Establish thresholds

One of the most challenging steps in integrated pest management is determining whether control of a pest is really necessary. Resist the temptation to react immediately with a pesticide; analyze the situation first. Do you see a few scattered insects or a cast of thousands? After you spot a particular pest or symptoms of its damage, examine similar plants in your garden to determine the extent of the population and its distribution. Is the damage located on the leaves of a plant you'll be harvesting in a week or two? Is the damage purely cosmetic? Control measures may not be warranted.

In IPM, this process is called establishing damage thresholds, and it's fundamental to organic gardening. Small populations of pests may not cause enough damage to warrant control, and they may provide a consistent supply of food for the predators that keep them in check. Kill all the pests, and their predators will leave too. When the next population of pests arises, the predators will be gone.

Some pests multiply quickly, however, so keep a close eye on plants so that pests don't get out of hand. Aphids, for example, are remarkably prolific: a single aphid, for example, can produce 5.9 billion offspring in 6 weeks. That's a lot of aphids!

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