JoAnne Skelly: Managing pests, no matter the type

The word “pest” means different things to different people: weeds that are never-ending, insects on plants or in houses, plant diseases of all types, mushrooms in a lawn or critters digging up a garden or yard. Gardening is not for the faint of heart. Some people spray or use a chemical for everything, whether it is called for or not. This is not necessarily an effective approach.

An effective pest management program first identifies the pest, its life cycle and its interactions with the environment. It considers all available pest control methods, then a plan is developed using the most economical means with the least possible hazard to people, property and the environment. A sustainable approach to managing pests combines cultural, physical, biological and chemical methods in a way that minimizes health, economic and environmental risks. This integrated pest management (IPM) approach uses multiple strategies to control a pest in order to prevent or limit further pest problems.

A weed is a plant you don’t want. Sometimes they are merely nuisances and other times they are actually against Nevada state statutes. To manage weeds, it is important to know whether they are annuals that complete all growth stages in one year, biennials that take two years, or perennials that survive more than two years. Without this knowledge, you might apply an herbicide that not only won’t do any good, but that might harm the soil, other plants or the environment.

Less than 5 percent of all insect species are pests. Some are not even insects, but mites, relatives of spiders. Rarely do we need to resort to chemicals to manage insects. Sometimes hosing a plant off regularly will do the trick. Hand-picking might suffice. Or, encouraging birds and beneficial insects/mites may be the perfect solution with a lot less work and less harm to the environment, ourselves, pets and wildlife.

Plant diseases are caused by fungi, viruses or bacteria. Most plant diseases in Nevada are caused by fungi, but with healthy plants they are rarely a problem. We do occasionally see lawn diseases, but they generally occur when a lawn is stressed by improper watering (too little or too much), poor nutrition, insufficient soil aeration or deficient mowing practices.

For information on how to manage pests effectively and safely go to: For photos to help identify pests, beneficial insects and for more information on IPM see:

JoAnne Skelly is associate professor and Extension educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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