Got Pests!? Identifying and Controlling Pests in Alaska using Integrated Pest Management Techniques

By Glenna Gannon, Alaska Master Gardener Teaching Assistant

Have you ever planted your beautifully pampered seedlings only to wake the next day and find them riddled with holes? This year that is exactly what happened to me. I noticed a smattering of holes all over my pak choi especially, and arugula to a lesser extent.

Step 1: Identify your pest

When we find that our precious vegetables starts that we have nursed along through the Alaskan spring are attacked before they have a chance to thrive, it is easy to feel a bit demoralized. The good news is there are plenty of Alaska specific pest management resources that are widely available and free here.

Pak choi under attack!

The first step in managing a problem or a pest is to identify who or what the culprit is. This can be done by carefully inspecting your plants individually, often times it is hard to see what is causing the damage, so a close inspection is imperative. Take notes, if you have specific field notes, it will be easier to determine what symptoms belong to abiotic or biotic problems or pests. It is also a good idea to take pictures of the damage and of the pest if possible. This will be useful in identification.

Step 2: Consult and Research

Now that you have documented your pest or problem, you can do a couple of things. The first may be to consult your library of gardening books to see if there is any mention of a species or abiotic cause that produces symptoms similar to what you are seeing in your garden. A few of my personal favorites are The Alaska Gardening Guide, by Ann D. Roberts, and The Vegetable Gardeners Bible, by Edward C. Smith.

The Culprit: Flea Beetles, small  jumping beetles of the Chrysomelidae family.

Another option that is available to Alaskans is the Cooperative Extension Services’ Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. Integrated Pest Management is a commonsense approach to the management of pest problems with minimal impact on human health, the environment and non-target organisms. This approach focuses on the biology of pests and their relationship to the environment. The first step in an IPM program is to identify any organism in question, and to completely investigate the situation. IPM is not a single pest control method but, rather, a series of pest management evaluations, decisions and controls. You can find out more about the IPM program, as well as find contact information for IMP specialists at:

Services that are available through the IPM program include: Evaluation and identification of insects, plant and disease specimens. Recommendation of IPM control options to reduce pest problems. And, site visits to examine tree disorders and invasive plants in the field (location dependent).

Step 3: Implement Control Technique

Depending on how you go about identifying your problem, your control techniques may be varied. For example, if you don’t have a confirmed ID on your pest or problem, you may do some trial and error control methods before your see results. Another go-to tactic is proper Cultural management of your garden, properly watering and placing the plant in proper location to reduce stress will greatly reduce your crops susceptibility to pests and problems.

If you do get a positive ID on your pest or problem, you can go about implementing the recommended control technique, and documenting the results. Keep in mind you may not see immediate results, especially when using organic control techniques.

Step 4: Evaluating Results

Once you have implemented your control technique, it is important to continue to monitor your plants to ensure that your strategy worked sufficiently. Keeping notes may be beneficial for future reference. Another reason to keep monitoring your crops if you are working with the IPM Program is that they often utilize information, photos, and observations recorded by you, Citizen Scientists, to aid their program and State wide database. Volunteer citizen scientists may be given opportunities to receive training from a variety of experts on a multitude of topics regarding IPM. You can learn more about this program, and submitting your photographs for identification here:


So back to the attack on my pak choi, I successfully identified my culprit, the flea beetle, through a number of gardening references including the aforementioned books and by using the Google Extension Search. This search engine exclusively searches Extension sites nationwide so you know that the information is research-based. I found a number of control techniques recommended, and decided to start with one that I a.) had on hand, and b.) was organic, and the least harmful to myself and other garden inhabitants. I started with a Neem oil spray on the foliage of my plants, and covered my upcoming seedlings with row covers to prevent further damage. Much of the literature I consulted regarding control of this pest recommended the use of a ‘trap crop’. Effectively  that is what my pak choi is, as the beetles don’t seem that interested in many of the other plants surrounding them. I am currently in stage one of controlling these pests. It seems to be keeping the problem down to a tolerable level, however if I notice a new infestation, I will be applying beneficial nematodes to the garden, and potentially applying Diatomaceous earth to better manage the beetles.

Neem Oil is an effective pest control, you can also buy agricultural grade.

About Heidi Rader

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