Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

Grade Levels



Students will
  • Define and explain integrated pest management practices
  • Utilize integrated pest management practices to reduce garden pest problems     


Pests, Integrated Pest Management

Pa. Standards Addressed Doing the Activity

  • Teaching Methods  Assessment and Evaluation
  • Background Extensions
  • Getting Ready Resources

Pennsylvania Environment and Ecology Standards Addressed

  • 4.3.7. Environmental Health
    A. Identify environmental health issues
  • 4.5.7. Integrated Pest Management
    A. Explain benefits and harmful effects of pests.
    B. Explain various integrated pest management practices used in society.

Other Pennsylvania Standards Addressed

  • Science and Technology
  • Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking

Teaching Methods

Analysis, Classification, Observation, Problem Solving, Research

Planning & Planting Tips

In this activity students should help to select plants for the garden that are appropriate for growing conditions.  Students may also include materials, such as mulch, in their pest prevention plans.


  • 1 copy per student or group of Six Steps of IPM and Preventing Pest Problems.  You may also need copies of Examples of IPM if you want students to complete this activity as a worksheet instead of a verbal review.
  • Poster materials – poster board or flip chart paper, markers
  • Reference books on gardening, pests and pest prevention or have students use the library


What is IPM?

IPM (Integrated Pest Management) is an environmentally sensitive approach that uses a combination of common-sense practices to manage pests.  Knowledge of pest biology and habitats are used to select the best combination of common-sense practices that will keep pests under control.  IPM uses a series of steps that result in making pest management decisions that control the pests with the least effect on people, pets and the environment.

Understanding the needs of pests is essential to implementing IPM effectively. Pests seek habitats that provide basic needs such as air, water, food and shelter. Pest populations can be prevented or controlled by creating inhospitable environments, by removing some of the basic elements pests need to survive, or by blocking their access to an area. Habitat modification may be used in combination with traps, vacuums, biological control or pesticides. An understanding of what pests need in order to survive is essential before action is taken. Anticipating and preventing pest activity in combination with several pest control methods can achieve long-term results.

What is a Pest?

A pest is any living thing (plant or animal) that bothers or annoys us, our pets or animals, damages things we value, occurs where we do not want it, or causes or spreads disease.  People don’t always agree on whether something is a pest.  A dandelion may be a pest to one person and salad to another.

What is a Pesticide?

A pesticide is any substance that is used to prevent, destroy, or repel pests or reduce the damage pests cause. Pesticides can target insects (insecticides), rats and mice (rodenticides), weeds (herbicides) and fungi (fungicides).  Pesticides even include common household disinfectants like bleach or bathroom cleaner that kill bacteria.

All pesticides sold in the U.S. must comply with the requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Additionally, all pesticides must be sold in the manufacturer’s original container with a complete label. 

After World War II, pesticides became a readily available and effective way to kill pests.

But by the 1960’s it was becoming apparent that there were downsides to overuse and reliance on pesticides.  Problems include: 

  • developing resistance to the pesticide
  • movement away from the application site
  • contamination of food, water, and air
  • exposure to people and wildlife
  • high cost of frequent applications
  • kills beneficial organisms as well as pests

IPM methods encourage a reduction in dependency on pesticides.  However, IPM is not the same as organic gardening.  When necessary, IPM practices do include the use of non-organic forms of pesticides.

An Ounce of Prevention

An important part of IPM is prevention.  For gardens, the first step of IPM is to strive for healthy plant growth. When choosing your plants, select those that are right for your area.  Consider hardiness, sun or shade requirements, moisture requirements, and soil preferences.  Plants placed in the wrong location will not thrive and are more susceptible to problems.  Once plants are established maintain healthy growth by watering, weeding, mulching and fertilizing according to the plant’s needs.

The IPM Process

The IPM approach to pest management uses a basic decision-making process. This process helps determine if treatment is necessary, where to treat, when to treat, and which strategies are best to use. The steps taken to determine a treatment plan are the same regardless of the environment or the type of pest. IPM follows the six basic steps listed below:

  1. Identify
  2. Learn pest and host life cycles and biology
  3. Monitor and sample for pest populations
  4. Establish action threshold
  5. Choose tactics
  6. Evaluate results
1. Inspect and Identify

Correctly identifying the cause of the problem and/or the responsible pest will result in the most effective treatment plan.    In the case of plants, consider the symptoms and the most likely cause of them.  If the symptoms caused by over-watering are mistaken for a fungus, spraying would be ineffective and needless.  If a beneficial insect is eating aphids on a sick plant, spraying may kill it and make the problem worse. In many cases, if a beneficial insect is present no other control measures will be needed. Scout for insects, but remember that most insects are not pests.  Of the estimated 10 million species of insects in the world, only about 3.500 species are considered to be key pests.

