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IPM: best approach to pest control.

It's a beautiful summer day. You go out in your backyard to sit in the shade of your favorite tree. But to your dismay, you discover that caterpillars are gnawing away on leaves that are already partly chewed. What should you do?

A. Call a tree-care company and tell it to spray the tree with the most potent insecticide it has.

B. Ignore the problem and let nature take its course.

C. Prune the infested limbs, and Pull off all the caterpillars by hand.

D. Spray with a biological pesticide like Bt, which will kill caterpillars-and only caterpillars.

If this feels like one of those trick questions that made you dread multiple-choice tests, it's because there is no "right" answer. Depending on the circumstances, any one of these four approaches-or some combination of them-might be an appropriate way to tackle pests on lawn trees and shrubs.

Thirty or 40 years ago, the answer would have been immediate and unthinking: " Spray " At that point, pesticides like DDT seemed like miracle cures for pest problems. After all, DDT wiped out malaria in the U.S. almost single-handedly by eradicating the mosquitoes that spread the disease. As we eventually discovered, DDT also quickly worked its way into the food chain, where it damaged the nervous and reproductive systems of animals, including humans.

We understand a lot more now than we used to about the complexity of the natural world and how our attitudes affect it. We've learned that we can't keep pumping tons of chemicals into the environment without dangerous consequences. Our understanding of the dangers of pesticides and the horrible cycle we can get into when a pest builds up resistance to them is pointing the way toward a safer alternative-integrated pest management (IPM).

IPM is an approach to pest control that relies far less On blanket spraying of chemicals than on a sophisticated understanding of both plants and pests-the mechanics, chemistry, and biology of natural systems.

Applying IPM to ornamental landscaping doesn't necessarilly preclude spraying. It does require knowing enough about the plant-and the Pest-to be able to evaluate all the options for tackling a pest problem. The ultimate prescription to upgrade your tree's health is then based on short- and long-term effectiveness, environmental safety and cost, and integrating the best options into a management program. Pesticides are used only if nothing else works. The goal isn't to obliterate every pest on the tree but to achieve the maximum amount of good with the minimum amount of harm.

Looking at three landscape firms that have adopted IPM in recent years will give you some idea of how it works and what you can expect if you decide to try an IPM approach. The landscape companies featured vary in size from a small, locally known firm to a large, well-known tree-care company

White Oak Pest Management, Inc. of Manassas, Virginia, is small enough that its staff IPM expert, Ed Milhous, can give every site his personal attention. White Oak, which concentrates on small trees, shrubs, and ground covers, now bases its entire maintenance service on IPM. Milhous lists the elements in White Oak's intensive IPM program: "Good cultural (caretaking) practices, including the use of resistant varieties, proper pruning, fertilization, and mulching.

"Our service is built around the key-plant/key-pest concept," says Milhous. "A study at the University of Maryland several years ago indicated that certain plants in certain situations have a disproportionate share of troubles. For example, one would expect azaleas in the sun to have lacebugs, dogwoods in droughty spots to have borers, almost anything in a parkinglot island to have problems.

"We use the University's pest-appearance timetable to help schedule monitoring, and pay special attention to those red-flag plants and situations."

Milhous says his staff does a lot of pruning, almost always "drop-crotching" (cutting a branch off where it attaches to the tree) instead of shearing. "The interesting thing about pruning this way is that many problems just disappear. We have seen heavy infestations of armored scale on plants when we began thinning them, and when we came back to check for crawlers, there were none left.

"The longer we take care of a site, says Milhaus, "the more predators and fewer pests we see. In fact, other than for weeds, we hardly spray anything on landscapes that have been under our care for three years or longer. " In the rare instances when White Oak does spray (the company bought only $300 worth of pesticides last year), it uses products that are mostly "soap, oil, Mavrik, and Orthene (low-toxicity pesticides)."

White Oak's clients-and their plants-benefit from White Oak's intensive approach, but that level of care doesn't come cheap.

American Tree Care of South Hampton, New York, is a bit larger than White Oak. When it adopted IPM several years ago, it had to drop about 600 customers serviced under a traditional chemical spray program. It now claims about 400 IPM clients, so this was no small sacrifice in the name of environmental conscience.

The first year it used an IPM approach, American Tree cut pesticide spraying by 73 percent. Now it only sprays "individual plants when absolutely necessary with materials that are least disruptive to the natural environment," owner John Holmes.

The firm also has been able to steadfly decrease the toxicity of the pesticides it must use, thanks to careful monitoring of pest life cycles to identify the most vulnerable stages for chemical intervention. Also, more intensive caretaking practices such as pruning, feeding, and mulching aid in reducing the need for more and stronger pesticides. By American Tree's third season using IPM, more than 90 percent of the materials it @was using were relatively non-toxic and the firm was making a profit equal to what it had made using traditional spray methods.

