Pests & Diseases

Integrated Pest Management

Keep Pests Out

One of the biggest challenges in gardening is managing pests. Whether your pest is an insect, weed, disease, or wildlife, these principals are key to pest management for your garden.

Right Plant, Right Place – Many times a plant problem is the result of poor plant location.  Make sure to choose a plant that will grow in the existing conditions. Is the area in sun, shade, or part shade?  Are the soils wet, dry, moist or well drained?  What is the soil pH? Is there good air movement? Once you have figured out the conditions, select a plant species that has been breed for disease and insect resistance, meets the size and shape goals without excessive care, and thrives in the existing environment.

Sanitation – Many pest problems can be avoided with good garden sanitation.  Clean beds of weeds and apply a 2-3” layer of mulch.   Fewer weeds will reduce some of the insect and disease problems.  Sanitation includes pruning dead, diseased, and damaged limbs from trees and shrubs.  Remove the fruit mummies on fruit trees and shrubs.  They can be a source for future pests.

Soil Test – Amend the soil based on the plant requirements. Plants that are healthy are less likely to become stressed.  A stressed plant is more susceptible to insects and disease.  Plus, certain weeds thrive in poor soils, but are not a problem when the soils are well balanced.  Soil testing is free through your local extension office.

Look for Pests – Certain pests become active at certain times of the year.  Learn when those pests are active and most vulnerable, so treatment will be more effective.  Contact your local extension office for the free Landscape Management Calendar with information on the best time to control pests in the landscape.

Tolerance – Not all pests require treatment.  Determine your level of tolerance for a particular pest.  Fruits and vegetables have established levels of pest tolerance, but there are more subjective thresholds for pests on ornamental plants.  It may not be necessary to spray your plants with a pesticide the first time you encounter a pest.  Keep in mind that pesticides can affect the beneficial insects, too.

Pesticides as the Last Resort – Always choose the safest, least harmful pesticide to both you and the environment to treat the problem. Sometimes the best option is to get rid of the plant and replace it with a more disease and insect resistant one.

Successful gardening has a lot to do with successful management of pests.  A holistic approach will result in a more sustainable garden.


Michelle Wallace is the Consumer Horticulture Agent for the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Durham County. You may contact her at 919-560-0525.

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