Battle Bad Bugs and Protect Pollinators on the Farm

Integrated Pest Management helps control pests in the garden.

By Lynn Coulter

We’ve come a long way from using “tobacco water” and other homemade remedies to control plant pests. Many farmers and gardeners in the U.S. and around the world now use integrated pest management, or IPM, to protect their crops, while minimizing use of pesticides that can harm pollinators.

IPM is a combination of practices used to reduce pests and diseases, since eliminating them isn’t always possible. To protect pollinators, chemicals are used as a last resort. The basic steps include:

  • Checking your plants often for signs of trouble.
  • Keeping records. Identifying and tracking pests and diseases helps you watch for future outbreaks.
  • Taking action. Deciding how much damage you’ll tolerate is key. If you’re a farmer, you’ll have economic limits. Backyard gardeners might draw the line at their prize dahlias. Before you act, research the problem. Some pests are destructive only during certain life stages, and others may move on. You might even wait them out and let your plants recover.
  • Using mechanical and physical controls. IPM starts on the lowest (safest) rung of the control ladder, and moves up. Pest controls range from blasting bugs with water, to traps, row covers and other barriers.
  • Using biological controls. Predators that prey on pests, and certain parasites and pathogens, can serve as allies.
  • Using chemical controls. If other IPM practices don’t work, chemicals may come into play.

Good cultural practices like proper watering, weeding and fertilizing can also help reduce pests and diseases. Learn more from the U.S. Environmental Protection or research institutions like the University of California.