Getting your landscape set up in the spring is an in-depth process.  Trees are pruned, soil amended, and the plantings have been accomplished.  Now you have exactly the look you want.  It would be easy to sit back, open a beverage of your choice, and watch it all come together.  Don’t get comfortable just yet, there is a group of pests eyeing your plants.  Insects come in many forms, looking to make a meal from your hard work.  Do not fear though, there is a straightforward way to protect yourself from these creatures.  Integrated pest management is a system of four control approaches designed to mitigate pest damage while minimizing impact on the environment.

Identification is Key

Before any of these steps may begin pests must be identified.  This starts with scouting your landscape via visual inspection.  Insects leave signs of their presence wherever they visit.  Be sure to inspect every part of your plants including the underside of leaves.  Here is where you will find insect eggs or frass (excrement) which are tell-tale signs of activity.  Once discovered, you need to identify your specific pest.  Insects are identified by their mouth parts when assessing plant damage.  Chewing insects remove leaf material (think caterpillars and grasshoppers).  Speckled leaves of brown and yellow is a symptom of piercing/sucking insects such as aphids.  Other times you may only find damage after the fact where black leaves turn out to be covered in sooty mold.  The sooty mold grows on the excreted honeydew of aphids, whiteflies.  Once identified, it is up to you to decide if the level of damage is worth it and how you would like to approach limiting the damage.

Sooty mold on ixora

Sooty mold on Ixora Photo Credits: UF/IFAS Kim Gabel

The First Three

The first strategy is cultural control wherein you optimize the environment in which your plant grows.  Improved drainage and removal of plants susceptible to insect attack are excellent examples.  You should also look into the lifecycle of insect pests to remove anything that will provide habitat.  The next control is mechanical.  This methodology is the most work intensive but comes with the least environmental impact as insects will be removed by hand.  Biological control is like mechanical control except that removal of the pest is left to natural predators.  There are many, but birds and lady beetles are best known.  Creating habitat for these will help keep insect populations to an acceptable level with the bonus of falling into Florida friendly landscaping philosophies.

Chemicals are Not the Bad Guy

Chemical control is the final approach.  Some may be surprised to find this here, but it is effective.  With the above in place, you may find there are still insect issues.  Chemicals will be your next step but do not feel put off by this approach.  Research the best products for your situation and follow the instructions on the label to the letter.  The label is designed to reduce risk to you and the environment while providing effective pest control.

Insect pests have plagued gardeners since the first person intentionally planted anything.  Controlling these pests using a multipronged approach is the optimal way to reduce damage to your plants while minimizing environmental impact.  Following the methodology in this post will bring a pest free landscape that you and your family will enjoy.  For more information on integrated pest management, see these Ask IFAS documents, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.