It?s my flowering Peruvian cherry tree,? says the heartsick voice on the line. ?The tent caterpillars almost ruined it last spring, and now they?re back for what?s left!?

Eager to serve a new client, you rearrange your afternoon schedule, and as your truck comes to a halt in the driveway, you?re met at the sidewalk.

?Please hurry! That tree was a gift from my great-grandmother.? Another citizen expecting miracles. Lucky this client called you, because you?re the Miracle Maker. As you reach for your spray applicator, the client?s tone shifts from fear to horror. ?What?s that?? You suddenly notice the client?s tie-dyed apparel and the Jerry Garcia riffs escaping from the front door. Not only this, but you recall a ?60 Minutes? episode from the night before in which it was implied that a specific, agricultural pesticide might have been linked to a farmer?s daughter?s outbreak of smallpox.

While such an incident might have been the exception to the rule a decade ago, more and more consumers ? and not just the hardcore environmentalists ? are favoring turf and landscape strategies that incorporate treatments besides chemical ones. Consumers are more informed today, and while this is a good thing for the green industry, it must be remembered that one of the most powerful informers is popular media. They have a tendency toward alarmism which can lead to distrust of pesticide application.

In the everyday world that we live in, our customers have invested heavily in their landscapes. Although many clients would prefer not to use chemicals, they are not willing to see their investment destroyed by insects. So bring on Integrated Pest Management. IPM is a tool that should be in the arsenal of every landscape contractor.

Larva of a syrphid fly, a predator of
many soft-bodies insect pests.
Photo courtesy: Diane Brown-Rytlewski
Michigan State University IPM Program

If there is a grub infestation in your customer?s lawn, then an application on that entire lawn is necessary. However, if there is a shrub or a branch of a tree that has an infestation, any chemical treatment should be focused and specific to that area. Contractors who are aware of this change in client perception will equip their companies with the knowledge to use their pesticides thusly or to take steps in the earlier phases to limit their usage.

Integrated Pest Management has evolved more or less parallel to the environmental movement. According to Dr. Harold Coble of the USDA/ARS/Office of Pest Management Policy, much of the foundation for IPM was laid in 1972, with an EPA-funded research project on Insect IPM.

This research was managed by Dr. Carl Huffaker of UC Berkeley and a follow-up project was managed by Dr. Perry Adkisson of Texas A&M. The latter brought plant pathology, nematology and weed science into the IPM framework. ?Much of what is in practice today in IPM,? explains Coble, ?was developed in these two research and implementation projects. These two projects cemented the concept that population management is the key to successful pest management, and an understanding of pest ecology is pivotal to population management. The fact that each state now has an extension IPM coordinator is a direct outgrowth of the Adkisson Project.?

While a few landscape contractors may be overwhelmed by the vast range of ecological knowledge that seems to lurk behind a successful IPM program ? from entomology and insect and plant physiology to soil chemistry ? it must be understood that a great deal of IPM know-how will be based on the expertise already gained by the contractor through field experience. A professional in business for a few years, for instance, will already know which pests are most destructive; when they make an appearance; the situations in which a pest can cause the greatest damage; and plant varieties and planting schemes that check the pest?s progress. This information provides a healthy base for an IPM program.

When nothing is the best option.

One of the easiest IPM practices in many circumstances is simply letting natural processes run their course. Tom Smith, president of Grass Roots, Inc., in East Lansing, Michigan, explains that pests such as aphids and many of the scales will succumb to natural predation in time. A landscape contractor who?s aware of this fact, then, can let the predator insects do all the work. ?Many times, not treating is a pretty viable option,? says Smith, ?and what it allows us to do is to preserve those natural predators that are out there.?

Contractors who are involved in the design phase can take specific steps to employ naturally-occurring systems in pest prevention. Ultimately, this should mean less active pest control in the future. Proper mulching, soil preparation and the use of disease-resistant plant materials can all affect pest occurrence. Clients appreciate that their contractor shows concern for the environment while designing a beautiful landscape.

Smith, who often conducts IPM educational programs, uses a pyramid to illustrate this point. At the base of the pyramid are such factors as site selection, site preparation and proper installation. Higher up are the proper maintenance practices. The very tip of the pyramid is pest management.
?If we do the design and we do the installation properly, then really, pest management becomes a very minor part of the whole management picture,? says Smith.

For those landscape professionals whose work ethics seem to conflict with the ?do nothing? approach, Smith offers this condolence: ?We?re getting paid for our expertise. We get paid whether or not we apply anything, so our income is generated by that expertise.?

