The Integrated Pest Management Approach to Vegetable Gardening, Part One

Learn pest control methods for vegetable gardening in this two-part blog series on IPM. Part One explains IPM and outlines a multi-step process. Part Two identifies practical nonchemical ways to control insects.

Vegetable GardenHere come the bugs!  

Rapid summer growth of your vegetable garden can lead to an invasion of pests. Although it is impossible—and inadvisable—to rid your garden of all insects, you can use a few different tactics to reduce damage from the six-legged critters. This combination of tactics is known as Integrated Pest Management or IPM.

What is Integrated Pest Management or IPM?

IPM combines the use of pesticides, cultural practices, and nonchemical methods to control pests. Beginning in the 1940s, increasing dependence on pesticide use for insect control caused problems such as pesticide-resistant insects, resurging insect populations, destruction of the pests’ natural enemies, damage to wildlife and water, and potential risks to humans. IPM can reduce or avoid some of these problems by combining insect-control methods instead of using pesticides alone.

Adopt a multi-step IPM plan.

  • Make an assessment. Survey your property, monitor insects, consider past pest control practices, and make a priority list of concerns.
  • Create a good offense. Denying pests the environment they need to prosper interrupts their growth and reproduction cycle. For example, plant placement is important. Sun-loving vegetables need full sun. Avoid shady or damp areas where some insects might thrive.
  • Keep your vegetable garden healthy through wise plant selection, placement, and care. Strong plants are less susceptible to insect invasion.
  • Encourage beneficial insect predators in your vegetable garden. Some harmful insects have natural enemies that can provide partial control.
  • Check vegetable plants often for infestation. Monitoring can help you catch insects as eggs or larvae before extensive damage takes place.
  • Tolerate some plant injury. Minor insect damage will not prevent vegetable plants from producing a harvest.
  • Evaluate your IPM approach as vegetables mature. Make changes as necessary.

Parasitic wasp larvae attack hornworm caterpillar on tomato plant.

Use pesticides as a last resort.

Following the above IPM steps will help minimize pesticide use. If you do use pesticides, effective insect management requires identifying products that are suitable for food plants. Read the label to be sure the pesticide is effective for the insects you have identified. Use only the recommended concentration and timing specified. Wear protective clothing and be aware of potential environmental or personal dangers. Store pesticides properly and wash your hands after use.

The payoff—good for you; good for the environment.

Tomatoes on VineGrowing healthy plants that produce a beautiful and bountiful harvest is a vegetable gardener’s dream. Using IPM to encourage beneficial insects, discourage pests, and preserve human health and the environment can help realize that dream!

(Learn more about Integrated Pest Management for vegetables at

Written by Mary Alice Ramsey, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.

Spring Fling Plant Sale and Tool Organizer Raffle

Raffle tickets on sale now

SpringPlantSale_ToolRack_Raffle_2016-05-14Buy raffle tickets for this handy garden tool organizer, complete with five hand tools, dried flowers, and seeds. Purchase raffle tickets at the Buncombe County Extension Office, 49 Mount Carmel Road, Asheville, or at the Spring Fling Plant Sale on May 14. Raffle tickets are $2 each or three for $5. The winner will be announced after the plant sale.

Thanks go to Tom Good, husband of Master Gardener Nancy Good, for donating and constructing the tool organizer from a vintage window frame.

Spring Fling Plant Sale May 14

A date and place to remember to find beautiful plants and get sage gardening advice.

2016 Spring Fling Flyer

Save the Date: WNC Gardening Symposium, October 12

Attention all gardeners! Mark your calendars for October 12 and plan to attend the Western North Carolina Gardening Symposium, organized by WNC Master Gardeners and co-sponsored by the NC Agricultural Foundation and NC Cooperative Extension.  Preliminary information about the event is shown below.


