What is a pest? For me, the first thing that comes to mind is my brother. For this article, though, let’s focus on pests in the landscape.
Diseases, insects and weeds are the major pests that vex homeowners. In years past, the typical response would involve a dose of the nearest insecticide, weed killer, or fungicide. But we can show you better, more effective methods to deal with pests.
That is our sixth stop as we journey through the nine principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ (FFL): “Manage Yard Pests Responsibly.”
Responsible management starts with awareness of the need to protect human health and the environment when battling pests. That includes limiting, or even eliminating, the use of chemicals for pest control.
“Integrated Pest Management” (IPM) is a strategy to do just that. Like other elements of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™, it utilizes all elements of the program to produce a healthy landscape that is less susceptible to pests and, thus, has less (or even no) need for chemical treatments. In other words, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
That said, there is no approach that can guarantee you never will have a pest problem. You need to know what to do WHEN, not if, you start seeing pests.
Scouting for problems in your landscape is your first step. Check your plants and turf regularly, once or twice a week. Look for signs of insect damage, disease infestation, or weed overgrowth. Catching a problem early gives you a better chance to control it.
Next, identify the culprit. Control is nearly impossible if you do not know what you are battling. But, as you encounter and identify insects, remember that less than one percent of all insect species actually harm our landscapes. Most do no harm, and some even provide benefits, like keeping harmful pests in check or away. Learning to tolerate a few chewed leaves or other minor damage from beneficial insects, and knowing that your aim isn’t to eliminate all insects, can help limit your treatments.
Once you have identified the problem, try low-impact, often low-technology control techniques first. Remove insects and weeds by hand, and dispose of them so they cannot re-infest your lawn or landscape. You can manage some diseases by simply changing your watering practices or cutting away infected areas.
Insect predators and parasites are a biological weapon that can help you control pests. Ladybugs and praying mantis are two famous insect predators, and either or both might already be in your landscape. If they are, let them be. If not, you can buy and release them. Let these weapons do the work that comes naturally, and you might find your problem remedies itself over time.
Finally, if low-impact approaches have not worked, and the pest has become intolerable, then employ chemical treatments. Even here, start with the least-toxic option. Note that whatever you use, it is vitally important – and required by law – that you follow the handling and use instructions on the product label. This helps protect you and the environment.
When applying chemicals, remember to target your pest. Find a product designed to eliminate your pest, rather than using a broad-spectrum pesticide. Use that product only where needed, in spots where you have observed the pest. And avoid applying any chemical on windy days, when the product is easily dispersed.
If all this is a little confounding, you might consider downloading (or picking up at our office) a copy of the UF/IFAS Florida Yards & Neighborhoods Handbook. It contains a section with great details on responsible pest management, including examples of common harmful and beneficial insects you might encounter. UF/IFAS also has an Integrated Pest Management web site with a variety of information, including the use of biological controls.
We all have pests in our lives. Some, we can manage easily. Others take a little (or a lot) more effort. But, through due diligence and following the Integrated Pest Management approach embodied in the nine principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™, we can take back control.
Now, about my brother…