Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for Pollinators

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an approach to solving pest problems that applies knowledge about pests and plants to prevent plant damage early before it becomes a problem. IPM promotes multiple tactics to manage pests and suppress population size below thresholds that cause unacceptable levels of damage to plants or crops.

Integrated Pest Management
Checking sticky pheromone traps for Plum curculio, photo: L. Schneider

IPM responds to pest problems with the most-effective,  least-risk and least-toxic option. IPM is a science-based decision-making process that includes monitoring and long-term planning. By correcting conditions that lead to pest problems and using approved pesticides only when necessary, IPM provides more effective control while reducing pesticide use and using alternatives to pesticides. The conservation of beneficial insects, which include bees, insect predators, parasitic wasps, and butterflies, is an essential part of IPM. 

From backyards to public parks, any individual or organization can adopt an IPM plan; therefore it's important for land managers, farmers and gardeners to learn how to implement IPM. IPM plans should be updated annually, and staff need to be trained on pesticide use and pollinator best practices.


IPM key practices

1. Inspection and monitoring: Regular and close examination of plants and landscaping to diagnose pest problems and their sources.  Monitoring devices include traps, observation and record keeping.
2.  Forecasting: Weather and plant growth cycles predict if and when pest outbreaks may occur.  If properly timed, pesticide treatments can be reduced or eliminated.
3.  Thresholds: Before treating, wait until pest populations reach a determined level that could cause economic or irreversible plant damage.
4.  Communication: Do regular updating of the IPM plan and pesticide/treatment list to remain effective. All staff should be educated and updated on IPM and best practices.
5.  Recordkeeping: Keep records of pest traps, weather and treatments to determine thresholds for comparison and use in pest management decisions.
bird houses
Swallow boxes to prey on orchard pest insects.
photo: L. Schneider

Cultural, biological and chemical controls

Cultural Controls: A pest insect's environment can be disrupted by turning under garden soil, mowing prairies, sterilizing tools and harvesting early. Composting, watering, mulching, pruning, fertilizing and ground covers can all help improve plant health, resulting in healthier plants that can tolerate some damage. Land managers can conserve by attracting and/or using the many beneficial natural enemies already at work.

Biological Controls:  Beneficial insects and pathogens naturally found in the environment such as nematodes and predatory insects like lady beetles and lacewings.

Chemical Controls:  Use chemicals or pesticides only as a last resort, follow the label, and only when weather conditions permit.

Take the first step:

  1. The first step is to accept that plants can handle some pest and disease pressure.
  2. Keep records of weather, when pests appear, what works and doesn’t work.
  3. Inspect and monitor your plants on a regular basis, before problems are out of control.  Set thresholds for pest populations and damage.
  4. Improve soil health for healthy plants that can tolerate some damage. Compost can help.
  5. Use resistant plants.  If a plant species is struggling, remove it and plant a naturally resistant plant instead.
  6. Pesticides are the last resort. If a pesticide must be used, USE THE LEAST TOXIC OPTION, only spot treat in the evening, and do not treat open blooms. Soft pesticides include horticultural soaps and oils, corn gluten, white vinegar spray, spinosad, Bacillus thuringiensis (bt). Insecticides have lethal and sub-lethal effects on pollinators.  Herbicides can kill the plants pollinators use for food and shelter. Fungicides can be toxic to bees. Some additives and inert ingredients can be toxic to pollinators.  Combining pesticides, additives and inert ingredients has synergistic effects that can increase toxicity.  Systemic insecticides such as neonicotinoids are absorbed into the plant's vascular system, leaving the entire plant toxic to both target and non-target species including pollinators.

plastic smother
Solarization method to remove vegetation.
photo:  L. Schneider

Safer weed and pest controls

  • Hand weeding
  • Solarization
  • Smothering
  • Biocontrols, beneficial insects, nematodes
  • Building soil health, composting, mulching (wood chip, leaf, or pine needles)
  • Insecticidal soaps, diatomaceous earth, corn gluten, white vinegar
  • Goats, sheep or cattle for vegetation management
  • Timed mowing or haying


Special note about lawns 

Turf lawns dominate urban landscapes. Traditional turf depletes the soil and provide no food for pollinators.  A pollinator lawn provides food and habitat for pollinators with fescue grasses and low growing perennials.

For turf, there are many components to a turf IPM program, including monitoring for pest activity, establishing tolerance levels, and considering cultural and biological control strategies.  Turf insecticide use in an IPM program Dr. Vera Krischik, University of Minnesota.