Spring Fling Plant Sale and Tool Organizer Raffle

Raffle tickets on sale now

SpringPlantSale_ToolRack_Raffle_2016-05-14Buy raffle tickets for this handy garden tool organizer, complete with five hand tools, dried flowers, and seeds. Purchase raffle tickets at the Buncombe County Extension Office, 49 Mount Carmel Road, Asheville, or at the Spring Fling Plant Sale on May 14. Raffle tickets are $2 each or three for $5. The winner will be announced after the plant sale.

Thanks go to Tom Good, husband of Master Gardener Nancy Good, for donating and constructing the tool organizer from a vintage window frame.

Spring Fling Plant Sale

A date and place to remember to find beautiful plants and get sage gardening advice.

2016 Spring Fling Flyer

Mow Like a Pro

Watch Out for “Mower Blight”

Lawn on costly life support

Mower treads may damage lawn over time.

When you start mowing your lawn this season, I bet you plan to use the same pattern that you used last year. Why? I expect you’ll say “…because it’s the most efficient.” Maybe it’s a square, working inward, or it’s back and forth, creating professional-looking stripes. Perhaps your mower discharges clippings to the right so you mow with the walkway or flowerbed on your left. Regardless of the pattern you use, keep an eye out for gouges, bare spots or other odd markings on the lawn that might indicate “mower blight,” correctable by modifying your mowing habits.

Every mower exerts ground pressure on the turf. The rollers on reel-type mowers, working in the same direction, repeatedly mash the grass so it grows almost horizontally, shading other grass plants. Mower wheels compact the soil and create stormwater runoff channels that eventually become very visible in the turf.

Today’s hydrostatic drive mowers with their speed and fast-reacting controls bring other problems. With a zero turn radius (ZTR), close maneuvering can turn the wheels in opposite directions at different speeds, creating a pivot divot—a bare spot where the vertically rotating wheel compacts and scrapes the ground, scrubbing as it turns.

To avoid mower blight, it’s best to vary your mowing route. With a ZTR, use patterns that minimize hillside turns. To prevent the pivot divot, intermittently back your mower into a tight spot or make a slower turn. Mow at an angle. Mow in curves that follow some feature of the landscape. To shift the ZTR from its regular path, occasionally do your trimming around beds and walks with a push mower. You’ll enjoy the exercise.

More Mowing Tips


  • Be safe. Before you start the season, check for low-hanging branches and perform some judicious pruning. Playing “dodge ‘em” on a steep slope can be unhealthy.
  • Make your turf more mower-friendly.
    • Enlarge the mowing circles around trees to make an easier curve.
    • Group several shrubs together into one large mulched area.
    • Use ground covers or pavers in tight spots.
  • Mow cool season grasses high—three inches minimum. Longer leaf blades have more area to photosynthesize, preparing for the summer heat and shading out a few weed seeds carried in by the wind.

(An earlier version of this article appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times in 2003.)

Written by Glenn Palmer, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

Kids Post: It’s a Bug’s Life

Did you know there are over a million different species of insects? No wonder you see bugs everywhere! Fewer than ten percent of insects are considered harmful. Most insects do good things or are harmless.

Here in North Carolina we have plenty of both kinds. Everyone knows that mosquitos bite and flies can carry diseases, but what about other common bugs? Some are so small you can barely see them. One of the biggest we have is a praying mantis about 4-5 inches long.Praying Mantis, Photo, Debbie Roos

Let’s talk about destructive bugs. These are referred to as non-beneficial. One of the smallest is the aphid. It is less than 1/8 inch. Aphids live in groups and suck sap from plants. This causes the leaf and sometimes the whole plant to die.

Other destructive bugs are cutworms, Japanese beetles, leafminers, slugs and snails. Later in the summer your garden may have squash bugs, tomato hornworms and cucumber beetles. All these bugs can harm plants and flowers.

