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Friend or Foe?

If you’re like most gardeners, your least favorite part of gardening is managing problems like pests, disease and weeds. Finding an earth-friendly and non-toxic approach can cause even more stress. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is one sustainable solution that relies on synthetic chemicals as a last resort only and is standard practice in many gardens including those at the Wildflower Center.

“This strategy helps solve garden problems like disease, fungus, weeds and pests using the least toxic method possible,” says Phillip Schulze, horiculturist at the Wildflower Center. “IPM is for people who want to solve problems in the garden over the long-term or prevent them from occurring at all.”

The first step is to establish your tolerance level, according to Schulze. “You might not find it a problem that caterpillars are eating through your plants because you like to welcome butterflies into your garden.” Once a tolerance level is established, IPM calls for using the least toxic method. Try the following to incorporate IPM practices in your garden:

  • Change procedures, like watering frequency. For example, too much water can encourage plant diseases caused by fungi in your garden. Simply changing the watering regime can eliminate the growth of fungi.
  • Consider biological controls. These take advantage of natural enemies or diseases that affect a specific pest. Milky spore disease, a bacterium, can be used to combat insect pests.
  • Use natural herbicides including vinegar and eugenol/clove oil.
  • Promote plant health through cultural practices like watering, pruning and fertilizing. Healthy plants will be more resistant to insect problems and disease.
  • Consider naturally occurring insecticides like rotenone and insect growth regulators along with insecticidal soap (which contains mostly phosphates.)
  • Pull weeds by hand or put down mulch to prohibit their growth.
  • If animals are a concern, put up a rabbit proof fence, for example.
  • Use toxic chemicals only as a last resort.

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