Just Like Weapons Aren't the Only Way to Fight Crime...
Before you decide which methods are going to protect your precious plants from potential perpetrators, you need to follow a few steps. Police officers don't shoot the first person they see near a robbery, and the same goes for effective and safe pest management. These are the steps to IPM.
1. Patrol the area. Walk around your property and carefully inspect plants and weed prone areas. Do this on a routine basis so suspicious circumstances are noticed quickly. Occasionally make rounds at night with a flashlight, since some pests seem to know when you won't be around. Use a magnifying glass to get a closer look at spots on leaves and tiny insects. Record your observations in a notebook. Some ideas of what to include: date, time of day, weather conditions, suspect description, crime scene details, and size/age/health of victimized plants. It might seem tedious, but it'll be extremely helpful when you can't remember which plant had spots last week. Were they really only dime-sized then?
2. Make a positive I.D. Insects, weeds, and diseases all have their quirks. The first step to uncovering these peculiarities is to know exactly what pest is doing the damage. Even closely related species may have important differences. The best way to be sure you know what you're dealing with is to take it to a specialist. Fresh samples can be taken to the Whatcom County Cooperative Extension office where Master Gardeners can help you I.D. the pest for free.
3. Do a thorough background check. Once you know who the intruder is, figure out its M.O. (Method of Operation). The more you understand it, the better you can fight it. Where does it hang out? What does it eat? When is it the most vulnerable? This type of info will help you with steps 4 and 5.
4. Determine the danger level. Now that you know what kind of low-life you're dealing with, you can better determine the threat to your landscape, buildings, and family. Since most trespassers are not life threatening to humans, determining the danger level really means figuring out your tolerance level. Ask yourself some questions:
Many pests will be controlled by other factors in the environment, without humans bringing out the big guns, if we can just be patient.
5. Make a plan. If you decide it is necessary to take action, be as conniving as possible. Use what you know about the enemy and what you're learning about least-toxic methods to destroy, trap, trick or ward off pests. Management categories (Do-Nothing Method, Manipulative Measures, Secret Agents, and Armed and Dangerous) are described above.
Don't forget that the best strategy is usually PREVENTION. Robbers are lured to poorly lit houses and yellow jackets are attracted to messy garbage cans. Good sanitation, like hosing out garbage cans and raking up yard debris, can be enough to prevent some insects and diseases from becoming problems.
6. Evaluate the results. Congratulations, McGruff, you helped "take a bite out of crime"-or at least helped stop bites out of your plants. Or did your pests keep on biting? No matter what the results, it's important that you get out there and see what happened. Recording what you did and if it worked is important, so when past problems return you can remind yourself how you went about apprehending the offenders.
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