When it comes to pest management, most of us are amateurs. We swat at flies, spray for beetles in the garden, set out mouse traps, and vacuum stink bugs off the walls. This is hardly a concerted effort at eliminating a pest population, and it is little wonder the bugs or rodents invading our home, garden, or place of business end up returning. If you are constantly struggling to keep unwanted creatures out of your house and off your property, it might be time for you to take on an integrated pest management approach to pest control.
What Is “Integrated Pest Management”?
Integrated pest management is a term used by farmers, greenhouse owners, even the agricultural arm of the UN, but it is a system of pest control available to the average homeowner as well. All integrated pest management means is you consider all the factors contributing to a pest problem in order to address the issue. A typical way of dealing with mice, for instance, is to set traps or poison where their droppings have been found. An integrated pest management approach to eliminating mice might involve traps but would also include taking measures like caulking cracks in walls, sealing up potential food sources, and even bringing in a natural predator like a house cat.
In other words, integrated pest management takes a little extra knowledge about the pest you’re facing and a little more effort to control the environment supporting them. The results, however, are supposed to be well worth the extra time and energy it takes.
Integrated Pest Management: Getting Started
A lot of the advice about pest management is geared toward significant insect and animal control problems on commercial farms, in forests, and sometimes across an entire state or ecosystem. Although you are probably looking to rid a much smaller area of pests, you can easily translate integrated pest management techniques from the macro to the micro level.
Here are a few questions the experts ask that you, too, can consider in order to map out a pest control plan:
- Can I identify which insect, rodent, or other type of animal?
- Am I attempting to eliminate the animal or relocate it?
- How big is the pest population and what kind of damage they are inflicting on my home, garden, or place of business?
- What kind of measures am I willing to take to control the pest population (i.e. spraying chemical insecticide, making changes to your house, utilizing a pest’s natural predators)?
- Are there safety considerations that warrant the hiring of a professional pest management specialist or exterminator?
Once you have these questions answered to some extent you can begin the process of creating your own integrated pest management plan.
Identifying Invading Pests
The first and perhaps most important step toward controlling a pest population in your house or on your property is identification. Sometimes this is simple because the pest can’t or won’t flee when you approach– it is easy to find out if caterpillars are the culprits in your vegetable garden or ladybugs are the insects banging into your light fixtures because they are visible and easy to recognize. What, exactly, has been clawing through your garbage or rattling around in your attic? That might be a bit more difficult to figure out since the suspect is likely to run as soon as they know you are coming.
Most pests leave behind some kind of hint about who they are. Bugs often leave traces of themselves in the form of eggs, nests, or even bites on your skin. In the garden, insects you can’t see may be identified by the kinds of plants they are attacking, what part of the plant they are eating, and what kind of damage they cause. Knowing which invaders are common to your area during particular seasons can also help you narrow down your search. You can consult your local extension office or an online pest guide like this library from Pest World to help with the identification process.
Larger pests like mice, rats, bats, and reptiles can often be identified by what they are eating, where in your house or on your property they are causing trouble, and whether they are nocturnal or diurnal in their activity. Pest droppings are sometimes an effective way to learn about the kind of creature inhabiting your space. Their poop can often tell you what they are eating or how often they’re stopping by, and may be the best way to pinpoint the exact pest plaguing you (different kinds of rats, for instance, leave behind different looking feces or droppings). There are even dropping identification guides designed to help you pinpoint the identity of your intruder by their dung.
Assessing the Situation
Once you know what kind of pest you are dealing with, the next step is to assess the scope of the situation you are facing. If you haven’t already, this might be the point where you bring in a professional who knows the habits, patterns, and life cycles of pests well enough to anticipate where they might be living, eating, and breeding on your property.
Either you or the professional you have hired will need to:
- Inspect where pests are causing damage and look for other possible locations of infestation in your home and garden
- Locate possible entry points to your house or other buildings: cracks in walls, holes in siding, gaps around door and windows
- Assess what environmental factors might be contributing to the problem such as excessive moisture from plumbing leaks or overgrown vegetation around the house
- Use any physical evidence of pests– droppings, dead insects, nests, eggs– to understand where pests are eating/nesting/entering the house
The information you gain from this sort of inspection is invaluable and one of the keys to successful integrated pest management. Simply identifying your pests might be sufficient if you plan to only spray insecticide or set out a few traps in the garden; this detailed approach, however, is necessary for laying out a comprehensive pest management plan.
Taking Action with Environmental Changes
You know what you are facing, and now you also know exactly the extent of the pest invasion and the negative effects their presence has on your property. Next, you have to determine which steps you would like to take to ensure your pest problem is resolved with long-term results.