American Tree credits part of its success to its use of an innovative software program. The Arbor Tracking System enables the firm not only to "inventory, monitor, diagnose, make control decisions, and treat client properties," says Holmes, but also to issue reports tracking everything from the species and locations of a client's plants to the treatments a particular plant has received over the years.

Perhaps success stories such as this helped convince Davey Tree Experts early this year to announce plans to introduce new programs that would reduce its use of traditional pesticides up to 80 percent by 1990. Davey, based in Kent, Ohio, provides residential tree and lawn care services nationwide and is one of the biggest in the business.

The firm's announcement followed several years of experimenting with IPM. In several cities around the country, Davey cut down on spraying traditional herbicides and insecticides by about 50 percent, while increasing its of alternative materials and targeting insects, diseases, and plant disorders.

Once Davey discovered that the IPM approach could kill just as many weeds and insects as cover spraying, the company decided to implement what it calls the "Plant Health Care" approach on a company-wide basis.

In looking for alternatives to full-strength insecticides to control pests on trees, Davey researchers mixed soaps with smaller amounts of pesticide. They found that soaps not only control pests but can also act as an adhesive, keeping the mixture on the plant longer. Company researchers are continuing to test alternative products as potential pesticide substitutes, including mineral, Neem, and citrus oils, and plant-derived pesticides such as Rotenone and Pyrethrum.

Davey researchers are projecting another 25 percent drop in traditional pesticide use in its tree-care activities this year. New application equipment and spraying techniques that reduce drift, as well as more effective plant monitoring by trained field staff, will help Davey achieve this goal.

At the same time that Davey is upgrading its technology, it is training its employees to identify more kinds of plants and plant diseases while educating them in the importance of early detection and surveillance and in how weather patterns affect both plants and pests.

A landscape company the size of Davey Tree Experts, which serves thousands of clients every year, can't provide services on as intensive a level as a small company like White Oak Pest Management. Davey can't afford to hire the number of university-trained entomologists, horticulturists, arborists, and agronomists it would take to staff such an effort-not if it wants to keep its prices at levels customers are willing to pay.

What Davey can and does do is rely on experts on its national research and development staff to come up with ways the company can cut back on spraying and implement features of IPM. The research staff is topnotch and guided by nationally recognized experts such as Dr. Roger Funk. While the techniques they develop are more sophisticated than conventional "cover" spraying, they are basic enough to be mastered by hundreds of Davey employees without their having to get a degree in entomology.

Plant-care firms like Davey Tree Experts, White Oak Pest Management, and American Tree Care are aided in their search for alternatives to traditional pesticides by the growing number of biotechnology companies working to locate and create biological controls that will attack a specific pest.

Biological pesticides are naturally occurring chemicals that can be produced in the laboratory. Although it will be several years before many of these biologically engineered products reach the marketplace, a few are performing well enough in the laboratory to be made available now. Three or four varieties of Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt are now commonly used, and about 100 types are being tested. A new company called Mycogen has developed a product that's ready for the market. Called M-one, it contains Bacillus thuringiensis variety san diego-an effective controller of potato-beetle larvae. Products like M-one interrupt the life cycle of the insect rather than poisoning the pest chemically. it will also be a while before the cost of biological controls makes them affordable for a lot of landscape companies-and certainly before you and I will be able to buy them over the counter. This is another field where research and expanded production will lead us in the right direction. Already prices are coming down as more and more companies enter the field. Will integrated pest management take hold throughout the landscape-maintenance industry? To some people it's more a question of when than whether. The science and technology of IPM are advancing every day. If you visualize the process as a 10-rung ladder, we are at the second rung and climbing. Citizens are increasingly opposed to widespread pesticide use. The government is likely to continue to restrict, and in some cases ban, the use of pesticides on landscape plants. Add to those prospects the experience of companies like American Tree that make a profit using IPM, and adopting integrated pest management begins to seem like good business sense. Add to that the effect on the rest of the industry when a giant like Davey embraces IPM, and it begins to seem inevitable.

In the short run, using IPM to control the pests on plants in our cities and around our homes will probably continue to be expensive for homeowners and tree firms alike. But those costs will come down. And in the long run IPM will save us all money: It's better for our health, it's better for our environment-and it's better for your tree.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Forests
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:integrated pest management
Author:Moll, Gary
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jan 1, 1989
Previous Article:Woodlot world: January thinning; winter slows a woodsworker down and prunes his ponderings to the essentials.
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