First 3 Steps-Observe, Assess, Evaluate

The process of managing problems is just that, a process, and when followed, we'll achieve greater success. The four steps in Integrated (Pest) Problem Management are:

  • Observation
  • Recognize and Assess the Problem
  • Evaluate and Monitor
  • Management of the Problem. Management is further broken down into four stages, managing by correcting our cultural practices, mechanical remedies, and biological remedies. The final step, the one most damaging to the environment, is the chemical solution, either by using an organic, but most often, a synthetic chemical remedy.

Through observation of the landscape, recognizing and assessing any problem, monitoring its effects and evaluating the amount of damage, you are able to more effectively manage the problem with minimal environmental harm. The fourth step, management of the problem, emphasizes using the least harmful management method before moving to the next level.


Observation is the first step in an integrated pest (or other problem) management program (IPM). Frequent visual inspection of your plants and landscape is the most important step. Problems in the home landscape is an indicator that the needs of the plant are not met. It is much easier to manage a problem in the early stages, whether it is a weed seedling or beginning of a disease or pest infestation.

Part of observation is recording. Many dedicated gardeners keep a journal or some record, jotting down not only plant purchases (name of plant, when and where purchased, and the cost) but daily weather information, tasks performed in the garden (such as planting, irrigation and soil amending information) and flower and harvest information. If a particular problem occurs each year, record that. Maybe, over time, one can correlate a cause and effect relationship.

I know the older I get, the easier it is to forget, for the memory to wane. I am always gratified to look back in past journals to read about my gardening activities and information. Every day, I record the high and low temperature, average humidity, and soil temperature that's reported in our daily newspaper. I write a brief comment about the weather. My favorite comment to write is "Perfect Day!" To achieve the perfect day status, no matter what else happened, it had to be a calm, not windy day.

Recording weather information, particularly temperature and precipitation, is helpful in deciding when to irrigate or amend the landscape beds. Reading past years notes can help trigger a mental note registered months ago to make design changes that will benefit the landscape.

Recognize and Assess the Problem

Identify what the problem is, what condition (frost or freeze damage, wilting by lack of water, etc) or disease pathogen or pest is causing the damage. One handy tool to use in identifying the problem is a magnifying glass. Identify the pest by the type of damage caused by pest feeding patterns or behavior or virus/ bacterial infection. Please remember, just because you see a bug on a leaf doesn't mean it's the culprit.

Consulting an expert may be necessary in identifying the cause of the problem. This may mean consulting a specialist in insects, fungi, soil, chemistry, etc. A specialist isn't necessarily your neighbor, the clerk at the nursery or your mechanic. Call the County Agent for advice. It might be necessary to send a water, soil or plant sample in to the soil lab for analysis. Just guessing or jumping to conclusion could be dangerous.

Once you know what is causing the problem, you can judge whether the potential damage justifies management. How serious is the problem? Is it in a highly visible area? Is it a cultural problem, that is, a problem caused by improper techniques or maintenance?

Evaluate and Monitor

Evaluate and monitor the situation to see if it spreads or is localized to that one plant. Continued inspection and record keeping may be needed. By keeping records of problems, if the same problem occurs from year to year, you are better able to determine the likely cause and come up with a solution.

Determine if the degree of damage being done warrants intervention. Sometimes the long-term strategy is to do nothing at all.

The factors of timing, number, stage of plant age and development, and location of plant need to be considered. Attacks on new tender leaves are more damaging than on leaves that have matured and hardened. Insects prefer the succulent new growth to hardened leaves. Low numbers of pests may be of minimal concern in the evaluation of a problem, depending on the pest. However, you must know your pests and plant. On one hand, small numbers of certain pests can be quite damaging; while pests on small, immature plants can be damaging, they may have little effect on mature plants.

Use traps and double sided sticky tapes to determine the number of pests present. Sometimes pheromone traps (scent traps) are used to trap pests. Check the undersides of leaves, terminal buds, branches, trunk, shoots and flowers. High visibility areas may warrant attention, while plants out of the general view may not.