A word of caution: If you think you should hire a professional at any point during this process, go with your gut and call the best pest control professional you can find. Many of these steps carry potential risks. Animals are often diseased, for instance, and their droppings most definitely contain toxins that can harm your health. Some insects sting and some reptiles bite; pesticides are made with chemicals that can damage your skin, lungs, and vital organs if mishandled. Rather than attempting to take care of a problem on your own and getting hurt in the process, utilize the expertise of a professional exterminator who is trained to handle potentially dangerous pest control issues.
One of the most practical actions to take is addressing environmental issues uncovered in your detailed inspection of the infested area. For insects, you could start by eliminating whatever is attracting them. If there are certain plants in your garden pests are attracted to, consider removing that type of plant or replacing it with a pest-resistant variety. If you are facing a flea problem, for example, find out what measures you can take to keep your pets free from infestation. An issue like bed bugs is confronted with considerable but necessary environmental changes, from sealing all soft surfaces for a certain amount of time to completely replacing items such as mattresses and couches.
Environmental changes to eliminate rodents may include properly containing potential food sources like dry goods, birdseed, and dog food, according to UC Davis’ Pest Management Program. These items should be stored in sealed containers. Garbage, too, can serve as a food source for rats and other rodents, so it should be kept in proper containers and away from the infested area if possible. You may have to make changes to long term storage as well; if mice or rats have taken up in the cardboard boxes in your basement or crates in your garage, you may have to change over to plastic bins for storage and keep all items off the floor.
Most integrated pest management plans for houses requires repair and sealing measures. Everything from flies and roaches to mice and possums enter a house through some sort of opening. Caution should be used, however, when sealing the entry point of a pest– you don’t want to caulk the attic during the day and end up with a colony of bats who can’t escape that night or seal up the windows so tightly in winter your stink bug population cannot escape for the outdoors in the spring. This is where your research on the pest population, and perhaps the assistance of an expert, is invaluable. By cutting off the way into your home and sealing up any possible nesting spots you will significantly reduce the chance your pest will return and eliminate the possibility of any others joining in.
Integrated Pest Management with Insecticide, Rodenticide, and Traps
Typical means of pest control like chemical sprays and traps certainly have their place in integrated pest management. The difference lies in how they are used and to what extent they are relied on. Taking the above steps to control your environment already places you far ahead of the average homeowner hitting his tomato plants with insecticide. This means you may be able to use milder chemicals, more nature-friendly traps, or fewer applications of pesticides to reduce your pest population.
There are a variety of chemical pesticides approved for use in your home and garden. Some are readily available for purchase while other can only be applied by exterminators and other licensed professionals. Determining which pesticide is right for your situation means knowing the specific insect you are eliminating, understanding how the formula will work, and perhaps even pinpointing what stage of their lifecycle they are in at the moment. Likewise, traps must be placed in the right location during the right season in sufficient numbers in order to work properly. Even natural and organic solutions made at home should be used with caution and care so no humans, pets, or plants are harmed during their use. An organization like The National Pesticide Information Center can help you out if you decide pesticides are an appropriate part of your integrated pest management plan.
Rodents, too, may be expelled with chemical products and traps. Rodenticide is a poison used to kill mice, rats, squirrels, and other animals infesting your house or outbuildings. Some formulas are designed to drive the animals out to look for water while others cause health issues like internal bleeding. Extreme caution should be used when utilizing these products so children, pets, and others are not injured by their toxic ingredients. On a practical note, animals who ingest poison and die inside walls pose a whole other sort of headache once decomposition sets in because of the terrible smell they will leave behind.
Traps for rodents are designed to either kill, like the common mousetrap, or contain the pest. Traps that simply capture the creature in question tend to be safer and more sanitary to use, though you must then decide how to release the animal after their capture. In situations where a house is not sealed properly, releasing a mouse or rat in the backyard would be counterproductive. Where integrated pest management is employed, however, pests may be humanely released without a chance of returning thanks to the house being properly sealed up. Rodents may be deterred from reestablishing their presence in a building if an ultrasonic repellent is used. These devices do not harm animals and cannot be heard by people.
Long-Lasting Results with Integrated Pest Management
The days of dealing with the same bugs every summer or setting out mousetraps every winter are over. Integrated pest management is not just a fad in agriculture or the new pest control system being marketed to consumers. This approach to pest management is based on general knowledge about pest populations and your particular situation as a homeowner, gardener, or business owner. Integrated pest management allows you to make a plan for pest elimination that will hopefully take care of your insect or rodent issues once and for all. It can also be viewed as a preventative measure: by making your personal space less hospitable for bed bugs, ants, flies, aphids, mice, rats, squirrels, or bats right now, you are significantly decreasing the chance of seeing similar invaders in the future.