5 Steps Towards an Integrated Pest Management Solution

Let’s get straight to business! Frankly, the sooner you feel in control of the pests in your garden, the more fun you will have focusing your time on producing top quality buds with your DHN clones. Here at Dark Heart Nursery, we provide our customers with a pest free guarantee with every clone purchase. We are able to do so by implementing a full IPM program within our garden. Integrated pest management (IPM) is by definition an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests or their damage through manipulation, modification of cultural practices and judicious use of appropriate pesticides when necessary. IPM also relies on a general understanding of pest ecology and uses this knowledge to find non-chemical approaches that will render the environment less suited for the pest population. IPM is a technique developed from decades of  research performed by  scientists in all fields of plant science and is therefore super valid like salad. Generally, all IPM programs share five similar components or categories. The five step program below has been a big help in keeping our garden pest free and it is particularly useful for cannabis growers.  Enjoy!

  • Step 1: Prevention

    Foot Bath for Pest Prevention
    A foot bath is a great way to fight fungal pests. Be sure to replenish frequently!

    The most effective way to eliminate pests from your garden is to never let them in in the first place. Consider all the vectors by which pests might enter your garden and implement methods to prevent them. Sterilize your room after each crop, purchase raw materials (including clones) from sources you know to reliably produce a pest free product, filter intake fans, etc. One of the most difficult vectors to control is yourself! Gardeners can be a huge vector for pests. Change clothes before entering your garden, especially if you’ve been working outside, change shoes, or use a sanitizing foot bath, sanitize pruning tools, use hand sanitizer liberally. Remember, we’re not just talking about bugs here, powdery mildew and bortrytis are pest problems as well.

    Another way to prevent pests is to create an environment that is inhospitable to pests. Ensure that your room has good airflow, that the temperature is not so low that it encourages molds (greater than 75 degrees should deter powdery mildew for example) , and not so high that it encourages pests (lower than 83 degrees should discourage spider mites for example). Humidity can be a major problem for indoor gardens, invest in quality equipment that can reliably control humidity in the 30 to 50% range. Also be sure to keep your garden clean. Clean all dead plant matter from your grow room as it will harbor pests. Weeds attract tons of pests so you will want to make sure that you have a clear perimeter around both indoor and outdoor grows.

  • Step 2: Pre-Evaluation (Make a strong plan!)

    Evaluation is usually the last category on the list of most IPM programs, but waiting untill you have a full infestation in the final weeks before harvest is probably not the smartest idea with cannabis. Evaluation generally means an overview of all the information that you have gathered during your pest management process. It is better if growers have a lot more control from the very early stages of gardening and this takes a little “pre-evaluation”. Do some research, ask around and compare your garden to other similar environments in order to plan for pests before they swarm. One very important factor to note here is that pests are attracted mostly to unhealthy and imbalanced plants because they display an infrared “eat me” sign. Making sure that your plants have a well balanced nutrient intake from the very beginning is the best way to keep them healthy and pest free.

  • Step 3: Establish a threshold

    Sticky traps are great for monitoring pest populations
    Sticky traps are a great way to monitor pest populations. They can also be used en mass to reduce populations.

    The next important step is setting a threshold for action. This threshold is generally the amount of pests you have designated for discovery before you start a full plan of attack. We hang sticky traps all around our garden and monitor them on a scheduled basis for any  changes in populations or new insect arrivals. This is a great method for any size or type of garden.  Flower gardeners especially need not eliminate every single pest out of the garden, they simply need to be kept below a threshold at which they will not reduce the quality or quantity of the eventual harvest. You really don’t want to drown your crop with pesticides every time you see a single fungus gnat. By overreacting you may create insecticide resistance; over time this will mean that pests are stronger and more difficult to eliminate. This cycle is called a “pesticide treadmill”. And, working hard and going nowhere sounds like no fun, blah!

    Your thresholds will be different depending on the pest, your method of cultivation, the stage of growth, etc. Fungus Gnats, for example, are fairly innocuous and can be managed within moderate populations. Root aphids, on the other hand can be difficult to treat, and should be addressed more aggressively. Flower growers will especially want to take advantage of the early growth stages when more pest treatment options area available to them. A crop that has a low pest population going into week 4 or 5 of flower will be much less likely to suffer major pest damage down the road.

  • Step 4: Inspection and Identification

    Pest scouting is an integral part of IPM
    Scout pests frequently to establish threshold levels and find problems before they emerge!

    When you find a pest population in your garden, it is extremely important  to properly identify your pest. We have an amazing insect specialist here at DHN that has largely improved our process by identifying every single pest found. This is also where those sticky traps come in handy because identifying a stable insect is much easier than trying to catch one and analyze the smudge. Also, many pests have a very similar appearance but can lead to a very different set of recommendations; winged aphids and fungust gnats, for example, can look very similar.  Each insect thrives under different conditions. By analyzing what might be the root cause of an outbreak, you may be able to improve your garden’s health overall and thereby improve yield and quality. An aphid outbreak, for example, may be a sign that plants are growing vegetatively too quickly; their nitrogen level may need to be reduced.

  • Step 5: Treatment

    The next stage of an IPM program is to determine an appropriate treatment plan. In early stages of infestation and on healthy plants sometimes mechanical controls are adequate. Mechanical control basically means that you become a human bug fighting machine by hand-picking, trapping, creating barriers or performing a vigorous hose-down. Another very popular method for primarily organic gardeners is the use of biological treatments. Biological control is performed by using beneficial insects or choosing biological insecticides derived from naturally occurring microorganisms. Sometimes these controls will be insufficient. When that’s the case pesticide treatments may be appropriate.

    Pesticide treatment is always the last option in an IPM program. Not because pesticides are inherently evil, but because they are more effective the less frequently they’re used.The most important thing to remember when applying any pesticide is to fully follow the label instructions. Be sure to wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment as specified by the label. Treat at the concentration recommended on the label. Never use too low of a concentration or the pests may survive and become resistant. Never use too high of a concentration or the plants may suffer, or pesticide residue may persist in the crop. Especially be careful to observe the pesticide’s “pre harvest interval” to ensure that pesticide residues on your finished flowers do not exceed acceptable levels. Remember this is a crop that may be consumed by patients with chronic illness and they may be especially vulnerable to toxic chemicals.

    One good strategy for reducing pesticide resistance is to use multiple pesticides with different “modes of action” either in combination as a “tank mix” or in succession in a rotating treatment program. Check out OHP’s Floramite SC label for a good example of a pesticide rotation program which is effective against Spider Mites. Remember once you decide to treat with a pesticide the goal should be to kill the whole pest population. Any pests that survive are more likely to be resistant to pesticides and spread that resistance to their offspring.

We hope you that you find this info to be useful and pertinent and please respond with any question, comments or feedback! Happy gardening!

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