Pest Management

Connect Pest Management to Your Curriculum

  • Click Here for an Insects: Good, Bad or Both? Activity and engage your students in identifying and managing pest and beneficial insects.
  • Click Here for a Pollinator Activity Ideas to inspire exploration of beneficial insects in your garden.


Pest Management 

Pests are an inevitable part of the garden. Proper management of those pests will enable the garden to still produce bountifully. Some people choose to spray chemical pesticides at the first sign of pest presence, but ‘integrated pest management’ uses preventative measures first and spraying as a last resort, if at all.


Pests as an Educational Opportunity

There is a lesson to be learned from pests. Having students witness lady bug larvae feasting on aphids or a parasitic wasp laying eggs on the back of a tomato hornworm are educational opportunities. Kids understand that without pests the beneficial insects would have no food – without the bad there would be no good. They learn the advantages to having an open door policy and inviting everyone into the garden rather then trying to exclude all insects. A well-balanced ecosystem keeps the garden healthy and should be the goal of any educational garden.


Beneficial Insects

Creating a thriving ecosystem in the garden allows for the presence of beneficial insects, which often keep pests in check. Planting a diversity of crops, especially flowers and native plants, attract the insects that feed on pests. Keeping a portion of the garden undisturbed allows for beneficial insects to thrive during the growing season and gives them an opportunity to overwinter in the garden. To accomplish this, create a permanent garden border with perennial plants and a thick layer of mulch.


Pests: Know Your Enemy

Having a pest identification book on hand will help you figure out what you’re dealing with and ways to mitigate the problem. It is important to know which bugs pose a risk to your crops, and how much damage they can do. Pest presence doesn’t always mean that there is a problem. Pests are often attracted to weak, malnourished, and diseased plants. Vigorous plants frequently outgrow pests.

There are the inevitable pests that haunt gardeners from year to year. Tomato hornworms can eat a plant down to the ground in a few days. Squash bugs multiply at an astounding rate and devastate summer squash. Cucumber beetle swarm the garden every summer and don’t just eat cucumbers.



Safe Methods for Dealing with Pests

There are many creative ways to avoid crop-damaging bugs, or at least keep them in check long enough to get a substantial harvest. Covering crops with ‘Row cover’ (a lightweight woven fabric barrier) allows air, light, and water to penetrate, but not pests. Planting crops early or late can also help avoid certain pests. ‘Succession planting’ means planting the same crop multiple times, every 2-3 weeks, so that when one planting is on its way out the next is about to produce. ‘Intercropping’ means planting multiple crops within the same area. There are certain plant combinations, such as tomatoes and marigolds, which are helpful in keeping pests away from your production crop.

Spraying soapy water or water infused with hot pepper and/or garlic is an effective control for soft bodied insects, such as squash bugs and aphids. Using a hose with a high-pressure nozzle kills sap-feeding insects, such as aphids and spider mites.

“Search and destroy” is one of the most effective methods of dealing with pests and is enjoyed by many kids. This method can keep students engaged and busy while keeping many pest populations in check if done early and thoroughly. This method is particularly useful with tomato hornworms. However, it’s important to honor the fact that not all kids are driven to kill bugs by hand. There will inevitably be a few students who love to do it, so take advantage of their enthusiasm.


Accepting Defeat

Preventative measures are the most effective form of pest control. Once the pest becomes a problem it might be too late. Knowing when to give up and remove the affected plants can ensure that you are not making the problem worse. Sometimes pulling up that buggy summer squash is the smartest action to take, preventing the pests from multiplying further and then possibly overwintering so the problem follows you to next year.


Additional Information on Insect & Disease Control can be downloaded below. These excerpts from the Kansas Gardening Guide are provided, with permission, from K-State Research & Extension.   Charles W. Marr, Ted Carey, Raymond Cloyd, and Megan Kennelly, Kansas Garden Guide, Kansas State University, March 2010.

Insect & Disease Control.pdf206.18 KB