Getting to the Roots of IPM and PHC

Over the last few decades, the phrases Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Plant Health Care (PHC) have been closely intertwined. So closely, in fact, that farmers, practitioners, and landscapers have had a tough time truly understanding the difference between these two approaches.

Is PHC simply the evolution of IPM over time, or is the difference substantial enough to justify the separation of these terms? That’s what we are going to explore in this blog post.

Background

The term Integrated Pest Management (IPM) surfaced in the late 1950s and early 1960s – a time when farmers and the agricultural industry became dependent on pesticides to manage pest problems. There’s no doubt that pesticides are highly effective when it comes to pest control, but the negative, long-term outcome of over-reliance was not fully understood. And despite intentions to minimize economic, health, and environmental risks, IPM that early on had some disastrous and unwanted consequences.


Over time, science got stronger, practitioners developed more awareness, and our approach to plant health on a global scale became more holistic. Since IPM had left a bad taste in the mouths of many people who experienced or heard about the aftermath of using it, a new and more attractive term was adopted: Plant Health Care (PHC).

PHC came to the forefront of the landscaping industry – a new twist on a largely misunderstood practice that would remove IPM’s negative connotation, reassure the market, and empower businesses to “go green.”

So, are IPM and PHC the same thing?

The answer is really a matter of perspective.

PHC is a multi-pronged approach to protect plant health and preserve landscapes. This includes mulching, fertilizing, tree selection, pruning, and beyond. More often than not, IPM also falls under this umbrella since insects can do substantial damage to plants, trees, and crops. Different insects call for different prevention measures, so the role that IPM plays varies based on the site and conditions.

On the other hand, some pesticides can be just as damaging when used incorrectly or in abundance. Unregulated and high-risk chemicals can be toxic to plants and must be closely supervised and used in moderation to avoid harmful effects. You shouldn’t develop a dependence on pesticides simply because this method appears to work better or faster because what works in the short term could backfire over time.

PHC can also increase pest pressure in certain situations. For example, nitrogen is sometimes used as a plant fertilizer to promote plant growth. However, it is also the primary nutrient that insects need to develop and reproduce, making it a “honey pot” from some species.

Conclusion

With all this in mind, it’s fair to say that even though there is a significant amount of overlap between PHC and IPM, one approach does not equal the other. Additionally, the bests results will come as a result of using both in tandem. That includes being mindful of how plants will be impacted by the components of pest management, and how certain practices used to promote plant growth can attract insects.

It’s also important to understand that not all pesticides are created equal – several have been approved for use by the EPA and can be managed with success. A balanced IPM program can keep pests away while minimizing the overall impact on the environment. It can also be beneficial to welcome visitors in your landscape like birds, butterflies, and bees.

The best approach to landscaping is one that considers all aspects and, when balanced correctly, IPM and PHC can work together to achieve healthy, sustainable landscapes. You should also try to exhaust all other non-toxic alternatives first.

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