If you read Rachel Carson's 1962 book "Silent Spring," you witnessed the beginning of interest in alternative pest-management strategies.
Before that time, quick fixes were the favored method of controlling unwanted pests in our gardens and landscape. Chemical pesticides worked, and in the post-World War II era, we were enamored of our newfound ability to use chemicals for lots of things.
It became evident, however, that pesticides gave rise to two problems: harm to the environment, and the ability of insects to develop a resistance to chemicals.
Although Carson dealt very negatively with the use of pesticides, she never suggested they be eliminated completely — nor do I. They should be used as a last resort, after other methods have been proven ineffective.
Integrated Pest Management does just that. It suggests we start with methods that are least harmful to the environment, such as using a strong stream of water for aphids. Many studies have shown that a blast of water is more effective than chemicals against those nasty little critters.
Other examples include encouraging natural predators of pesky insects, such as birds, ladybugs, praying mantis, wasps, lacewings, hover flies, pirate bugs and spiders, to name just a few. The "good guys" outnumber the "bad guys" by a wide margin, but when we use pesticides, we often kill the good with the bad.
We also need to keep in mind that healthy plants are better able to defend themselves, as they produce compounds that prevent extensive insect feeding. In fact, plants often are able to smother insects that make their way into plant tissue.
Healthy plants come from healthy soil and good cultural practices. If we stress our plants with improper watering, fertilizing and pruning, we give the invaders an opportunity to attack.
We know that too much nitrogen on tomatoes gives us "all plant and no fruit," but too much nitrogen on most any plant encourages fast growth, and this new and tender plant tissue is the most susceptible to insect and pathogen injury. The fungal disease called red thread in lawns, for example, is encouraged by too much nitrogen too late in the fall.
We need to be thoughtful about what we are doing when we use chemicals. What might we be harming?
And we need to pay attention to our soil. Does it have the fertility needed for the plants in question? Do we mulch and use lots of compost to help build soil health? Do we disturb the web of microorganisms in our soil by using rototillers and hoes too often?
IPM doesn't mean we should never use pesticides. It just means we should understand what our plants need, and use chemicals as a last resort.
Coming Up: Orchardist Terry Helfrich will teach a class about pruning fruit trees in the home garden from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. An outdoor demonstration will be included. The cost is $10. Call 541-776-7371 to register.
Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.