1. Establishing biological control agents in the field is a major step in any classical biocontrol programme, yet there are few general guidelines to help the practitioner decide what factors might enhance the establishment of such agents.
2. A stochastic dynamic programming (SDP) approach, linked to a metapopulation model, was used to find optimal release strategies (number and size of releases), given constraints on time and the number of biocontrol agents available. By modelling within a decision‐making framework we derived rules of thumb that will enable biocontrol workers to choose between management options, depending on the current state of the system.
3. When there are few well‐established sites, making a few large releases is the optimal strategy. For other states of the system, the optimal strategy ranges from a few large releases, through a mixed strategy (a variety of release sizes), to many small releases, as the probability of establishment of smaller inocula increases.
4. Given that the probability of establishment is rarely a known entity, we also strongly recommend a mixed strategy in the early stages of a release programme, to accelerate learning and improve the chances of finding the optimal approach.