Press-Republican

July 29, 2013

Pest management good for you and the environment

By JOLENE WALLACE, Cornell Cooperative Extension
Press-Republican

---- — At the Cooperative Extension office, the Master Gardener Grow-line volunteers and I get many requests for information each month, especially during the growing season. 

The Grow-line volunteers are trained to identify, diagnose and provide options for people who have questions about trees, flowers, vegetables, lawns, insects and just about anything that grows, crawls or flies in your house, garden or property.

You may wonder how we come up with the information we provide. We don’t have all the answers stored in our brains of course, but we have it available to us. What we don’t know, we do our best to find out, and we use research-based information and recommendations from Cornell University or other well-respected and reliable universities across the country.

When it comes to insects that you ask about, we determine what the insect is, whether it is causing damage, and if so, what the damage is and give you recommendations for handling the situation. Sometimes the damage is negligible or the insect is more beneficial than harmful. Other times, your vegetables are being ruined or your perennials are being eaten to the ground. There are as many scenarios as there are insects (and that’s a lot). 

The options we provide you with are based on integrated pest management. That is basically is a system that provides solutions to a pest problem that is effective and environmentally sound. It has four main components. They are cultural management, physical management, biological management and chemical management. 

Cultural management includes good garden sanitation, removing debris and diseased plants where insects may hide, choosing varieties that are resistant to pests, crop rotation and providing for the needs of the plant. A robust, healthy plant is less susceptible to pest damage. 

Mechanical management would be the use of row covers or collars around plants at the times they are most vulnerable to insect damage. 

Biological management means encouraging beneficial insects that prey on nuisance ones and making your garden a welcoming place by providing nectar-producing flowers. Birds eat many insects and keep populations down. Unfortunately, they do not distinguish between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.”  

Finally, there is the chemical method of pest control. This, of course, is the use of pesticides. There are many choices when it comes to pesticides, from insecticidal soap to products that are quite toxic. If you choose to use a pesticide, you want to use one that will accomplish your goal in the least toxic way possible, and always follow the directions carefully.

When we give advice, we take these four methods into consideration, ask questions to find out what you want to accomplish, and then make suggestions that make sense in your situation. If you can manage your garden in the most environmentally responsible way, everyone wins. If you would like to speak with us about pest problems, call 561-7450 or email me at jmw442@cornell.edu.

Jolene Wallace is the horticulture program assistant for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Contact her at 561-7450 or jmw442@cornell.edu.