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Oh, my aching muscles...

A Guide to Integrated Pest Management
By Raymond Cloyd, Philip Nixon and Nancy Pataky
Timber Press, 2004

Reviewed by July Hays

IPM?? A competent gardener needs to know what this is, but doesn't the name just seem designed to shut off curiosity? Yet the drama of plant life and death, the human choices that affect the health of our children and pets, the opportunity to become comfortable in our interactions with the natural world and benign in our effects on it - all this is contained in the concept that is "Integrated Pest Management."

It means that when our plants fail to thrive, we identify exactly what the problem is. Then we solve the problem using the least toxic means possible. For example, when roses are covered with aphids, we recognize that in spring and early summer we see an explosion of aphids because, as small sucking insects, they need tender new growth to feed on.

We know that later in the season, aphids will not be a problem because most of the leaves will be mature and tough. Therefore, if we can keep the aphids off the new growth temporarily by washing them off repeatedly with the garden hose, our goal will be achieved.

Along these same lines, we can avoid creating lots of succulent new growth by using slow acting fertilizers that build up the soil for overall plant health.

IPM is a knowledge game. The more we know about what our plants need and what pests and diseases are like, the better we can control problems.

The authors of this book advise that cultural management ("right plant, right place") is the most powerful tool of the home gardener to avoid pests and diseases. They also offer physical, chemical and biological controls to consider. IPM does not mean that you must never use a chemical pest killer, but that you will try to control the pest with simpler, more natural options first, so as to avoid the side effects of poisons.

This book is small but packed with information. The 170 pages of text are supplemented by 48 pages of color plates showing diseases and pests as you might find them on plants. The first chapters are intriguingly titled "Plant Needs," "Disease Needs," and "Needs of Insects, Mites and Mollusks." Yet the gardener would do well to skip these chapters and go to the heart of the matter, Chapter 5, "Recognizing and Assessing Pest Problems." Going through the steps to identify a plant problem, followed by Chapters 6, 7 and 8 which spell out methods of pest and disease control, will give the reader an experience upon which to hang the information-dense first chapters.

The book is an excellent textbook for those who want a practical foundation in IPM. It must be said, however, that it is a "textbook," not a gardener's manual. It is not intended to be used to diagnose problems, for, although there is much diagnostic information, it is organized to the goal of educating the gardener about the IPM way of thinking. The scientific language, although clearly explained, is a small additional burden for the general reader who has to learn the "lingo."

These criticisms aside, you will find new information relevant to your garden on every page. I came away with a new appreciation for the miracle of plant growth and the ingenuity of the pests and diseases that live on plants.

IPM is a good way to ease yourself into organic gardening.

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