When action is necessary

More often than not, a contractor will be called to the scene of a pre-existing landscape, and perhaps the previous designer failed to plan for potential pest problems. In such a case, a good IPM approach involves taking a thorough inventory of the scene, a step referred to as scouting. Looking closely at every variable ? from seasonal weather patterns to the phases of pest/predator life cycles ? will permit the wisest control decisions to be made. IPM means more than seeing a pest and setting out to destroy it. It involves integrating the various components of the landscape into a pest-resistant environment, so as much as one can learn about what?s out there, the more he or she will have to work with.

Once the pest is identified, and if it?s determined that natural predation, temperature or moisture shifts or life cycle changes won?t solve the problem, it?s best to first explore those treatment options that have the least environmental impact. Can the pest be removed simply with a water hose? Can the shrub or tree be pruned to halt the advance of the disease? Can the watering regime or mulching be modified to discourage the insect?s or weed?s presence?

Of course, an IPM philosophy doesn?t exclude the use of chemicals, because in many circumstances, there?s simply no other course. Many times, chemical control is the fastest way to stop the infestation from moving from plant to plant.

When it?s determined that chemical application is necessary, the contractor should strive to be as focused with the material?s use as possible. He or she should concentrate the pesticide?s usage only on the affected branch of a tree, the at-risk species in the landscape, or the microenvironment most likely to see an insect outbreak.

If the professional concludes that the pest problem can be solved without traditional pesticides, other possibilities are open. At Grass Roots, some of Smith?s strategies include: horticultural oils, insecticidal soaps, beneficial nematodes, and corn gluten meal ? an all-natural pre-emergent for weed control.

Non-traditional uses of traditional chemicals can also fit into the IPM framework. For example, faced with a European chafer grub problem over the last couple of years, Smith?s company has begun to use Mach 2 as an insect growth regulator, instead of as a traditional insecticide. Clients have also been encouraged to water their lawns daily at midday, to hold turf in place and to cut down on heat stress.

Elm leafminer damage
Photo courtesy: Diane Brown-Rytlewski,
Michigan State University IPM Program

When the battles are chosen

The best landscape IPM programs in the nation were developed over a span of years, and so the contractor just making the leap into this mode of pest control can?t expect to become a complete encyclopedia of insects and diseases overnight. Rather, the most effective way to implement IPM into one?s operations, suggests Diane Brown-Rytlewski, nursery/landscape integrator for the Michigan State University IPM program, is by first focusing on the most serious pests or the easiest ones to manage in one?s territory. Studying the habitat requirements and life phases of a half-dozen insects doesn?t have near the intimidation factor of learning them all.

Obviously, some pests will be easier to control than others, and Brown-Rytlewski ranks borers and diseases among the most challenging to combat with IPM.

For the latest developments in practical IPM research, each state has an IPM coordinator who?ll be able to recommend resources and offer guidance to the professional seeking to broaden his or her IPM prowess. A list of these state coordinators can be found online at ipm/coordinators.htm. Contractors should check with these people or with a local university?s extension service for helpful publications. Smith, for example, subscribes to MSU?s weekly Landscape Alerts, which gives notice as to when insect activity is occurring, predicts expected activity for coming weeks, tracks degree days and offers some treatment strategies.

In one sense, the landscape contractor has more opportunity to be on the cutting edge of IPM than the farmer or forester, simply because of economic factors. An individual whose livelihood depends on a field of soybeans, for example, will understandably want to concentrate on the ?sure thing? when it comes to protecting the investment.

Colorado State IPM Coordinator William Brown notes that, ?Urban issues are complicated by too many people all trying to be experts in environmental and health issues.? He adds that ?in most urban situations, economics (for homeowners/golf courses) are not as important as in agriculture.? Brown goes on to say, ?The technical aspects of IPM in the green industry itself are, for the most part, readily available and pretty reliable. Much of it centers on prevention, which is really where IPM begins. Techniques that might not be viable in agriculture are [viable] in a more high input/profit system.?

In essence, a successful IPM seed is planted by changing the way one has traditionally looked at pest management. ?It becomes more of a philosophy,? says Smith. ?Everything revolving around decisions you make in the company is geared toward the integrated pest management philosophy. That goes all the way back to design, the installation, to the management, to how you talk to clients about what needs to be done.?
While some may mistakenly think of IPM as a cache of environmentally- friendly oils and preying mantises, others incorrectly assume that IPM requires contractors to empty their chemical closets. The truth is that IPM is largely a change in attitude. The strongest IPM tool the landscape contractor possesses, it seems, is the mind.

July 2001