How to prevent and manage a pest situation

Sunset  – September 4, 2004

Today’s Approach to Garden Problems

In years past, the preferred solution to garden problems was to eradicate the trouble with pesticides. As we’ve since learned, however, it is neither possible nor desirable to completely eliminate every problem that besets our plants–and by trying to do so, we may cause immediate or long-term harm to people, animals, and the environment. Today, the focus is on prevention and management, not eradication. This approach, called Integrated Pest Management (IPM), had its origins in the agricultural industry, but it is just as applicable to home gardens.


Whatever your garden’s size or style, good plant health is your first line of defense against potential problems of any kind. Strong, vigorous plants are better able to resist pests that fly or crawl into the garden and disease spores that drift in on the wind; a thick, healthy lawn foils weed invasion before it can begin. Make it a priority to give each plant the water, fertilizer, and light it needs to thrive.

There are other steps you can take to keep problems away. Remember that landscaping choices can contribute to a healthy garden: if you include a variety of plants of different heights, you’ll provide a habitat for insect-eating birds and other creatures that help keep pest populations under control. Pay attention to maintenance: keep an eye on the accumulation of debris such as old leaves, pieces of wood, pulled annual flowers, and fallen seedpods. Although such materials–if nondiseased–can act as a good natural mulch (and a source of nutrients as they decay and work into the soil), they also provide a favorite home for ground-dwelling pests. If pests of this sort are a nuisance for you, you may want to clear away their hiding places periodically.

This kind of cleanup aids in disease prevention, as well–as do proper watering, careful transplanting, and the use of disease-resistant plants.

Numerous tactics will aid you in keeping weeds from invading your garden; ground covers and mulches offer just one effective means of thwarting these plant pests.