Module 6: Intro to pest management

Learn the basics of Integrated Pest Management.

At the end of this lesson, you’ll be able to:

  • Identify the components of the IPM Framework 
  • Describe mechanical, cultural, biological pest management techniques
  • Explain when to use chemical management techniques
  • Compare synthetic and organic chemical products
  • List and explain the signal words on a pesticide label
  • Explain the importance of reading pesticide labels

Pest Control vs Pest Management

Pest ControlPest Management
ReactiveTactics are planned and implemented after the problems are found. No planning to avoid or minimize problems.Pesticides are often the only solution when using a reactive approach, which causes a reliance on pesticidesProactivePlanning strategies are considered before problems occur. Emphasis on tactics that avoid or minimize damage.Advocates for the tolerance of damage.

Let’s apply these two ways of thinking to cucumber beetles, a common pest for many in the cucurbit family. Remember, the cucurbits are the cucumbers, melons, squashes, and pumpkins.

Case study: Cucumber beetles

Jack and Jamaal are friends who love to garden and can spicy pickles. They decide to have a competition to see who can grow and can the best pickles this year. 

Jack purchases pickling cucumber seeds, but doesn’t pay attention to the variety. He has a special spot in his garden where he plants his pickles every year. He tills the garden, plants his seeds, but gets busy in the weeks that follow. He doesn’t keep up with the weeds. When his plants have 2 sets of true leaves, they are decimated by cucumber beetles. A few of the plants that manage to survive then get bacterial wilt from the cucumber beetles! Remember, insects do not brush their teeth between plants. When Jack notices his plants are being attacked by something, he buys Neem oil, an organic chemical and sprays his plants. When it still seems like his plants aren’t getting better, he starts to spray them with Malathion. Jack’s harvest is disappointing and he has to supplement his harvest in order to compete in the spicy pickle challenge. This happens every year, and Jack’s starting to reconsider growing pickles.     

Jamaal, on the other hand, learned about IPM from his local extension office. Last year he had a problem with cucumber beetles, so he found a variety, Liberty, that is resistant to cucumber beetle damage (resistant variety). When it’s time to plant, Jaamal pulls out his garden journal and is certain to plant his plants in a different location in the garden. (crop rotation). At the edge of his cucurbits, he plants blue hubbard squash (trap plant). Blue hubbard squash is especially tasty to cucumber beetles, so as they gravitate towards the Blue Hubbard, Jaamal can treat those plants with pesticides if the number of adults is more than 5 per plant (action threshold). He monitors the plants closely from germination to the 3rd true leaf stage, knowing that the cucumber beetles will do the most damage at this early stage. He grows all of his cucurbits under floating row covers until they flower (physical barrier). He is diligent about keeping his garden free of weeds because he knows weeds can act as a host plant to the cucumber beetles. Jaamal does use some pesticides on his Blue Hubbard trap plants, but because he monitored early, he’s able to use a smaller amount of a less toxic pesticide. Jaamal ends up with so many pickles, he gives them away to all of his neighbors. 

Jack’s pickle growing process is reactive. He doesn’t plan for a problem until it presents itself. He ends up wasting a lot of time and money in plants and pesticides, and his harvest isn’t as large as it could be. 

Because Jaamal plans ahead at every step, he reduces the amount of pesticides he needs and has a huge harvest. Jaamal is practicing pest management, while Jack is limited by pest control.  

The benefits of IPM

IPM reduces the need for pesticides by:

  • predicting/preventing pest activity before it takes hold. This is accomplished by learning as much about the host plant and the pests it is susceptible to. Then you can predict the potential problems.
  • utilizing all available pest management methods. 

The goal is not to eradicate pests but to keep them at a manageable level. Note IPM is not organic gardening, but they have similar principles. IPM is a holistic approach to maintenance. 

Think of it as a decision making framework. IPM gives you the tools to make sound decisions. Your decisions will be based on your reaction to questions like…

What is the value of the crop?

How much will it cost to fight the pest? Think in terms of both money and time.

What are your feelings on pesticides?

What is your personal gardening approach? Why are you gardening?

IPM consists of 3 components. 

  • The foundation is knowledge. You’ll use knowledge of the host plant, pest, and surroundings to decide how much damage you can tolerate. 
  • Next monitor your garden for activity. 
  • If and when damage occurs past the threshold of damage you can tolerate, you control the pests using the least toxic control method.

Components of IPM

What are some things you would need to know about the plant?  Note: not an exhaustive list.

  • What is normal? 
  • Requirements to thrive (light, water, nutrients, pollination needs, etc)
  • What pests/diseases is the plant susceptible to?
  • Pollination needs

What are some things you would need to know about the pest?

  • Life cycle. 
  • Behavior. 
  • Seasonal cycles
  • Population growth and interactions with their host and environment

What are some things you would need to know about the surrounding area?

  • soil texture
  • pH, 
  • black walnut?
  • Slope
  • Past weather patterns (months and years)
  • Climate patterns

Pest Monitoring Methods: 

  • Visual: informally check plants regularly while doing other garden chores. Most home gardeners rely on regular visual monitoring. Example- you want to notice tomato hornworms before they decimate your plants.
  • Traps: Example: yellow sticky traps. Used for specific pests.

Degree days are used to predict pests.

One of the benefits of IPM is the fact it utilizes all pest management methods. We can categorize pest management techniques into these categories:





You start with cultural methods and work your way up, saving chemicals as a last resort.

There are probably hundreds of answers to this question. Not an exclusive list.

