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Integrated Pest Management vs Plant Health Care – What’s The Difference

The terms IPM (Integrated Pest Management) and PHC (Plant Health Care) are now part our horticultural vocabulary. While you may be tempted to use them interchangeably, they are not synonymous.

IPM and PHC are concepts, not just terms. And, the two best ways to distinguish them is to remember that IPM is just one facet of PHC, and that IPM is intended to treat plants that are sick while PHC is cradle-to-grave care to prevent plants from getting sick. If PHC is doing its job, IPM may not be needed.

Integrated Pest Management is an agriculture process that has been adapted to horticulture. IPM involves ongoing monitoring of plants, like wellness care for humans. When insects and diseases are identified early, they may respond to less aggressive treatment than when the pest has gotten well established. Instead of multiple treatments with chemicals, pests that are detected early may be controlled with a single treatment using horticultural oil or other environmentally-friendly method. If the plant is in no danger, no action, other than continued monitoring, may be prescribed. If the pest gets more aggressive, then more aggressive control measures may be called for.

Plant Health Care starts with the decision to buy a plant. Right plant, right place is the prevailing mantra. That means selecting a plant that will be happy in the location you have chosen to plant it. If the location is sunny, select a sun-loving plant. If it is shady, select a shade-tolerant plant. If it likes lots of water, don’t plant it in a dry location. If it is delicate, plant it in a sheltered location away from the wind.

I am also guilty of using these terms interchangeably because I am usually called in after an existing tree has a problem. In these cases, my first job is to take care of the problem. This falls under IPM. However, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t suggest a PHC program to start at the current point in the plant’s life.

Certainly we cannot move a mature shade-loving tree out of the sun, but there are things that I can do. One is to keep stress out of the plant’s life. I can maintain the proper soil fertility, add organic matter when it’s needed, keep it mulched, and be sure the owner knows it needs at least an inch of water a week, and prune when needed. Insects and diseases tend to leave healthy plants alone and pick on the underdogs – those that are stressed or in decline.

Although a PHC program is, ideally, a cradle-to-grave program, in all practicality, it can be started at any time during a plant’s life. I have become quite proficient at compensating for earlier cultural errors.

A happy plant is a healthy plant.

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