Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an integrated, proactive and broad-based approach to pest control built on practices that aim to suppress problematic pest populations while minimizing the risk to people and the environment.
Key Things to Know:
To address the management of lawn diseases, weeds and insects, IPM combines biological, cultural, physical, and chemical tools in a way that minimizes environmental and human health risks while also maintaining lawn quality.
The key to an effective IPM approach is being proactive. Anticipate! Watch the weather, look for the early signs of pest damage, and address issues like dandelions before they become a bigger problem.
By using IPM, you can utilize the lowest-harm strategies. For example, pulling a few weeds before they go to seed and spread is easier and less expensive than treating an entire lawn with an herbicide.
Similarly, when disease outbreaks occur, they may be controllable through alteration of management practices; or if needed, spot treating with a fungicide before the disease spreads further.
In most cases, being ahead of the problem makes solving the problem easier without requiring harmful pesticides. Look for less toxic options like horticultural oil, insecticidal soaps, and biopesticides. And remember to follow all pesticide label directions carefully, as the label is the law.
Beware of chemical dependent programs masquerading as IPM.
Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is not a single-use, short-term pest control method. Rather, it’s a series of actions for pest management for insects, weeds, and disease that hinges on evaluations, decisions, and controls. Homeowners can take advantage of IPM by following its multi-tiered approach:
The first step of IPM is to regularly inspect your lawn to determine if you have an infestation problem; and if so, what kind. A single pest or weed doesn’t mean immediate action is required; there are thresholds that point to overpopulation and economic threats that will warrant action being taken. Sometimes those thresholds is a number, i.e. six yellow jackets in your outdoor shed. Sometimes the threshold is qualitative, such as yellowing of your lawn’s grass blades. The idea behind the action thresholds is based on the simple truth that most pests (insects, weeds and disease) can be tolerated at a low level, i.e. one beetle found crawling across your front steps. But at high volume, such as a whole area of your lawn that’s dead and brown, these populations of pests can become problematic.
While action thresholds can be easy to understand, establishing them can be more difficult because they vary by pest (hornets versus ants), by site (patio versus edge of lawn) and sometimes by geographic location (southern Texas for northern California) or season (spring versus fall). For many homeowners, action thresholds can depend on whether natural enemies of the unwanted pests are present, for example, as they should be, and in what capacity.
Examples of Action Thresholds
The below is offered as an example only. For more in depth information, consult the resources at eXtension.org.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: Every lawn has a few weeds, root-eating larvae, and fungal disease organisms present all the time. The problem arises when the pests get out of control. That’s why action thresholds are so important for weeds, insects, and disease.
The long term goal is to keep pest populations below the levels at which they would have unacceptable impacts on lawn appearance. IPM is effective for monitoring pest populations and identifying them, and their population size, accurately in order to make informed and appropriate pest control decisions.
Spreadsheet geeks unite! Here’s your chance to start an essential record-keeping system in order to track any trends or patterns in pest outbreaks. After every inspection or treatment, jot down the problematic pests you saw (i.e. dandelions, crab grass, grub worms, etc.), their population size, where they were in your lawn and what treatment actions, if any, you took.
Taking proactive measures to prevent problems is and should be the primary means of pest control in your IPM plan. The best way to do this is to ensure that your soil is getting the water, oxygen and nutrients it needs to be the grass-growing powerhouse nature intended it to be. Because a healthy, strong lawn is resilient to pests such as weeds and disease. In fact, using the IPM approach, you can learn from the weeds in your yard since they indicate that your soil may be in sub-optimal condition.
PRO TIP: If following IPM plan, chemicals should be used as a last resort; if used, select the least toxic materials available in order to minimize damage to your lawn’s soil, as well as minimize exposure to yourself, your family and pets and all non-target organisms. Under the IPM approach, it is important to use less drastic, harsh chemicals and only when absolutely needed as those chemicals will affect your soil’s health, which can cause the pest problem to return.
Reviewing what pest control measures you took, when and to what effect is an important step in your IPM plan, so you can best understand effectiveness and evaluate what additional preventive measures, if any, should be taken. Be sure to select effective, less risky pest controls first, which include protecting, enhancing and importing natural enemies of pests. Try trapping, weeding or disrupting pest biology with all-natural kill-bait or pheromone-disrupting maneuvers, for example. Pull up weeds before they can flower and spread. In areas of dead or dying grass, inspect for pests and be sure to understand your grass type and how it may be impacted by factors such as shade or heat stress.
If further monitoring and record-keeping indicate that the less risky controls aren’t working, then you’ll want to explore additional pest control methods such as the targeted spraying of pesticides. Approach broadcast spraying of non-specific pesticides with caution and as a last resort.
Other IPM resources to check out:
For more information about IPM, visit the National Pesticide Information Center.