Sharon-Vollmer0South Florida’s hot, humid climate is the perfect environment for countless pests, insects, weeds, fungi, viruses and other plant diseases. In the past, we relied heavily on pesticides, herbicides and a bunch of other “-cides,” to try to control these problems. However, as people became increasingly concerned about the use of these products, a newer approach emerged—integrated pest management (known as IPM), a system of biological, cultural, mechanical and chemical methods that safely control pests.

Biological controls: Many pests have natural enemies we can use to our advantage. Invite a natural balance of birds, beneficial insects and other wildlife to your garden to help control pests through competitors, predators, parasites and pathogens. Certain ladybugs feed on aphids, and other kinds feed on scale insects. Air potato leaf beetles were released in Florida in 2012 to try to control the invasive air potato vine. And a tiny parasitic wasp is mainly responsible for keeping the spiraling whitefly in check. The whitefly wreaked havoc on several tree species locally a couple of years ago.

Cultural controls: These are things you can do to inhibit the survival or proliferation of pests—practices that put the pests at a disadvantage. For instance, how are you irrigating? Is it “one size fits all” or are your zones set based upon the plants in that zone? Fine-tuning your irrigation practices can reduce pest problems because having too little water stresses plants (making them susceptible), and having too much water will invite diseases such as root rot, chinch bugs, and pests such as dollar weed. Other examples of cultural control are nutrition and sanitation. Are you fertilizing properly? Are you cleaning your tools before moving from an infested area?

Mechanical controls: Many problems can be eliminated the old-fashioned way. Handpicking pests from smaller shrubs or blasting the infested parts with a strong spray from the garden hose will go a long way in reducing pests. Sometimes, you can merely prune off the affected leaves. Spread organic mulch in your planting beds to control weeds. Instead of spraying herbicides, pull weeds before they go to seed or spread. Besides, spending time in the garden is therapeutic.

Chemical control: This is the use of those “-cides.” Use insecticides, nematicides, fungicides, etc., only as needed and targeted on affected problems. They should be used in combination with other methods of control and, generally, last. Consider spot-spraying weeds instead of blanketing the entire yard or driveway. Use pesticide bait stations instead of spraying. Remember to follow all label directions. Using more is not better.

A key to having a good offense on pest management is to scout early and often. Keep plants healthy by installing them in the right place in your yard. Consider factors such as light, shade, water and available space. Stressed plants that are trying to survive in unfavorable conditions attract pests.

By using integrated pest management, you can stay on top of weeds, insects or other pests while reducing risks to your family, pets and the environment.