2. Learn pest and host life cycles and biology

Once the pest is identified, read about its life-cycle, food sources, preferred habitats, special adaptations, and natural enemies.  The best management plan will take all of these factors into account.  For example house mice are very curious animals and are constant nibblers.  The travel next to walls and other surfaces and travel the same route over and over.  This knowledge tells us that snap traps placed next towalls where we have seen signs of mice should be effective at removing the current population.  In some cases, a certain stage in the pest’s life cycle may be more susceptible to preventative actions.  For example, insects are most susceptible when the young first hatch.

3. Monitor

Monitoring is the regular and ongoing inspection of areas where pest problems are occurring or could occur.  Monitoring helps to determine where and when treatment is needed, helps to pinpoint problem areas, and allows you to evaluate and fine tune treatments. Look for:

  • pests
  • signs of pests (droppings, castings)
  • conditions good for pests
  • where they are located
  • whether their numbers are increasing or decreasing
4. Establish action threshold (economic, health, or aesthetic)

In some situations a certain number of pests can be tolerated. Soybeans are very tolerant of defoliation, so if there are only a few caterpillars in a field and their population is not increasing dramatically, there is not need to do anything.  However, there may come a time when something must be done. For a farmer, action might be taken at the point where the cost of damage by the pest is more than the cost of controlling it. This is an action threshold based on economics.

When human health is a consideration, action thresholds are low. This means that only a few pests are necessary to start a pest management program.  Aesthetic tolerance varies.  Some people dislike any weeds in their lawn, while others leave them alone.

5. Choose tactics

IPM emphasizes prevention by identifying and removing the causes of the problems, rather than just treating the symptoms.  The information gathered in the previous steps should be used to select the best control methods (see IPM Tactics) for a particular situation. Treatment strategies should be:

  • Least hazardous to human health
  • least disruptive to natural controls
  • least toxic to non-target organisms
  • most likely to be permanent and prevent recurrence of the pest
  • cost-effective
  • appropriate to the site
6.  Evaluate results

After the control methods have been applied, this step provides an opportunity to evaluate their effectiveness.  The evaluation is based on answers to specific questions.  Was the pest managed or prevented to your satisfaction?  Was the method satisfactory?  Were there any unintended side effects? What will you do in the future for this pest situation?

IPM Tactics

Multiple tactics are used to keep pest populations off-balance and avoids development of resistance to pesticides. Least toxic methods are used before more toxic ones whenever possible.  The categories of tactics include:

  • Cultural
    Cultural methods minimize the conditions that the pest needs to live. The pest populations are reduced because the habitat no longer provides a suitable environment for it.  For plants, cultural controls start with selecting plants that are suitable for your growing conditions. Other practices such as crop rotation, pruning, varying planting dates and good sanitation disrupt the pest’s association with the plant.  Healthy plants are less susceptible to disease, outgrow weeds, and are more likely to resist insects. 
  • Physical
    Physical methods generally involve mechanical or non-chemical ways of preventing access to an area or removing existing pests. Choices include the use of traps, barriers, vacuuming, row covers or removal by hand.
  • Biological
    Biological methods rely on natural enemies of the pest.  Using predators, parasites and diseases in a targeted way reduces pest populations.  (Use of microbial diseases of pests is included in chemical methods).  Many beneficial organisms are predators of pests.  A toad can eat 3,000 grubs, slugs, or beetles every month.  Bats can catch 1,000 mosquitoes every night.  Lady bug beetles can consume up to 40 aphids an hour. Other organisms are parasites of pests.  Tiny Braconid wasps lay their eggs in the body of grubs and caterpillars. When the wasp larvae hatch they kill the host.
         To encourage beneficial organisms create an environment they like by providing food, water and shelter.  Many beneficial insects feed on nectar for fuel as they seek hosts for their eggs.  Including their preferred nectar plants in your garden will help to attract them.  A shallow depression partially covered by boards or a large rock makes a great shelter for a toad. Once a toad finds your garden it may live there for decades!
  • Chemical
    Chemical controls involve the use of naturally derived or synthesized pesticides.  IPM programs select the least toxic, most specific pesticide and target them where the pests are living.  A biorational pesticide is a naturally occurring compound derived from a living organism, including pheromones and growth regulators. They are generally less universally toxic and target a specific aspect of a pest’s life cycle or metabolism. Examples are diatomaceous earth that scratches the surface of an insect to dehydrate them, or microbial pesticides like Bacillus thuringensis that affect only a specific group of insects.
        Conventional pesticides refer to synthetically produced compounds that act as direct toxins.  Synthetic chemical pesticides remain the most widely used method to control pests. Conventional synthetic pesticides work more quickly than other alternatives and have prevented many insect-transmitted diseases, such as malaria.  However, their drawbacks include connections to human health problems, persistence in the environment, wide-ranging toxins that often kill beneficial organisms.
Benefits of IPM

