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Manage garden pests wisely

Lori K. of Santa Rosa asks: I have a few insect problems in my garden, and I don't want to spray harsh chemicals, especially when I don't know what these bugs are.

Are there any guidelines to follow, to help a gardener have a healthy garden with healthy plants?

No matter what's bugging you in the garden, there are a few choices when it comes to waging war on insect pests.

You can start by using an approach called integrated pest management (IPM), which is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on prevention of pests or their damage by using biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices, and the use of resistant varieties.

Pesticides are used only after monitoring indicates they are needed, and treatments are made with the goal of removing only that particular insect.

Pest-control products are selected and applied that minimize risks to human health, beneficial and nontarget organisms, and the environment.

IPM is a commonsense approach that helps you to choose the most environmentally friendly strategy first.

We need to make smarter biological, cultural, mechanical, and chemical choices to reduce pesky garden problems. Here's a checklist of some IPM practices to guide you.

Know your pest threshhold and identify the insect. Not every insect is a pest. In fact, out of the thousands of species of insects, only a few — about 10 percent — are problem pests to gardeners.

Many of the remaining 90 percent are either beneficial or harmless.

So if insects are simply gnawing on your broccoli's leaves but leaving the broccoli heads alone, you might not need to take any action.

Keep your plants healthy. The healthier the plants, the fewer pests there will be.

Use good cultural practices like selecting disease-resistant varieties, avoid overcrowding, incorporate compost instead of synthetic fertilizers, and water efficiently, using an appropriate drip system.

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