July Toolshed: Tips for Garden Leaders

A Garden Leader’s Guide to Integrated Pest Management

By Libby Weiland, Statewide Network Coordinator

VCGN’s Community Teaching Garden students search for pests

What can you do to prevent and control pests and disease in your community-based garden? As garden coordinators you may not have full control over what happens in each garden plot, but by providing educational opportunities, developing thoughtful guidelines, creating garden-wide management plans, and setting a good example you can go a long way in helping your gardeners stay on top of pest management and keep your gardens healthy all season long.

Pest and Disease Education and Management

  • Educate about pests and their biology. Be able to identify common pests in their various stages of development (egg, larvae, adult), habits, life cycle, needs and dislikes. Keep a poster like this one posted in your garden shed. One of my favorite ideas comes from Putney Community Garden—a workshop on garden insect identification that involved gardeners scouting for insects in all of their developmental forms, with soapy jars in hand to take care of the pests. Education, monitoring and management all in one!
  • Scout for pests and disease. Inspect your plants regularly in order to detect problems early. Once a pest or disease is spotted post an alert for other gardeners—on the garden bulletin board, through email, Facebook—in whatever way your gardeners stay in touch. As garden leaders, offer a garden walk-about every so often to see if help is needed. Alternately, request a Master Gardener to provide similar advice and education on a given day and time.
  • Set garden guidelines for agreed upon pest management practices. As a garden community you will need to determine your policy for use of non-organic pesticides and fungicides. Once decided, clearly communicate.
  • Provide resources for proper identification of pests and diseases and options for management. In addition to your insect identification poster, consider posting recipes and other management techniques. Dowling Community Garden has a page on their website dedicated to “Dealing With Insects and Diseases.”  If you have any questions about what pest or disease you’re dealing with and how to manage it, contact the UVM Extension Master Gardener Helpline. More helpful links can be found on the UVM Extension Master Garden website under “Factsheets and Resources” and on Cornell’s Garden Based Learning website under “Troubleshooting.”
  • Document and evaluate how it worked. Keep good records of what pests are present in your garden and when. Track what management techniques are successful and not successful. Evaluate what you would do differently in the future.

Garden Health & Other Preventative Measures

  • Share best practices. Whether through example, informal conversation or educational workshops, provide opportunities for gardeners to share and learn about pest prevention techniques and healthy garden practices. Sample topics: crop rotation, watering techniques (water at ground level to avoid wet leaves), using row covers to exclude pests, etc.
  • Build healthy soil. If it’s not already in place, develop a soil management plan for your garden, testing and amending as needed to increase soil health. Building healthy soil will help you grow robust plants that are better at resisting diseases and tolerating insects.
  • Start with healthy plants. If you have a say in what plants go into the garden, start with green, robust plants (grown from a reputable source) and pick disease-resistant varieties when possible.
  • Stay on top of weeding. Holding strict standards about weed management in your garden not only helps limit the work of weeding, but also limits pest habitat and improves airflow in your garden to reduce likelihood of disease. If a plot gets particularly weedy, offer to hold a work party to tackle the problem as a community.
  • Create garden “norms” for dealing with diseased plant material. At the end of each season, during final garden work days, be sure any final diseased plant material is removed from garden plots. At the beginning of the season create clear signage that excludes diseased plant material from “cold” compost piles (“hot” piles that get up to 131-170 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 3 days will kill plant pathogens). Some gardeners “solarize” diseased plant material and weed seeds in heavy-duty clear or black plastic bags by placing the bags in full sun for 4-6 weeks.
  • Keep things clean and tidy. At the end and beginning of the garden season clean out sheds and other structures where pests might overwinter. Also, set up a system for cleaning tools after use to avoid the spread of disease—1) instruct gardeners to always remove extra dirt and debris from tools before storing; 2) have disinfectant on-hand if tools come in contact with diseased plant material (read this article for instructions); 3) put tool cleaning and repair on your list of tasks for garden work parties throughout the season.