Many gardeners automatically reach for chemical-based pesticides to kill pests. For the short term, these chemicals are effective. However, for the long-term ecological health of your garden, these agents are detrimental. Over time, they destroy not only the harmful insects and bacteria, but also the ones that are beneficial to the garden. This increases garden vulnerability. Pesticides often strip the soil of nutrients causing it to become unusable for planting. Another major concern of pesticide use is that it can contaminate surface water by washing into creeks, lakes, and the Ocean. Pesticides can also percolate into groundwater thereby contaminating those water sources as well.

Integrated Pest Management System

Integrated pest management (IPM) is a pest management strategy that focuses on long-term prevention or suppression of pest problems with minimum impact on human health, the environment, and non-target organisms. Preferred pest management techniques include encouraging naturally occurring biological control; using alternate plant species or varieties that resist pests; selecting pesticides with a lower toxicity to humans or non-target organisms; adopting cultivation, pruning, fertilizing, or irrigation practices that reduce pest problems; and changing the habitat to make it incompatible with pest development. Pesticides are used as a last resort when careful monitoring indicates that they are needed. When treatments are necessary, the least toxic and most target-specific pesticides are chosen. Consider the signal words on the label, persistence, impact on non-targets, and potential chronic human health effects. Check the pesticide label to make sure all precautions and legal requirements are being carefully adhered to, and verify that the person doing the application is certified, and qualified, to handle the equipment and the material chosen. Contractors differ in their skills and experience, and it is important to hire a company that is reliable and knowledgeable about IPM practices.Include plants that attract beneficial insects in the garden.

Remember that IPM is a sensible and thoughtful approach to pest control, combining the use of physical, cultural, biological and chemical control methods to effectively manage pests with minimal risk to humans and the environment.

Preventative Measures

Choose healthy plants adapted to your climate and garden conditions. Select varieties resistant to diseases and pests that are prevalent in your area.
Plant carefully and follow up with proper watering, fertilizing, and garden cleanup.
Rotate crops to prevent the buildup of specific pests in a vegetable garden.
Check your plants frequently. Look for signs of infestation such as fungal growth, holes in leaves or fruit, sap oozing from bark, or wilted branches.
Check for insects hiding on leaf undersides, in bark fissures, or beneath fallen leaves.

Hands-on, non-toxic methods:

Remove and destroy slugs, snails, caterpillars, and other pests by hand. You may need to pluck and destroy entire leaves.
Prune and destroy branches infested with pest or disease.
A jet of water from a garden hose nozzle can knock pests from plants and often kill them. Make sure to use a positive shut-off nozzle to reduce flow while increasing the pressure to conserve water.
Certain physical structures used as barriers can prevent pests from reaching plants. These include row covers, plant cages, and plant collars (paper cups, plastic cartons, or empty cans with the ends cut out) that protect seedlings from cutworms and other insects.
You can capture pests such as moths with a pheromone (chemical used by insects for attraction) trap.


Biological Controls

Biological controls (beneficial insects) are living organisms used to destroy garden pests. This type of control occurs naturally in the garden all the time. To draw beneficial insects into your garden and encourage them to remain:

Provide food in the form of nectar-producing plants and avoid chemical sprays that will destroy useful creatures.

Purchase and release beneficial insects such as ladybugs that will eat aphids and other pests.

Ants are pests inside your home, but in your garden they actually perform a useful function. They clean up and recycle all kinds of animal and plant debris. They also help aerate the soil.

More information and local help

Visit for more information on integrated pest management

Visit for more information about where to purchase less-toxic products locally.

The Agricultural Commissioner can identify pests and provide IPM information.

Contact: Agricultural Commissioner at(831) 763-8080 Or by mail: 175 Westridge Drive, Watsonville, CA 95076

Mosquito Abatement and Vector Control District can also assist with pests, especially Mosquitoes. Call them at (831) 454-2590. They are located at 640 Capitola Road Santa Cruz, CA 95062

Call The Master Gardener hotline for pest management and pest identification questions: Phone: 831-763-8007 Monday, Wednesday, Friday 9:00 to noon. The office address is located at 1432 Freedom Boulevard, Watsonville, CA 95076

Chemical Controls

Keep in mind that the truly pest-free garden does not exist. At times, pesticide does need to be used but should be considered only as a last resort. If you do use pesticide, you must be careful with its use and disposal:

Our Water Our World ( for more information on pests in English and Spanish.

The signal words "CAUTION," "WARNING," and "DANGER" (in order of increasing toxicity) indicate the relative acute toxicity, or short-term effects, of the active ingredients to humans. They do not refer to long-term effects to humans nor do they indicate the effect on aquatic invertebrates.

Always dispose of pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides according to the product directions. Never pour pesticide down any type of drain, including a storm drain; it pollutes the water supply and harms our environment.

Visit for information on where to recycle containers and how to dispose of household hazardous wastes safely.