A common sense approach to the problem of yard pests such as weeds, insects, and diseases is Integrated Pest Management (IPM). A key component of IPM is preventing conditions which allow pest problems to develop. When pest problems do develop, IPM relies on a combination of several techniques to keep them at acceptable levels without excessive use of chemical controls. Unlike traditional four-step lawn care programs, IPM can be implemented through a six step program that is tailored to meet the specific needs of your yard.
- Determine your soil’s nutrient needs
Soil tests are valuable tools to help you determine your soil’s nutrient levels and fertilizer needs. Because your landscape is unique, a soil test is the only way to determine how much fertilizer, if any, to add. A soil test will also let you know how acidic your soil is so you can determine your liming needs. The University of Massachusetts in Amherst will test your soil for a small fee. Refer to the Determining Your Soil's Needs section.
- Select grass seeds suitable to your location
Choose seed that is compatible with your location. Grass species vary in their maintenance needs, nitrogen requirements, tolerance for weather conditions and in their water needs. Consider: your soil test results, watering needs, sun/shade exposure, expected wear and tear, and intended maintenance. This will help you determine what your grass needs to thrive in your environment. Also keep in mind that some types of grass can reduce insect problems. Generally an insect resistant mixture of grasses that includes a high percentage of fine fescues will ensure a drought resistant lawn.
- Mow frequently and mow high
By mowing frequently with sharpened mower blades and keeping the grass height at 2-3 inches your lawn will be less stressed and will be encouraged to grow stronger roots. Leave the clippings on the surface to allow organic nutrients to be recycled into the soil.
- Follow efficient watering practices
Always follow the water restrictions within your town. Check the grass conditions. You should water when you begin to notice: folding blades of grass, bluish green color to the grass, or footprints that remain on the lawn for several minutes. Water very early in the morning to avoid fungal activity. Water deeply (4-6 inches) but infrequently. Plan your watering according to the weather forecast. During periods of no rainfall, you should have one inch of water per week on your lawn. Refer to the Water Use section.
- Determine if you have a pest problem
There are thousands of insects in the yard, many of which are beneficial or harmless. For example, the Big Eyed Bug is a beneficial insect that preys on the Chinch Bug, which is a lawn pest. It is not necessary to control all insects, weeds or disease organisms to have a healthy yard. You only need to control for pests if they are likely to cause a problem. For example, a lawn can tolerate anywhere from 8 – 10 grubs per square foot before it needs to be treated. Once you are sure that you have a pest problem, learn about its life cycle, the conditions it needs to survive and the options open to you to ensure control. Refer to the Commonly Encountered Pests section.
- Select an appropriate control
Once a pest has been identified and is considered to be present at an unacceptable level, you must apply an appropriate control measure. Control measures include mechanical/ physical controls, biological controls, and chemical controls.
- Mechanical controls are non-chemical. Many insects can be removed by hand. Hoeing, hand pulling, and mulching are effective physical control methods for weeds.
- Biological controls are also non-chemical approaches that use insects, such as nematodes, and bacteria, such as Bt, to rid your lawn of pests. However, it is important to keep in mind that although they are non-chemical they are still considered a pesticide.
- Chemical controls. Be very careful when using pesticides. Always read and follow the label directions! If you choose to use a pesticide:
- Select a pesticide which poses the lowest risk to health and the environment. Choose a pesticide with the signal word “Caution” instead of “Warning” or “Danger.” Apply “ready-to-use” pesticides instead of pesticides that require mixing.
- Do not alter the rate of application or increase the frequency of application beyond what is stated on the label.
- Choose a pesticide that is selective to the target pest. Many common pesticides are broad spectrum and will kill a wide variety of organisms, including beneficial insects.
- Do not apply pesticides where a sensitive resource such as your well, a stream or a pond could be impacted. Consider slope, proximity, and potential for drift.
- Protect yourself. At a minimum, gloves (rubber, nitrile or neoprene) and long sleeve shirts should be worn. Rubber boots, a hat, goggles and a facemask, respirator, or face shield are also recommended.
- Store pesticides in a locked area inaccessible to children, vandals and pets.
Refer to the Pesticide Facts section.