Choose disease resistant varieties

Crop Rotation

Good fall clean up

Proper plant spacing

Right plant, right place

And so on… 

Physical control methods include:

  • Hand Pick. This works well for large or slow moving pests. Look at the undersides of leaves.
  • Water. Strong stream of water: works well for soft bodied pests; Must get undersides of leaves. Do this early in the day so leaves can dry out. Repeat due to eggs. 
  • Prune out heavy infestations.
  • Netting/Floating Row Covers
  • Plant collars: cutworm protection
  • Shiny objects for birds. CDs on strings. etc
  • Chicken wire: large pests
  • Mulch for disease
  • And so on…

  • Beneficial insects: some you can buy, otherwise encourage them
  • Bt: Bacillus thuringiensis: insect stops feeding after ingesting the pesticide. Spinosad: similar to bt (Hot tip: for fungus gnats in houseplants, use spinosad israelis) Both are selective. 
  • Biological fungicides
  • Nematodes
  • Companion planting: planting two different species near each other to gain benefit in growth, flavor or pest control. Example: 3 sisters(corn, beans and squash) The evidence for companion planting is inconclusive in many cases.

  • Save for last.
  • Read the label. Is it labeled for your plant? For example, is it okay to use on edibles?
  • Will it target your pest? When possible, choose a selective pesticide to minimize the likelihood of killing an untended target (pollinators). 
  • Don’t pay more for marketing. Just like with fertilizer, don’t rely on the name. Look at the active ingredient. This will save you money: the “Scarlet lily beetle killer” and the “organic pesticide” may have the same active ingredient (Spinosad), but the specialized one may cost more. Same active ingredient, same concentration. Shop for active ingredients, not branding. 
  • Least toxic to you. 
  • Least harmful to the environment. 
  • Most selective.

Case study revisited

Let’s compare Jack & Jaamal’s pest management skillsJackJaamal
Cultural MethodsCrop Rotation. Pest resistant variety. Use of trap plants. Regular weeding. 
Mechanical MethodsFloating row covers.
Biological Methods
Chemical MethodsOrganic spray, then synthetic spray.Less toxic insecticide on trap plants.

Reading a pesticide label

There are four sections to a pesticide label. 

  1. Safety information: The label will have information for medical professionals on how to treat in case of accidental exposure. The first aid statement will also inform you of personal protective equipment you should use to avoid accidental exposure. Signal words on the front of the label quickly inform the reader the product’s toxicity. 
  2. Environmental Information: The label will state potential hazards and precautions necessary to avoid damage to non-target organisms or the environment. Examples include bodies of water or pollinators. 
  3. Product information: The label includes information stating the brand, ingredients, net contents, physical or chemical hazards, such as flammable or corrosive. 
  4. Use information: Includes direction for use, storage, and disposal. Remember- it is a violation of federal law to use pesticides in any matter inconsistent with labeling.

Signal words

Signal words describe the acute toxicity of a chemical product.

Acute refers to short term, meaning the exposure is within a definite time period, as opposed to “chronic” exposure. Chronic exposure refers to exposure over a longer period of time. When choosing chemicals, you want to look for the least toxic option. Signal words can help you determine which chemical is the least toxic. 

Danger-Poison (black with skull and crossbones) indicates a chemical is highly toxic by any route of entry to the body. Routes of entry will include through the skin, eyes, inhalation, or ingestion. 

Danger (red)  indicates severe eye damage. As little as a taste to teaspoonful could be lethal. 

Warning (orange) is moderately toxic. A lethal dose would be between a teaspoon and tablespoon ful, depending on the chemical.

 Caution (yellow) is slightly toxic. A lethal dose would be an ounce to more than a pint.

Comparing organic and synthetic chemicals

Organic pesticides: 

  • Derived from a natural source.
    • These include pesticides whose active ingredients are derived from plants and plant products such as neem, pyrethrins, and oils like thyme, citrus, etc. 
    • Just because it is “organic” doesn’t mean it’s completely safe. A non selective organic pesticide is going to kill your beneficial insects right along with the damaging pests. 
    • Organics tend to break down in the environment quickly.
      • Tend to… diatomaceous earth is considered an organic control method by many, but it is elemental silicon and doesn’t break down.
      • This is great if you have identified your pest and understand its life cycle. For many pests, a targeted approach timed with a specific point in the life cycle is all that is needed to manage the pest. Other pests that have multiple cycles in a season may require more applications to control than a synthetic. 
    • Organic pesticides, particularly biological insecticides like Bt and Spinosad, may be chosen because they are selective in what pests they control. Since Bt and Spinosad target only specific pests, other insects are not harmed by them. 

Synthetic pesticides:

  • Derived from  various compounds created in a lab.
    • They are often less expensive. 
    • They often do not break down as fast as organic counterparts, so the gardener may need to use less applications. 
    • They often have a longer shelf life than organic pesticides, especially biological ones.

Both can be toxic depending on the active ingredient and dose. It’s important to keep in mind that even if you are using an “organic” pesticide, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be mindful in application. Choose and use pesticides with caution. This also includes fungicides and herbicides. 


IPM Chapter, NC State Extension

The pesticide label explained. UF Extension

Biological Control of Insects and Mites: An Introduction to Beneficial Natural Enemies and Their Use in Pest Management, UW-Extension Learning Store Publication A3842)

Understanding the Pesticide Label from University of Missouri ExtensionWhat’s in that pesticide? University of California, IPM Program, YouTube Video

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