These days, more and more gardeners are shunning the use of chemicals in their gardens and turning to Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices for controlling ‘bad’ bugs in their gardens. Whether you’re creating a wildlife-friendly garden or just trying to be more conscious of what’s happening in your own backyard, learning more about IPM is a good thing.
One facet of IPM is the use of biocontrols. But what exactly is biocontrol? According to Cornell University’s Biocontrol website, it is “ the reduction of pest populations by natural enemies and typically involves an active human role”. The site goes on to say “natural enemies of insect pests, also known as biological control agents, include predators, parasitoids, and pathogens”.
Learning from the Pros
I recently heard several plant growers from Connecticut talk about their efforts to use biocontrols in their growing fields and greenhouses. I thought I’d share some of their advice that can be easily translated for use in your home garden.
◊ Stack the deck. When you’re first starting to implement IPM in your garden, try several approaches at once. For example, if you’re planting beneficial insect-friendly plants – like marigold, lantana, and dill – plant lots of it in several areas of your garden.
◊ Expect high costs when your begin. Until you get the right levels of beneficial insects returning to your garden, expect to spend more money than you would if you were simply buying a bottle of chemical spray. It may take 2 – 3 years to get it right, but it will be worth it in the long run.
◊ Plan ahead. Take notes about the kinds of ‘bad bugs’ that are popping up in your garden and plan ahead to have the appropriate ‘good guys’ on hand to take care of the infestation next year. While you’re at it, learn to recognize the larval form of common beneficial insects. Until I saw a photo, I had no idea what the larval form of lady beetles looked like.
◊ Become a scout. Get yourself a decent hand lens, some reference books and field guides on garden insects in your region, and bookmark some helpful websites for figuring out which bugs are ‘good’ and which one’s are ‘bad’. BugGuide and InsectIdentification.org are two good places to start.
◊ Crawlers may be better than flyers. If you are going to buy beneficial insects to add to your garden, remember that crawling predators are less likely to leave your garden as quickly as flying predators might.
◊ Take heart. All the experts said controlling aphids and white flies with biocontrols is very difficult. Sounds familiar, huh? If an infestation gets particularly bad, try an OMRI-approved insecticide to get things back under control.
Are you practicing IPM in your garden? If so, how’s it working? What’s been your biggest challenge?