By Mary Small, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Urban Integrated Pest Management
1 View your landscape as an ecosystem. An ecosystem consists of the physical environment of an area, the living organisms in it and their relationships with each other. The "landscape as an ecosystem" perspective considers the organism, its living requirements and its function. This information gives the gardener a broad range of pest management solutions. Focusing only on controlling a pest without considering and managing the conditions that caused them to thrive in the first place can result in a repeat occurrence.
2 Invest in the soil. The soil is an integral part of the garden ecosystem. Healthy soil provides plants adequate oxygen, nutrients and water which contribute to a healthy plant. There are two important ways everyone can invest in soil. First, add organic matter, such as compost. This action improves soil drainage and aeration. It also reduces compaction and releases a small amount of nutrients into the soil. Second, cover the soil surface with an organic mulch. As microorganisms near the soil surface break it down, nutrients are released into the soil. Mulches also regulate soil temperature, protecting it (and plant roots) from extreme heat and cold. They also reduce wind and water erosion and help preserve the soil's organic matter. Mulches reduce the landscape's need for water by slowing evaporation from the soil surface and decreasing water-hogging weed populations. Organic mulches provide shelter and food for beneficials like ground beetles and toads.
3 Grow plant species recommended for the area. One condition for successful colonization is that plants must have the physiological potential to grow in the area they're planted. Plants not adapted to local climate and soils (don't have the physiological potential) will have difficulty establishing or performing well. When making plant selections, use recommended varieties that show pest resistance; these have an advantage over those without it.
4 Think Variety. An assortment of plants and plant heights attracts and provides habitat for a variety of animal populations, including pest predators. The resulting biodiversity promotes landscape stability, healthy and adaptation to adversity. When planning for diversity, include flowering plants so that blossoms or fruit will be available season long. This should capture the attention of and maintain reasonable predator populations.
5 Match a plant's needs and its location. A second condition of successful colonization is that plants must have the ecological opportunity to become established. Plants sited in areas where their needs can't be met do not have that opportunity. They are going to have a difficult time establishing, let alone succeeding. Inappropriate landscape locations usually produce stressed plants. A stressed plant grows poorly, requires much human input and may succumb to secondary disease or insect organisms, anyway.
6 Identify and encourage beneficials. The term "beneficials" includes creatures like insect predators, pollinators, butterflies and moths, spiders, birds, bats and toads. Find out what beneficials are in your area and provide for their needs. Generally, beneficials require food in the form of insect hosts, pollen and nectar, water, shelter, and protection from wind. Some have specific flower type and color preferences. Toads, which eat insects, need water and cool, shady places that provide protection from cats and dogs. Many birds are attracted to fruiting plants.
7 Monitor the landscape. This means taking time for a regular examination of the landscape, checking plant health and looking for beneficials and pests. Monitoring shows what's taking place in the landscape now and what changes have occurred since the last check. Should problems arise, regular monitoring gives the gardener a head start in identifying a problem and taking action before it gets out of hand.
8 Tolerate some amount of pest populations. Even if present, "pests" may never develop into plant health threatening populations. Besides, pest populations need to be at a certain level in order to attract predators. Should populations become intolerable as defined by the individual, host reaction and pest, then use a variety of mechanical, biological, cultural and chemical tools to manage them.
9 When chemical management is deemed necessary, select the least toxic one that will do the job and spot treat the problem. Widespread treatments may eliminate beneficial organisms that are also present. Applying pesticides that aren't necessary is a waste of time and money and is an unsafe practice.
10 Avoid cultural practices that promote pest populations. Incorrect or incorrectly performed maintenance practices stress plants and make them more susceptible to pests. For example, excess fertilizer and water produce tender succulent tissue that's ideal for the development of many insects and diseases. Pruning incorrectly can also create suitable conditions for insects or disease. Insufficient water promotes mite development. Lack of thinning can promote diseases such as powdery mildew and leaf spots.
© CSU/Denver County Extension Master Gardener 2010
888 E. Iliff Avenue, Denver, CO 80210
Date last revised: 01/05/2010