Failing to plan is a plan to fail. You’ve all heard various renditions of that phrase. Sure, it’s kind of trite and old-fashioned, but it remains true today. A pest calendar is one of the best ways to plan for the future. Because horticultural pests have a way of repeating themselves, the three-step protocol of looking backward to gather information, considering current weather trends and planning pest control with a calendar is a sound approach for next year’s potential problems.

A pest calendar will be helpful when scheduling pest control applications, both from an equipment and labor standpoint. If the calendar shows a large number of expected pests in a certain time frame, more workers can be scheduled to accomplish the work. Additionally, as you look ahead to future months, determining the quantity of various fungicides, insecticides and herbicides is easier to accomplish than if not well documented.

Gather the troops

Think about pest control treatments you made and when you made them. Think about outbreaks of pests. Recall pest control failures and control successes. Think back to the products that were used. This information is the basis of a pest control calendar; organize it into a usable tool to look ahead to 2011 and beyond.

As with many things, it’s best not to rely completely on your memory for the details of when and where. Use weekly inspection notes from previous years to supplement your recollections, as well as holding at least one meeting of the work crew to gather information.

One approach is to use their competitive nature by playing “brain drain” with the workers. Here’s how it works. Assemble about 10 workers and divide them into two teams. Instruct them to put their thinking caps on and ask them to think back to the pest problems of 2009 and 2010. Ask them to designate a recorder, someone to write down all the answers. Offer to reward the winning team with something that they would really like, such as a pizza party, a day off to play golf or the like. Then, sit back and watch the magic happen. The winning team is the one that provides the most answers.

Don’t worry about nonsensical or incorrect answers, you can toss them out later. In a way, it’s much like a sales project where the salesman has to make 10 calls before he makes one sale. Brain drain is a worthy activity because it’s not nearly as time-consuming as performing it as a solo project. After you have the complete list, all you have to do is sort out the pest problems that didn’t happen or weren’t nearly as bad as reported. In the midst of the multitude of answers will be several pest outbreaks that you probably would have forgotten if you didn’t play the game, plus it’s a kind of group activity for your workforce, and that has value in itself.

Once you’ve gathered all the recollections and data, categorize it into four groups of pests. To make sure you don’t leave out important information, include expected or possible pests in both ornamentals and turf.

Insects

The most obvious ones to note are the common turf and ornamental insects. For turf, white grubs, billbugs, mole crickets, armyworms and sod webworms. For ornamentals, scale, borers, spider mites (not a true insect, but function the same), cankerworms, Japanese beetles and aphids. Supplement these common insects with others that have caused damage, whether you actually treated them or not; simply having them written on the calendar will be useful when managing the facility in 2011.

Diseases

Common turf diseases of sports turf include bipolaris leaf spot, summer patch, brown patch, stem rust, anthracnose and Pythium blight. Look closely at the raw observations for occasional diseases such as stripe smut and ascochyta leaf blight, as well. Ornamental diseases to note are black spot of rose, anthracnose of various species, stem cankers, needlecast diseases of conifers, apple scab, cedar apple rust and powdery mildew.

Weeds

In addition to the recollections of your staff, use weed maps that have been drawn of the hot spots for weeds on the field. If you don’t have one, create one. Every field should have at least one area that is designated as an area to be watched for future weed problems. Some of the most annoying weeds can be found in the most compacted or heavily used portions of sports fields, such as the goalmouths for soccer and between the hash marks and 20-yard lines in football. Weeds, such as prostrate knotweed and goosegrass, are common in these locations, as they are adapted to growing under conditions of compressed soil particles and low oxygen levels.

Other

A “catchall” category can be useful along with the main three. Miscellaneous pests should be documented in this category, including problems such as moss, spiders, geese, etc. The goal is to be as inclusive as possible.

Add a cultural practices section

Various cultural practices have a major influence on the number and severity of pest problems. These need to be scheduled; timing is just as important with them as it is for pesticide applications. For example, core aeration is a common practice that leads to improved drainage of the field mix and subsequently, reduced infestations of crown and root diseases, such as summer patch and anthracnose.

Common practices can prevent pests in the ornamental landscape, as well as the recreational surfaces. Pruning is a practice that removes diseased or damaged wood from shrubs and trees. Tissue of this type is quite susceptible to pests such as cankers and borers. Regular inspection of ornamental plants and usage of proper pruning techniques is crucial to their success in the facility landscape.

Put it all together

Overlap the five groups—the three major pest groups, the “others” and the cultural practices—and combine them into one by using a calendar large enough to allow for all the entries. Desktop planners offer a good starting point.

Transfer the information for each month to a dry-erase board large enough to display at least two months worth of notes. Install the board in the workshop/equipment room/break room so that workers can see which pests need to be dealt with in the near future, and which projects are likely to be assigned soon. Doing so keeps everyone focused on the important issues and on the same page in terms of treatment. The board need not be complicated; in fact, the simpler the better. A master pest calendar can be maintained elsewhere to prevent lost information due to unintended erasure.

Fine-tune it

As the calendar is assembled, it’s quite possible that large volumes of information may be present. Fine-tune the presentation and organization of the calendar by considering the use of various strategies to help bring clarity and a user-friendly feel to it. For example, use different colors of ink to designate different pests or notes about the outbreaks that occurred in the past few years. Certainly, the notes in each month about scheduled cultural practices need to be clearly highlighted and distinct from the pests.

Keep it flexible

One of the advantages of using an instrument such as a dry-erase board is that it’s inherently flexible. When necessary, entries can be easily erased and corrected or updated with new information about timing or the choice of a pest control agent. As new products are introduced that have potential to replace current materials, the timing of application or reapplication is an important consideration. For example, the advent of Merit insecticide caused a major shift in the timing of treatments for white grubs. Whatever device you choose to utilize, make sure that it can facilitate changes or new directives from government or upper management.