Philadelphia Greenhouse Now Pesticide Free

Posted: August 1, 2011

UNIVERISTY PARK, Pa. – Over a year ago, the Horticulture Center at Fairmont Park in Philadelphia phased out all pesticide use in its greenhouse by using integrated pest management.

Integrated pest management (IPM), aims to manage pests -- such as insects, diseases, weeds and animals -- by combining physical, biological and chemical tactics that are safe, profitable and environmentally compatible.

The Horticulture Center was built in 1976 and includes a greenhouse, many types of flowers and trees, a small pond, a creek and a wetland. According to Michael O’Brien, horticulture center supervisor, pesticides were used routinely in the greenhouse for years, with mixed results. “Whiteflies, aphids, spider mites, mealy bugs, fungus gnats and roaches were becoming immune to the pesticides, and the greenhouse was becoming infested,” he explains. “I was also concerned about exposing children and hypersensitive people to pesticides, so I started looking into alternatives.”
O’Brien compared costs and researched the benefits switching to an IPM program, but the center’s director was only convinced when they began hosting receptions at the center. Pesticides had been stored near the kitchen at the center and needed to be moved to another building. “That meant expensive renovations to a nearby structure and paying our staff overtime for additional pesticide sprays to get the greenhouse ready for events. Suddenly IPM seemed a lot less expensive,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien began working with Cathy Thomas, Pennsylvania IPM coordinator and greenhouse IPM specialist and the Penn State Cooperative Extension office in Philadelphia to establish a program. “We got rid of some the pest host plants and brought in pest resistant plants and beneficial insects such as wasps and boric acid to control cockroaches,” O’Brien explained. “One last problem we had was during the fall and winter were mice that would make their way indoors to the warmth of the greenhouse. I adopted a wild cat and tamed him to be friendly to humans but also keep away from crowds. I would let the cat stay in overnight three to four days a week from fall to spring to catch these critters with great success.”

Over all, O’Brien says the greenhouse plants are doing great without the use of any pesticides, which makes the environment safer for visitors and also for special events where food is served without roaches eating first. And O’Brien is saving the center money, the IPM program costs just over half what he used to spend annually in pesticides. O’Brien is thrilled with the program. “IPM is so much easier to implement, and takes less time as well.”

For more information on greenhouse IPM, go to PA IPM’s greenhouse IPM web page at
The Pennsylvania IPM program is a collaboration between the Pennsylvania State University and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture aimed at promoting integrated pest management in both agricultural and urban situations. For more information, contact the program at (814) 865-2839, or Web site at to access the program’s blog, Twitter and Facebook pages.