by Aliya Hall

As a child growing up in Baltimore, MD, Gail Langellotto was always interested in science. When she took a part-time job in undergrad with an entomologist, her love for insects was sparked. She liked that insects offered her an opportunity to study science outside, and due to popular demand, she began to study insect pests.

Now a professor of horticulture at Oregon State University and the state coordinator at the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program, Langellotto helps growers manage their pests with the ideology of Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

“Integrated pest management is the idea that there are multiple approaches to control pests,” she said. “Don’t just use chemical controls as your only tools.”

She explained that during the Green Revolution in the 1950s, chemical controls were cheaper and more commonly used. The goal now, instead of blanket spraying on regular calendar days, is to monitor pests to see when spraying is actually needed.

“Take time to identify what the pest is, so you can choose the best tool to combat that pest, and consider all options,” she said.

Langellotto said beyond chemical sprays, there are natural, biological controls or horticultural practices that can help keep pests at bay. “Don’t base your entire pest control program on pesticides,” she advised.

There are multiple benefits of IPM, Langellotto said. Limiting the use of pesticides and choosing an appropriate pesticide for the pest delays pests from developing a resistance to the pesticide. Another concern is pesticides killing insects that horticulturists weren’t intending on targeting.

“It’s hard to match the marketing message they might see on a label,” she said. “Some products may say ‘Kills 100 different insects on contact.’ You might think that message is great – ‘It’s going to kill everything I want to kill!’ But it could harm bees or butterflies that you don’t want to harm, and maybe it’s not the best choice.”

She added it takes time to learn how to apply targeted controls to specific pests.

Langellotto also offers courses in pesticide safety, because along with protecting harmless insects, there is concern for other innocent parties.

“We want to make sure people use tools responsibly so they’re not going to harm themselves, neighbors, pets and family members,” she said. “Understanding that herbicide products, if used on a warm day, could drift off the property and harm neighbors’ plants. Just really simple things, so people are armed with the knowledge they need to choose pesticides responsibly and safely.”

Times and attitudes have changed since the Green Revolution, because now horticulturalists are preferring a diverse system that creates a natural pest control over a monoculture, Langellotto said. One of the biggest misconceptions she faces is that not all insects are pests.

“Spiders are a great natural control,” she said. “It’s positive to see people change perspective of hating insects and wanting a garden free of them to realize that it’s a biological dead-zone and you don’t want that.”

Langellotto’s latest research departs from pests to focus on protecting pollinators and how farmers can take part in that mission. Her department has documented 36 species of bees in western Oregon farms, but she suspects there are closer to 50 species. She is also working in tandem with studying native plant species, to see what pollinators, pests and predators they attract. “Farmers trying to attract pollinators and plant flowering strips can make the decision by weighing the potential pests they’ll attract,” she explained.

Between helping growers manage their pest problems in a way that’s safe to the environment and helping re-establish pollinators, Langellotto said it’s an exciting time to work in her field.