Integrated Pest Management for Lawn Care

Integrated Pest Management is essentially common-sense pest control. IPM is not a new concept; some forms of it have been practiced for centuries. It involves the carefully managed use of three different pest control tactics - biological, cultural, and chemical - to get the best long-term results with the least disruption of the environment. Biological control means using natural enemies of the pest, like lady bugs to control aphids. Cultural or horticultural control involves the use of gardening methods, like mowing high to shade out weeds. Chemical control involves the judicious use of pesticides.

IPM is a highly effective approach that minimizes the use of pesticides and maximizes the use of natural processes. Lawn care professionals who use IPM should have a sophisticated understanding of the ecosystem of your turf and the available pest control tactics. Home gardeners can also practice IPM by following the steps outlined in this article.

Tips for Using Pesticides

Sometimes, even with good lawn care practices, weather conditions or other factors can cause pest problems to develop. Pesticides can help control many lawn pests. But pesticides have risks as well as benefits, and it's important to use them properly.

The chemicals we call pesticides include insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides. These products are designed to kill or control pest insects, weeds, and fungal diseases. Pesticides can be very effective. But don't be tempted to rely solely on pesticides as a quick-fix solution to any lawn problem. Serious, ongoing pest problems are often a sign that your lawn is not getting everything it needs. In other words, the pests may be a symptom of an underlying problem. You need to correct the underlying problem to reduce the chance that the pest will reappear.

All pesticides are toxic to some degree. This means they can pose some risk to you, to your children and pets, and to any wildlife that venture onto your lawn - especially if these chemicals are overused or carelessly applied. Pesticides can also kill earthworms and other beneficial organisms, disrupting the ecological balance of your lawn.

Store pesticides out of children's reach in a locked cabinet or garden shed. When spraying, protect your skin, your eyes, and your lungs. Wash your clothing separately before using it again.

Before Using Any Pesticide, Be Sure to Review These Basic Rules:

1. Take safety precautions. Never assume a pesticide is harmless.

  • Read the entire label and follow its instructions. Use only the amount directed, at the time and under the conditions specified, and for the purpose listed.
  • Be sure to wear any protective clothing - like gloves, long sleeves, and long pants - indicated on the label. Wash this clothing separately before using it again.
  • Keep children and pets away from pesticides, and make sure no one goes on a treated lawn for at least the time prescribed by the pesticide label.
  • Remember to follow any state or local requirements for posting your treated lawn or notifying your neighbors that a pesticide has been applied.
  • Store and dispose of pesticides properly, according to the label directions and any state and local regulations.

2. Use pesticides to minimize pests, not eradicate them. The latter is often impossible and unnecessary.

3. Be sure you have accurately identified the pest so you can choose the best pesticide for the job and use it most effectively. Obtain professional advice from your county extension agent or a local expert.

4. Spot treat whenever possible. In most cases, it isn't necessary to treat the whole lawn with pesticides if the problem is confined to certain areas. Spraying more than necessary is wasteful and can be environmentally damaging.

For More Information

The National Pesticide Telecommunications Network is a toll free, 24-hour information service that can be reached by calling 1-800-858-7378 or by FAX at 806-743-3094. The operators can provide a wide range of information about the health effects of pesticides, and provide assistance in dealing with pesticide-related emergencies.

The Environmental Protection Agency can provide information on integrated pest management strategies for lawn care. Write EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, Field Operations Division (H7506C), 401 M St., S.W., Washington, D.C. 20460.

Some suppliers of lawn care products can provide helpful tips, answer questions, and help identify problems. Look for information/hotline numbers on product packaging.

The Bio-Integral Resource Center (BIRC), a non-profit organization formed in 1978 through an EPA grant, has information on least-toxic methods for lawn care. BIRC's address is: P.O. Box 7414, Berkeley, CA 94707.

Courtesy of the USDA.