Japanese Beetles, courtesy of University of Illinois

Good bugs to the rescue! Most of these bugs eat or destroy the “bad” bugs. Like Superman they fly in and wipe out bugs we don’t want. Praying mantis, assassin bugs, lady beetles, ground beetles and parasitic wasps all help keep your gardens green and healthy. These beneficial bugs do a good job if left alone.

Ladybug larva eating aphids

Ladybug larva eating aphids

One day this summer when you need something fun to do, get a magnifying glass and paper and pencil to see how many different kinds of insects live in your back yard. You should be able to find at least twenty or thirty. Look under the leaves of plants where they feed. Draw or take pictures of the bugs you see.

Other beneficial bugs are bees and butterflies. They carry pollen on their feet which allows the fruit and vegetables to grow. Without them dinner would be very boring!!Written by Nancy Good, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.

Plant Bullies, Part II

So you’ve identified a garden bully, invasive plants. A quick review of your options for dealing with them starts with breaking the reproductive cycle so they do not spread. Don’t let them go to seed, particularly if they’re annuals. Or use a pre-emergent treatment so the seeds don’t germinate.

You can exhaust them by continued weeding, mowing, flaming or maybe grazing goats.Goats

And in the last resort category we have something that those folks back in ’96 lacked – herbicides, chemicals developed to take advantage of the plant’s weakness. Our garden centers have shelf after shelf of bagged and bottled herbicides, and it can be overwhelming when there are several brands with similar claims in big letters on the label. It’s the fine print and the instructions that you need to read, before you buy and then again before you mix and apply. For example, don’t buy a weed-preventer to kill existing weeds. And don’t expect an herbicide to make a distinction between a desirable plant and a weed. Dicamba will kill the roots of any plant, including desirable shrubs and 2,4-D will kill broad leaf weeds but not harm grass, which is why we use it on dandelions in the lawn grass but if it drifts onto a bed of pansies – bad news!

Read the label! Will a pint of diluted, ready-to-use product be all you need or would a gallon of the active ingredient be a much better buy? Maybe you could share with a neighbor. Or the whole neighborhood could attack kudzu at the same time.

How will you apply the herbicide? Do you need to mix with water and spray the leaves? Or is it to be applied at full strength to the freshly-cut woody stump? Is this product less effective at certain temperatures or particular weather conditions?

And if you have questions as to how to attack a particular weed, call the Extension Helpline 828-255-5522.

Written by Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Glenn Palmer.

Lecture on Invasive Plants

Gardening in the Mountains

Invasive Plants – Bullies

Thursday, April 21, 2016
11:30 – 1:00 pm

NC Cooperative Extension, Buncombe County Center
49 Mt Carmel Road, Asheville, NC

Presenters: Barb Harrison and Gary Merrill, Extension Master Gardeners

Non-native invasive plants have been introduced into North Carolina and are causing problems for our native plant and animal species. These plants are backyard bullies and are taking over our natural areas, parks, forests, urban environments, yards and gardens. Come and learn how to recognize and identify the most common bullies in our area and how to reduce their spread.

We will have live examples of these invasive plants and the opportunity to get outside and see some of the invasive plants in the environment.

The talk is free but pre-registration is requested by calling 828-255-5522.

Plant Bullies, Part I

Back in ’96, 1896 that is, the USDA was explaining to farmers* that “A large proportion of the plants growing along roadsides, on waste ground or older cultivated parts of this country are migratory weeds. They’re not native to where they are now found but have come from other countries or other places in this country.” USDA could use those same words to describe our situation today. Now we call them “invasives” but they move around by the same means as in 1896.

When you think of it, plants have to be able to move or spread to make room for their offspring or find more habitable ground. That USDA Yearbook* went on to describe how plants do move about, starting with the natural methods such as runners. Others throw their seeds as the pod matures and dries. Some seeds such as dandelions or water walnuts are carried further by the wind. Some move by other clever means.Artificial methods of 1896 seed locomotion included one we don’t worry too much about these days – when “cheaper grades of imported crockery are packed in cheap hay or straw”. Or mixed with commercial seeds? The Yearbook had drawings of different seeds so farmers could identify some common “good” vs bad.

