In 1865, people in Upstate New York lived in fear of a deadly worm. Just one bite from this poisonous creature was enough to kill a grown man, it was said. Later it was discovered that the deadly predator was in fact a harmless caterpillar—a fact that might make some laugh at the gullibility of our ancestors. But the fact is, even today, a bug sighting can inspire an instinctive desire to eliminate the invader at all costs, leading, in some cases, to the overuse of hazardous pesticides. Fortunately, now there’s another option available for commercial pest control: integrated pest management.
Unlike traditional grab-and-spray protocols, integrated pest management (IPM) takes a different approach to controlling insects. By leveraging data about insects—their lifecycles, and how they interact with plants and other insects—IPM can stop problems before they start. And while IPM does include the judicious use of pesticides, this methodology relies more on other means, making it an increasingly popular choice for companies seeking sustainable pest control solutions for commercial landscaping.
Why Use IPM for Commercial Pest Control?
Spraying on a regular schedule may seem like an easy preventative option for pest problems. But in many cases, indiscriminate spraying is neither viable nor effective. Unfortunately, over the past few decades, an over-reliance on chemical pesticides has led to the evolution of resistant pest populations, ones that continue to resurge, making them harder and harder to control as once-reliable pesticides become ineffective.
This is one reason why facilities managers and property owners are turning to integrated pest management. With more options for control, IPM practices can help prevent the development of pesticide-resistant pests, preserving the natural balance of ecosystems. This is not only a more effective approach to pest control, but also a more sustainable one. Spraying less lowers the risk of contamination of waterways and soil, contributing to a safer and healthier environment for facility occupants and visitors. This is particularly important for public spaces, such as parks and recreational areas.
Another benefit of IPM is that it significantly reduces material and labor costs by cutting back the amount of pesticides needed and the frequency of their application. And because IPM is often more effective than traditional spraying, it’s even helping to reduce the remediation costs associated with pest damage.
The Benefits of Green Commercial Pest Control
Sustainable landscapes are more resilient and cost-effective in the long run. In fact, having a sustainable and healthy landscape will do more to mitigate pest problems than simply spraying. Experts now know that over 60% of plant and shrub difficulties are due to nutrient imbalances, water practices, or soil conditions—none of which are solved with sprays that can damage soil life and the beneficial insects that keep plants healthy. IPM enables a balanced ecosystem in which plants thrive and opportunistic fungi, weeds, and insects are naturally kept at bay.
Integrated pest management is a long-term sustainable solution that offers benefits across a variety of landscapes, and it is proving to be far more effective than the whack-a-mole approach of intermittent spraying. So how do landscapers incorporate IPM into their gardening protocols? It may not be as easy as attaching a spray nozzle to a pesticide bottle, but it’s not that difficult either.
Implementing Integrated Pest Management
Integrated pest management is dependent on the environment and the pests that need to be controlled. In other words, the bug dictates the protocols. One of the great virtues of IPM is that it provides a suite of customizable principles and practices that work by balancing the unique environment of each landscape. Methods are adjusted depending on the challenge being addressed, creating a program that suits the specific situation. But no matter the specific challenge, IPM landscapers engage in three primary activities to achieve effective commercial pest control:
Not every weed, insect, or fungus needs to be controlled, as some are innocuous or even beneficial. For this reason, the first step in a typical IPM action plan is to accurately identify the pest species. This is why it’s essential to work with experienced maintenance providers. An experienced landscaper with knowledge of IPM methods will recognize the stages of plant and insect lifecycles, be able to distinguish good bugs from bad, and know their natural enemies.
As evidenced in our worm story, correct identification is key to knowing whether an insect is likely to become a problem, and how best to manage it. Understanding a bug’s biology, behavior, and resting stages is crucial for effective management.
Monitoring and Assessing
Monitoring is a proactive approach that can help detect issues early and prevent large-scale infestations. Regular monitoring is more effective and less costly than responding to an insect invasion that was overlooked before. Vigilance saves money.
Insects and bugs can be monitored with regular visual inspections of your property. In addition to looking for the pests themselves, you should also examine plants, shrubs, and structures for signs of damage. Leaf damage, for example, can provide valuable information about insect type and activity.
You can also use sticky traps to catch insects for more detailed examination. The type of insects you trap, and the rate at which your traps fill up, will provide volumes of information about the presence, quantity, and direction of travel of the pests on your property. This information is key to crafting an effective action plan.
Establishing Tolerance Thresholds
Establishing thresholds or tolerance levels for specific pests is an important protocol in integrated pest management. You should know in advance, for example, how frequent pest sightings should be to trigger a control action like spraying pesticides. Spotting one or two bugs doesn’t always mean you need to pull out the sprays. A commercial landscaper knowledgeable in IPM can help you determine which thresholds best suit your facilities.
Applying IPM Practices to Commercial Pest Control
Of course, the best way to avoid the use of pesticides is to not need them in the first place. This is why IPM protocols emphasize long-term, systematic maintenance, using four types of pest control:
Physical Pest Control
Healthy plants are less likely to attract fungi and can better withstand invasive insects. Stress—such as too little water, too much fertilizer, or suboptimal temperatures—has the opposite effect. Choosing plants that are native to your facility’s geography means they’re more likely to survive the weather. Proper planting methods and a good planting site are a must. Regular weeding is also necessary, unless you choose a xeriscape of native-only plants—which not only reduces the need for watering but also promotes healthy and bug-resistant plants.
Biological Pest Control
You can go beyond simply creating habitats that welcome beneficial insects to actively importing them. Many problematic insects have natural predators that will go after the bugs you don’t want while leaving your plants intact. Introducing the right predator to your landscape can help control pests and protect the balance of nature. To maximize the benefits of these organisms, you’ll need to take into account weather conditions, food availability, and ideal release times.
Chemical Pest Control
When it comes to chemicals, the general philosophy in integrated pest management is to start with substances that are less toxic for humans and the environment. This means targeting specific areas with selective pesticides by using bait stations or by spot-spraying instead of dousing entire landscapes. Insecticide soaps and microbial pesticides, which contain fungi or bacteria as the active ingredients, are a less toxic way to kill pests. And biopesticides, which are derived from natural materials like plants and minerals, decompose quickly and are far less toxic than conventional sprays.
But even conventional pesticides have a place in integrated pest management; they’re simply used more judiciously. And this restrained approach is highly effective. An IPM landscaping project at the University of Maryland, for example, reduced pesticide use by more than 90%—in large part through carefully timed spot treatments other targeted applications.
The Long Game in Commercial Pest Control
Integrated pest management is not a shortcut or a quick fix. It is a robust strategy that produces lasting results and creates a flourishing environment. Its strength lies in its ability to combine various methods and practices based on specific pest situations, keeping in mind the principles of sustainability.
While IPM requires more careful planning and greater expertise, for most commercial landscapes its long-term cost and functional benefits outweigh any additional effort. And there are other kinds of benefits as well. Embracing IPM practices demonstrates a commitment to responsible environmental stewardship that’s appealing to customers and stakeholders alike. Put simply, an integrated approach to pest control is the optimal way to reduce pesticide costs and risks, improve landscape health and resilience, and make a positive impression on your tenants and visitors.