Guest post: Integrated Pest Management 101

This is a guest post by Kelly Tooker, a Master Gardener and environmental educator. I had never heard of Integrated Pest Management before, but it addresses a lot of my concerns with both conventional and organic farming. Kel explains the principles of this system below and how to apply them. I love the way IPM uses just enough force — and the right type of it — to address pests intelligently and sustainably. 

Integrated Pest Management, often just called IPM, is a pest management technique used in the garden and greenhouse to manage insects, rodents and weeds. While IPM is a highly successful pest management practice, it is unfortunately not that popular in the main stream because it does not involve the purchase of gallons of commercial pesticides and herbicides a year, and it also involves a little research and knowledge. But I think you can do this, I think you are up for the challenge.

Chemical-based pesticides emerged in the post World War II 1940s as chemical companies diversified their technology and moved away from products like mustard gas. Like much of our technology, these chemical agents were originally derived for other purposes and were hailed as the answer to increasing productivity and feeding the world. This ushered in a long era of pest control through eradication.

We now know that this approach has been harmful to a wide range of “non-target organisms,” including humans, animals, fish, birds and beneficial insects. We now recognize that gardens are complex and interdependent systems, ecosystems. When you plant your garden you need to not only plan a design that is aesthetically pleasing, but also a system that supports the health of each plant and a balanced interaction among the inhabitants. Integrated Pest Management builds upon this knowledge and chemicals are employed as a last resort.

So, how do you go about this balanced, safety-conscious approach? You learn the tenants of IPM to prevent problems from arising, and when they do arise, you integrate several techniques to reduce the chemical impact to tolerable levels.

Now I will pause here for the reader who does not think that this applies to them because they only use ORGANIC pesticides. Whether synthetic or organic, all pesticides interact with the targeted ecosystem. Many organic pesticides can be more harmful than synthetic options, especially if the user is not trained to understand proper application rates. As an agricultural teacher there were many organic options that I did not use because my classes included young females of childbearing years and teenagers with sensitive endocrine systems. A chemical is a chemical. The term organic simply means that it is or once was living. If you learn to properly use IPM you will reduce your chemical use, hopefully to none.

IPM begins with CULTURAL controls. Start by choosing good healthy plants that are native or adapted to your climate and garden. Select varieties that are resistant to disease and pests in your area. Properly care for the plants and practice good garden hygiene. Regularly monitor your garden and check trouble spots, an ounce or preventative care will minimize damages. Your goal is to create a healthy interdependent ecosystem.

Keep in mind that a truly pest free garden does not exist. You must learn to accept some damage to fruit, flower or foliage and know that sometimes it is better to remove a diseased plant. Learn to identify which insects are harmful and which are beneficial. Understand that birds eat insects and provide shelter for these willing garden helpers. This is where it takes a little bit of research and knowledge, but I have never known a gardener or passionate eco-type to shy away from knowledge. For weed control consider dense planting and ground covers.

Next, you will use PHYSICAL controls. These are nontoxic techniques such as handpicking slugs, snails, caterpillars and other pests. Soft bodied insects can be sprayed with water to knock them from plants and kill them. Prune diseased parts from a plant and properly dispose of the cuttings. Protect early season fruits and vegetables using screens, frames or row covers so that insects cannot lay eggs. Use traps such as blue and yellow sticky traps. Pheromone traps are also available. This is where we all become armchair entomologists. For weed control consider a cover or mulch vegetable beds over the winter.

BIOLOGICAL controls will be familiar to many of you. These are controls that rely on living organisms such as beneficial insects. A popular biological control is the purchase of ladybugs. However, I will encourage you to plant flowers and plants that are source foods for these insects and draw them into your habitat. If you create a balanced habitat you will find that within 3 years you will have an army of beneficial insects assisting you. Please remember that spiders and ground beetles are beneficial insects.

And finally, should you ever need to resort to this step, CHEMICAL controls. Always select the least toxic option first. Natural, or organic, pesticides are products whose ingredients originate in a plant, animal or mineral. The term natural or organic does not mean “harmless.” When using any pesticide read the label carefully. I do not use Neem oil, a popular “organic” pesticide because it is harmful to non-target insects including bees and lady beetles and is toxic to fish. It also should not be used if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.

Integrated Pest Management is a BIG topic and there is a lot more to be said than can be explained in just this one short article. I invite you to follow along as I discuss these practices further, through my own trials and experiments, in

What do you think of Integrated Pest Management? Would you (or do you already) use it in your garden?

About the Author:

Kel is a Master Gardener, Master Composter/ Recycler, and Naturally Beautiful Backyards Host Gardener. She has lived in USDA Zone 8 (Western Garden Zone 6) for most of her life and just recently relocated to Zone 5!

