Good Guys vs. Bad Guys

Managing Your Garden

Integrated Pest Management Or The Good Guys vs. The Bad Guys
By Frank Niccoli

Six men brandishing various types of weapons are barricaded inside a building with hostages.  Three of the hostages are police officers, another hostage is a father with his 2 young sons, and the last hostages are a mother and her daughter.  A crowd has gathered outside including TV crews, a swat command center, lots of police, and an assortment of emergency vehicles.  While the TV audience is following this tense drama, they notice that there is no identification of the hostages or the hostage takers.  There have not been the usual attempts to negotiate with the hostage takers nor has there been any attempt to contact them.

To the astonishment of everyone a war plane streaks out of the sky and lets loose a barrage of chemical missiles, hitting the building, the swat teams, TV crews and the audience outside killing them all.  At this point you are asking yourself what country would allow this type of barbarism to happen?  How can this behavior be justified?  We all agree that this is a sad and deplorable waste of life.  And yet this is how we administer our pest control management on plant material.

We do not identify the plants, the insects, or even check for “beneficials” that are looking for a way to take out the insects.  We send the warplanes in to blast the whole area with a chemical that takes out the bad guys, the good guys and anything that happens to be in the neighborhood.  In this type of scenario we are not allowing the natural process to play out.  We are intervening.  Using the example of the hostage situation how would we setup our pest control program.

First of all we need to identify the pests.  What if we looked into our computer database and found that our hostage takers had a rap sheet, and the most offensive crime on this sheet was jaywalking.  Then, we also noticed that the hostage takers did not have any weapons. Do you think that the police officers inside the building could handle the situation?  I think so.  But, Frank you say, nature is not this clear cut.  I disagree.  How about the spittlebug?  It is an innocuous little creature that hangs around for about 6 weeks, does not harm the plant and yet I have seen the harshest of chemicals used to control this critter.

Okay let’s up the ante.  If our database indicates that the bad guys are convicted felons with a record of bank robbing and they are in the library, doesn’t this change the situation slightly?  Many times we see insects on a plant the insect does not eat and we spray anyway.  Identify your plant and then look to see if this insect eats it.  The oleander aphid is an excellent example of this scenario.  If the oleander aphid is on xylosma, I don’t think that we have a problem.

Kick it one more notch.  Let’s say our research says that indeed these felons are in a bank, have a history of robbing banks and that the cops inside are just security guards for the local flea market.  We would be justified in using an action that would take them out.  An example is spider mites.  They need to be dealt with immediately or they will do some significant damage.

Okay same scenario as above except that the cops inside are Inspector Harry Callahan or Dirty Harry, and Sergeants Riggs and Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon and they are well armed.  I don’t think we will need outside help.  This is an example of preying mantis working in conjunction with ladybug larvae and trichogramma wasps on roses controlling the aphids.

These beneficial insects will take care of the problem unless we spray.  The spray will kill the good guys, the bad guys, and any guys who happen to be near. The problem with this “kill them all” scenario is that the bad guys can out-propagate the good guys, and they will increase their population numbers higher than the original infestation.  If the good guys can come back, the population of the bad guys is so overwhelming that they may not be able to bring the population down to acceptable levels.

So the bottom line is that you need to evaluate each scenario and make a decision based on knowledge and not reach for the spray out of ignorance or habit.  That is what integrated pest management is all about.