avoid light.
Least toxic control: Boric acid powder or roach tablets. Do not use boric acid where pets could come in contact with it in the home.
The Southeast is a haven for mosquitoes. Florida alone hosts 69 species of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes hatch from tiny eggs laid in standing water, and only the females suck blood in order to produce eggs. They fly most often when the air is moist because hot air dries out their small bodies. Fortunately, many other animals eat mosquitoes including birds, spiders, and fish.
Least toxic control: Prevention begins with sanitation and elimination of breeding sites. Clean debris from rain gutters, eliminate standing water, and clean out birdbaths and pet dishes often.