Karl Foord, UMN Extension Educator
The goal of IPM is to prevent unacceptable levels of pest damage through the use of pest biology and environmental information. It seeks a solution that poses the least possible risk to people and the environment.
The great appeal of IPM is the understanding of the biological systems at play in the garden and the degree one needs to understand them in order to effectively use IPM strategies. This requires a certain knowledge and skill set. One needs to be able to identify the key insect and disease pests and the types of damage they inflict. One needs to understand the biology of these key pests and how climate influences their behavior. It is also important to understand the natural balances that exist in your garden ecology and to be able to identify beneficial organisms that are a part of that balance. The last item is to understand the use of various chemicals and their effects both direct and indirect. This is understandably quite a challenge. Among the many appealing aspects of gardening, one of them must be its challenges.
Most organisms living in your garden are benign in terms of our perspective of fruit or vegetable production. A few are labeled pests because they conflict with our goals, and a few are labeled beneficials because they tend to attack the pest organisms or because they aid in pollination and assure fruit set. Beneficial fungi and bacteria help plants absorb nutrients from the soil in the same way certain strains of E. coli help in the digestion of our food. However, consider the dilemma of labeling a yellow jacket that preys on caterpillars in the summer and feeds on ripe fruit in the fall.
IPM strategy begins with avoidance of the pest problem itself through use of pest-resistant varieties and cultural systems. For example, most fungi require leaf surfaces to be wet for a certain amount of time at a certain temperature for their spores to germinate. Cultural systems that reduce the opportunity for fungal populations to get established include: 1) proper selection of planting site, and 2) planting systems to reduce the time that leaf surfaces remain wet. Most fungal spores are omnipresent waiting for the right climatic conditions to grow, and by eliminating those microclimate conditions in our gardens we are using IPM strategies.
Some situations cannot be avoided by cultural systems and require monitoring of the plants by scouting for the presence of insects and disease. IPM recognizes that the garden exists within an ecosystem and as such there is a dynamic flux between predator and prey insect species, as well as a flux of fungal and bacterial presence based on temperature and moisture conditions.
The elimination of all insects through the use of a broad spectrum insecticide provides the opportunity for the fast reproducing prey species to bounce back and become an even bigger problem, or requires implementation of a time based spray schedule. The IPM strategy is to monitor insect levels and tolerate the presence of pest species as long as it remains below a threshold level. In commercial systems this threshold level is an economic level based on the cost of control materials and their application. For the home gardener this is probably not an economic number but rather an acceptable control point based on the expectations of harvest quality and quantity.
An insect example
Tarnished Plant Bug (Lygus lineolaris) is an insect whose nymph stage feeding can cause significant damage to strawberry fruit creating misshaped "button berry" fruit. In a commercial setting the nymphs would be sampled by walking through a field at 5% bloom and tapping blossom clusters against a white pan looking for the small green nymphs moving across the pan. If 25% of the 20 or more blooms tested have nymphs, the commercial action threshold has been reached and the grower should take action. This sampling would be conducted every few days to keep a close view of the pest situation.
For the home grower depending on the size of your planting, a pan of soapy water could be used instead of a white pan and all blossoms could be tapped with bugs falling into water and drowning. This would certainly reduce the population of tarnished plant bug and might reduce it below your threshold level. Also the plants could be examined for predators of the tarnished plant bug such as other true bugs "damsel bugs" or nabids (Family Nabidae), and big-eyed bugs (Geocorids), ladybird beetles, spiders, and parasitic wasps. Seethe following URL with descriptions of beneficial insects3: http://www.mda.state.mn.us/plants/pestmanagement/ipm/strawberry-guide.aspx
This would be an example of physical removal of the pest as opposed to chemical.
A Disease Example
The use of a fungicide is based on weather conditions and the fungus in question. Leather Rot (Phytophthora cactorum) is a fruit disease of strawberries that is best managed by judicious use of straw mulch. "Straw mulch can reduce fruit diseases better than fungicides."1 Both Gray Mold (Botrytis cinerea) and Anthracnose (Colletotrichum spp.) overwinter on strawberry leaf litter and spores are transferred to flowers by splashing dispersal in heavy rains. If the temperatures are optimal the spores will germinate. Gray mold is a problem when plants are flowering whereas Anthracnose is a problem when the plants are fruiting. The IPM approach to these diseases involves use of straw mulch to reduce splash effects, removal of leaf litter as a source of disease material mostly in the renovation process2, and use of fungicides if weather conditions are optimal for fungal development.
The more you look into IPM, the more the world seems to expand.
Field Guide for Identification of Pest Insects, Diseases, and Beneficial Organisms in Minnesota Strawberry Fields.