An ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure.
Integrated pest management is the process of ensuring that pest populations don’t proliferate to levels that adversely affect plant growth. Where possible, it involves holistic, natural, and non-toxic methods and can include biological, environmental, chemical, and mechanical controls. Furthermore, know that effective integrated pest management isn’t a reactive process. Where inexperienced growers take action once a pest problem takes hold, experienced growers abide by the following principles from the start to ensure that pests never becomes an issue.
The Four Steps of Integrated Pest Management
1) Identification of Pests
Many environmental factors can cause damage to cannabis plants. Before tackling any potential pest problem, it’s essential to confirm that the damage is due to pests rather than environmental conditions. Nutrient deficiencies, windburn, chemical damage, sun scald, and frost can all adversely affect plant health. Ensure the basic necessities of the plant are met before diving deeper on any mass eradication protocol.
Once identified as a pest issue, the grower must know what potential pests exist and the damage they inflict. Spider mites, thrips, aphids, pythium, and fungus gnats are all common.
2) Monitoring Pest Levels
A daily visual inspection of the plants is essential to uncovering pest problems early on. Sticky traps are an effective way to receive an early warning. They use specific color spectrums and scents to attract pests and provide an early visual warning as to the presence of any unwelcome visitors.
Once pests are detected, the grower should strive to identify the underlying issue. Doing so early on goes a long way to avoiding the potentially arduous process of tackling out-of-control pest levels. In some cases, this may even save a crop from complete failure.
3) Prevention Techniques
Pests will always target the most susceptible plants — the unhealthy ones. A healthy cannabis plant has forms of defense that help fight pests. But once weakened through over-cloning, poor environmental regulation, or existing disease, they can soon become a target for pests.
To help ensure healthier, more resistant plants, there are several steps that the grower should take.
Grow room cleanliness: Ensure the floor in the grow room is swept clean and dry. Any residual water lying on the floor can help pest populations proliferate. Lime can be very effective in combating pests, and many growers have success by sprinkling a little lime on the ground.
Plant waste disposal: Any dead leaves, garbage cans, or other forms of waste should never be allowed to remain in the grow room, or even nearby. Likewise, open water containers also pose an issue and should never be allowed to sit in a grow room.
Ensure Circulation: Good air circulation is essential for healthy cannabis plants. Give them room and don’t place them too close together. Regular selective defoliation will help ensure adequate airflow.
Water in the Early Morning: It’s best to avoid wetting the foliage of plants for long periods as moist conditions will encourage spores to germinate and infect leaves. By watering in the early morning, plant foliage will dry throughout the day. When done at night, the foliage remains wet for more extended periods, while if watered under direct sunlight, the plants may burn.
Disinfect Everything: Humans carry all sorts of microbial life, something that savvy growers know all too well. Before entering the grow room to work on the plants, use antiseptic soap to wash hands. The same applies to any tool the grower will use on the plants. Many growers also wear specific footwear and clothes in the grow area. While it may seem like a drastic step, it goes a long way toward ensuring that cultivators don’t bring potentially dangerous microbes into the grow. Leave a lab coat and a pair of shoes at the door for use inside.
4) Control Techniques
Many options exist for tackling pests, some ethical, some not. Growers should always choose the option that’s least toxic to non-pests and human health, least damaging to the environment, and one which provides the best long-term solution.
Biological control involves the introduction of living organisms that naturally consume pests. Furthermore, biological controls are often one of the most favorable methods of pest control. They rely on natural processes laid down by Mother Nature. For the common pests, several natural predators exist.
Spider mites (as seen in the photo above) are one of the most feared pests for cannabis growers. Phytoseiulus persimilis is a predatory mite that will eat up to five spider mites per day or twenty eggs. Furthermore, dropping the temperature to eighty degrees Fahrenheit tips the battle in Phytoseiulus persimilis’ favor. Spider mite reproduction rates drop from once every three days at ninety degrees Fahrenheit to once per week at eighty degrees Fahrenheit.
Thrips are another common pest, and orius is a useful natural predator. This wasp feeds on adult thrips during the day and is effective during the lights-on period. Steinernema feltiae is a soil-dwelling parasite that effectively targets over two-hundred and thirty pests, one of which is the much-revered fungus gnat. Hypoaspis miles is also an effective predator against fungus gnats.
Aphids, which do great damage in large numbers, can be kept in check by ladybugs, which can eat up to fifty of them per day. Ric Bessin from the University of Kentucky claims that “a single lady beetle may eat as many as 5,000 aphids in its lifetime.”
Controlling the environment is the most effective method of pest management. Water temperature and oxygen levels within the water are important. Also, using water that’s too hot (over sixty-seven degrees Fahrenheit), or too low in oxygen (if it’s stagnant) will encourage disease. Hepa air filters in grow rooms also help filter out mold spores and fungi that might one day proliferate within the grow.
Several non-toxic products can provide significant benefits when tackling pest issues. Neem oil is a common ally. It coats a pest insect and prevents it from developing and eventually from breeding. Kelp is also useful in helping to kill spider mite eggs while also offering benefits to growing plants. Sulfur is an effective fungicide and insecticide and is helpful in treating powdery mildew, rust, and black spot. Sulfur can burn plants and shouldn’t be used in the flowering phase or in conjunction with neem oil.
Support the Ethical Growers
Lastly, remember that those who prioritize yield over quality often end up using shady shortsighted techniques. But, by taking the time to understand integrated pest management, growers can obtain the best of both worlds. While the learning curve may be long and arduous and sometimes costly, those who master it will always produce superior medicine. No patient wants to consume cannabis doused in toxic chemicals throughout its lifetime. True medicine comes from the earth in its natural form, and the top growers know this.