What I learned with the Integrated Pest Management Program at Phipps Conservatory and Botanic Garden in Pittsburgh

Hello! This thank you letter is a little summary of what I learned working as the IPM intern (and coordinator for a couple of months) at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh. I hope this gets you thinking about your own integrated pest management options.

I cannot express enough, how grateful I am to the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust for affording me the opportunity to work as Phipps’ integrated pest management intern. Before this experience, ornamental horticulture and IPM without the use of pesticides seemed impossible. During the past 6 months, I’ve worked in the most ecologically balanced conservatories and greenhouses I have ever seen. I have built a foundational knowledge of how to create and maintain a sustainable IPM program. I have no doubt that the skills, knowledge, and connections I have gained from this opportunity will continue to benefit my career in ornamental horticulture throughout my life.

Creating and maintaining an IPM program requires organization and preparation skills. In order to do my job efficiently, I always had essential scouting, collecting, and data recording tools and to do lists on hand. Proper record keeping of pest monitoring, beneficial insect augmentation, health observations of new honey bee hive, pesticide applications, etc. was essential to measuring the efficacy of practices, comparing with past and future years, and complying with regulations. To organize the IPM program, I created an application schedule according to pest cycles, activity levels, seasonal changes and diapause of beneficial insects. To keep focused, I divided my time up with daily, weekly and monthly goals and activities. I worked with all the production and display horticulturists weekly. Communication between the horticultural staff was maintained through weekly meetings with my supervisor and monthly staff meetings.

I gained skills and knowledge in all the essential steps of integrated pest management. I worked with many susceptible crops: Ficus, Brassica, ferns, bonsai, orchids, Camellia, Digitalis purpurea, Plumeria, etc. I improved my scouting and identification skills; learning many signs and symptoms of pests and their susceptible crops. I learned to properly inspect plants for pests and record findings. I monitored pest and beneficial insect populations. I learned about defining the action thresholds and injury levels. I gained experience with pest prevention using many cultural, physical, and conservative biocontrol methods. When choosing control methods, I learned which least toxic courses of action are most practical to maintain the health and beauty of specific crops. I gained a greater understanding of pest and beneficial insect life cycles and population fluctuations. I chose and ordered beneficial insects weekly from BioBest. I learned about many biological controls, and how to store, handle, and apply them.

The most reassuring thing that I learned during my internship is that, since its implementation, the Phipps IPM program has been successful. By analyzing the pesticide log data, the Phipps’ IPM specialist and I found that within the past 10 years Phipps IPM has reduced its pesticide use by about 10 times. Staff that experienced the transition noticed a drastic reduction in pest pressure, as well as better plant health.

I enjoyed engaging the public, planning and leading informal education. I maintained the butterfly and honeybee displays and worked with volunteers. I taught guests about the butterfly’s life cycles and the importance of honeybees. I planned and led a ladybug and aphid and a molting activity with the summer camp groups. I researched beneficial garden insects and gave 30 minute PowerPoint presentation for an adult education class, discussing the importance of garden biodiversity, identification, conservation and augmentation biological control.

I took many classes and attended conferences addressing the Sentinel Plant Network, diagnosing plant problems, natives, perennials, unusual plants, edible and sustainable landscapes, and Chinese and Japanese gardens. From these experiences, I met local gardeners, bee keepers, business owners, and instructors. I was introduced to valuable grower resources like “Ornaent” the Colorado State University mailing list, AERGC, Ray Cloyd PhD. etc. I gained some insight into the IPM industry by speaking to BioBest Eastern US representative, Doug Barrow. The most valuable aspect of the internship was Phipps’ experienced staff, who were always happy to answer questions.

I plan to put my valuable foundation of IPM knowledge, skills, and resources to good use. My dream is to own and operate a sustainable horticultural business and educate the public about permaculture, edible, ecological gardening. I’m currently searching for interesting grower positions and graduate school options.

Again, thank you for this wonderful career and educational experience. I loved every minute of it.
Caroline Hooks


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