The need to clean farm machinery between work in different fields was mentioned. Hmmm, have you ever borrowed a neighbor’s mower? Or rented a tiller? They often come with seeds attached.

Even back in 1896 there were “weeds introduced as useful or ornamental plants…seed of oxeye daisy is said to have been brought to Rhode Island and planted to obtain horse’s feed.” And so on…

The point is that now is the season to keep an eye out for newcomers on your homestead. Look for plants that seem to have spread rapidly, plants that weren’t there last year, or perhaps plants that you cannot identify. Get them while they’re small and easy to control just in case they might be bullies.

If you do have a questionable plant, bring it in for identification. Remember that Extension has moved. We’re now at 49 Mt. Carmel Road in Erwin Hills. The phone number didn’t change: 828-255-5522.

*From the Yearbook of the United States Department of Agriculture 1896

Next week part II will review options for dealing with those bullies.

Written by Glenn Palmer, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.

Local Pollinator Habitat to Visit

In 2010 the Southeastern Research Station (SRS) of the US Forest Service contacted the Buncombe County Master Gardener office for help in creating a landscape project to comply with a new US Secretary of Agriculture mandate and be part of the People’s Gardens initiative. At the time, there was no budget of dollars or hours, and a tour of the property revealed several extremely challenging sites. imageThanks to the dedication and passion of a hard-working crew of Master Gardeners and employees of the SRS, the garden took shape. Individuals, nurseries and the Botanical Gardens of Asheville (just across the street) donated plants which went into the ground in June.

During that record-breaking hot, dry summer it was a struggle just to keep the plants alive, and we wondered if we had attempted the impossible. When a small work crew gathered one blistering hot day, we could not believe our eyes: a monarch caterpillar had eaten the foliage on the five small butterfly weeds (asclepias tuberosa) we had planted. How had the mother butterfly found this minuscule patch of host plants for her eggs!? Fast forward five years to a thriving habitat teeming with life and sporting signage donated and installed by a local scout troop. The garden is a reflection of what a small, dedicated team can accomplish, especially when they plant the right plants in the right place.image Remember the adage about perennials and many wood shrubs. First year they sleep, second year they creep and third year they leap. Most plants, even tough natives best suited to the area, do best with some TLC the first year. The biggest problem with new plants is drying them out. The second is drowning them, especially if they were planted too deeply. The return on the investment of time, energy, and resources during that first year establishing the pollinator garden continues to boom. A dead zone that supported no wildlife now buzzes with activity almost year round.

Please visit the People’s Garden Mondays-Fridays, 8:30 to 5, for a self-guided tour. While you’re in the area, be sure to visit the Pollinator Habitat established throughout the UNCA campus, details of which can be found at .

Master Gardeners also work with many area school gardens. Several of these are pollinator specific or pollinator-friendly including the expansion of the Vance Peace Garden. Vance Peace GardenEven though the ideal pollinator habitat is round rather than linear, the L-shaped border of the garden works beautifully. Once again, success is due in large part to a hardworking, dedicated team. In the case of Vance Peace Garden that team included an active parent group, teachers, Master Gardeners, Bee City USA and even the funding and hard work of local hummus producer, ROOTS.Vance Peace Garden

In June 2012, Asheville became the first certified Bee City USA. Since then nearly 20 other cities from Wilmington, North Carolina to Seattle, Washington have joined the movement, and a sister organization, Bee Campus USA was launched. For plenty of good information and stories, along with excellent resources, be sure to visit .

USDA Bee Lab Leader, Jeff Pettis & Diane Almond

Dr. Jeff Pettis, Research Leader of the USDA Research Lab with Diane Almond

This is the final post in our pollinator series written by Diane Almond, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer and Master Beekeper.