More than 15,000 different kinds of plants grow in NYBG’s glasshouses, gardens, collections, and seasonal displays. In a leisurely late summer afternoon, a visitor can enjoy the glossy foliage and bright pink flowers of Cavendishia grandifolia (a rare blueberry relative from the Andes) growing in the Montane Tropical Rainforest Galleries of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory; luxuriate in the shade of a 300-year-old white oak in the old-growth Thain Family Forest; and find their favorite of the dozens of dahlia cultivars on display in the Pauline Gillespie Gossett Plant Trial Beds in the Home Gardening Center. While all of this diversity makes NYBG the perfect place to celebrate the magic of the Plant Kingdom, it also presents a particular set of challenges for the horticulturists who care for the Garden’s plants.
To keep the Garden’s diverse plant collections healthy, NYBG horticulturists must be on constant lookout for the similarly diverse suite of insects, diseases, and weeds that makes the Garden home. When we find a problem, we employ the principles of integrated pest management (IPM) to address it. Quite simply, IPM stresses knowledge of the plants and the pests that afflict them—vigilantly monitoring to find problems while they can still be solved; using the least toxic means of addressing a problem once it has been identified; and evaluating the results of whatever approach has been chosen to promote plant health.
More often than not, the means of solving a problem with plant health at NYBG are cultural rather than chemical. Most plants can fight off insects or disease if grown in healthy soil and sited, irrigated, and fertilized properly. If improving cultural conditions does not address the plant health concern, then Garden horticulturists have an array of options at their disposal, including releasing natural predators such as lady bird beetles, applying a “tea” made from compost and other natural products, or, as a last resort, using the least toxic product available to address the specific problem.
That most visitors to NYBG are unaware of the complex give and take between the Garden’s plant collections and the pests and diseases that impact them is a credit to the efficacy of integrated pest management, and proof that one does not need to spray indiscriminately to have a healthy and beautiful garden.