Kel began gardening in 2004. Her first gardening project was to establish a butterfly habitat garden and multi-use space for a young family. Her next project was the development of an urban pollinator habitat and a 10 month edible garden. Future entries will chronicle a 7,000 sq ft lot in a historical district.

Kel continues to pursue educational opportunities and holds an Organic Gardening certificate from OSU Extension. She has worked as an environmental educator in a range of positions including curriculum development and career & technical training at the high school level. She writes about a wide range of environmental topics.

Kel posts regularly as MonkeyDragon on and Tweets @Kelsgarden.

Photo by Steve Wilson

17 responses to this post.

  1. Wow, how super helpful! I admit that I’ve been turning to Sluggo more than I used to. I think I’ll take a step back and work my way through this list.


    • Slugs and snails can be easily picked using an old board. Lay a flat board out between problem plants and check it each morning. Slugs and snails tend to be nocturnal and hide from the sun under boards. You will want to kill them before disposing of them, a little table salt can do the trick, or crush the snail shell or cut a slug in half. If this sounds too brutal you can donate snails to school science programs, snail are used to replenish FOSS science kits and others and can be quite expensive. Or a neighbor with chickens or ducks might also appreciate them.

      Also, be diligent in the garden for eggs. The eggs will be clear to white, round and laid in round piles about the size of a quarter or smaller. A quick Google search should give you a visual.


  2. Thanks for this wonderfully informative post, Kel. I feel like a broken record sometimes, going on about case-by-case evaluations instead of blanket rules or judgments, so I *love* the way IPM approaches things. It might be harder to regulate than a label like organic, but I think it does work out to be significantly lower impact than big organic.

    Question: how well does IPM work on a bigger basis, as for whole farms? I can see picking slugs off by hand in a garden (okay, I’m squirming a little at the thought, but that’s just because I’m squeamish), but would that be feasible in a significantly bigger setting?


    • IPM is actually intended for large scale operations. The school district I worked for was rated as a 4 star IPM school and the practice was used in not only the gardens and greenhouses but the buildings as well. For example, if there was a mouse problem the culture factors were addressed first – open food, sanitation, nesting materials – followed by trapping.

      Another cultural example was that fruit trees were not allowed on school grounds (horticulture areas ok) so that bees were not attracted to play areas with possible student bee allergies.

      In a large farm biodiversity, hedgerows and inter-planting of “trap crops” can help control insects. Bird populations also help control pests like slugs. Another method is mulching. I have successfully used pea gravel as mulch and not had slugs.

      A term I like is “systems thinking.” Consider all of the interconnected factors and try to foster balance, a well designed system can manage a lot of problems prior to taking the chemical step. Then, use the least toxic most targeted option available.


  3. Posted by Andrea on 02/28/2012 at 13:42

    What an informative post, thanks. I first heard about IPM when I did some research on apple orchards that provided a pick-your-own option. Knowing apples to be one of the crops most heavily sprayed with pesticides, I was happy to find out about IPM and subsequently locate an apple orchard that uses it.


    • That is a great example Andrea! One of the BEST ways to reduce pesticides is not only to follow IPM yourself but to also locate and support local farmers who follow sustainable practices 🙂


  4. Fantastic post, Kel. While they don’t know it as ‘IPM’ our young kids LOVE practicing those physical controls when it comes to picking the Japanese Beetles off our pole beans and other veggies at the height of the season. Teaching them lessons about how to better manage our garden so that it can thrive is so important.


  5. […] About « Guest post: Integrated Pest Management 101 […]


  6. Posted by Dennis Goode on 03/05/2012 at 08:49

    Great info and you make it understandable. I will never eat an imported grape bathed in unknown chemicals in quite the same way again.


  7. Posted by Shirley Goode on 04/01/2012 at 14:34

    Kel, INTERESTING info! Love reading your well written info…Shirley G


  8. I believe hydroponic gardening can be a credible alternative to soil grown plants. By growing plants in systems that eliminate soil, there is a significant reduction in the amount of pest problems and soil-borne diseases. This in turn means fewer pesticides.


  9. […] total number of mosquito bites I received last week in Hawaii. Nineteen, despite trying to apply IPM with physical controls (long sleeves and long pants every single day — as a result of which I […]


  10. […] total number of mosquito bites I received last week in Hawaii. Nineteen, despite trying to apply IPM with physical controls (long sleeves and long pants every single day—as a result of which I […]


  11. […] answers for this question would be things like crop rotation, crop diversification, integrated pest management, and cultivating beneficial predator […]


  12. […] answers for this question would be things like crop rotation, crop diversification, integrated pest management, and cultivating beneficial predator […]


  13. I really liked this post, Thank you so much. It is so helpful. Pests are the major problem faced by home owners and such articles should be there to help us.


  14. I have delt with a lot of field mice since I moved up north and they can be surprisingly destructive. They can chew threw almost anything and destroy valuables. Best to take action as soon as you notice them.


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