The IPM method encourages reduced reliance on pesticides and when used recommends the least toxic, most specific product.  The goal is to avoid the pesticide problems that became apparent in the 1960’s, including human and environmental health problems, food contamination, pesticide resistance, and damage to beneficial organisms.  While IPM has some drawbacks, these pest control methods are much safer for people and the environment.

Getting Ready

Examine the garden, note which preventative methods have already been incorporated. 

Doing the Activity

In the classroom

Activity I

  1. What is a pest? What are some examples of pests?  Students often name insects first, encourage them to include other organisms, such as mammals, plants, etc.
  2. What do we do to get rid of pests?  For example, what would I do if I had mice in my house?  What might I do if mosquitoes were biting me?  What if bugs were eating my flowers? 
  3. Some of you mentioned the use of pesticides.  What are some problems with pesticides?  (Human health problems, kills beneficial or “good” bugs, etc.
  4. Write “Integrated Pest Management” on the board.  Has anyone heard of this?   What do you think it means?  Define each word.   Integrated means putting things together.  Management means to control or direct.  IPM is a way of controlling pests by using several methods together.
  5. Hand out the student sheet on the Six Steps of IPM.  Read the steps together.  Ask students to give examples of things to do at each step.  Explain why we do each step and that the goal of IPM is to control pests with the least impact to humans and the environment.
  6. Read some of the sentences from the Examples of IPM page. Ask students which step this example fits. Option: Instead of reading the examples, give each student a copy and have them list the appropriate step for all of the examples.
  7. Tell students that a major part of IPM is taking steps to prevent pest problems. Have students review the Preventing Pest Problems attachment. Discuss some of the different techniques and the advantages/disadvantages of each.  Discuss which prevention techniques have already been integrated into the garden. (You may want to visit the garden so students can observe the techniques that are in place while discussing them.)
  8. Tell students that before the gardening season begins, they will be using this information to develop a plan to reduce pest problems in the garden.
  9. Break students into small groups.  Have each group develop a pest prevention plan in a step by step fashion that lists the techniques they would include.  In addition to the Preventing Pest Problems attachment, have students search through gardening books for information. There are options for this activity:
    • Have students design plans that specifically address a pest that has been a problem in the school garden.  Have students research the pest and determine the best techniques for prevention and control.
    • Have students design plans for the pest they researched in the Friend or Foe activity.
    • Have students design a general pest prevention plan for the school garden. Encourage them to select techniques that they think will be most effective.  (You may want to limit the number of steps the students can use in the plan.)
  10. Once complete have each group present their plans to the class.  Have the class compare the plans and develop one final plan that the class will use. The selected plan can be an overall garden plan or it can target a specific pest problem.
  11. Have students implement a selected plan.  Selecting proper plants should be an important step in any plan.  As part of the implementation process, have students research and select plants that are appropriate for local conditions.
In the garden
  1. Have students implement other steps of the selected plan in the garden. As the season progresses have them monitor the garden for pests and gauge the effectiveness of the various steps they took.
  2. At the end of the year have students evaluate their plan and discuss whether they would recommend changing any steps for the next year.


  1. Correct selection of the IPM step for Examples of IPM activity.
  2. Accuracy and completeness of Pest Profile poster.
  3. Student evaluations of the effectiveness of the garden plan.


  1. This activity can be continued and refined from year to year with different classes. When developing their plans, students can review the effectiveness of the plans from previous years and consider the recommendations that were made.
  2. Have students select one or two techniques instead of an entire plan.  Gauge the effectiveness of the technique.
  3. Select one or two prevention techniques and try each technique in a different part of the garden or in different gardens.  Compare the effectiveness of the techniques.


  • Ball, Jeff, Rodale’s Garden Problem Solver, 1988
  • Bradley, F.M. and Ellis, B.W., Rodale’s All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, 1992
  • Michigan State University Pesticide Education, Exploring Urban Integrated Pest Management, 2001
  • Pearson Learning Group, Environment and Ecology for Pennsylvania, 2003
  • Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, The Penn State Master Gardener Manual
  • Penn State University, PA IPM Program
  • Phillips, Ellen and Burrell, C. Colston, Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Perennials
  • Project Food, Land and People, 2000

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