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July 13, 2012

Getting Insect Pests to Bug Off

How to minimize insect pest problems in
your yard and home

  • Black carpenter ants make themselves at home (sometimes by the thousand) in wood, under insulation, and in spaces within walls. iStockphoto.com

  • House flies may transmit disease; prevent infestations by keeping your home clean. iStockphoto.com

  • Yellowjackets—both Eastern and Western species—are attracted to picnics and sweet beverages. iStockphoto.com

  • The animal most responsible for spreading Lyme disease, deer (or black-legged) ticks can wait years for a snack. Hardin MD/University of Iowa and CDC

  • You probably won't know you have cothes moths until you find they've been nibbling on woolens and other fabrics. Clemson University, USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org

  • Abundant and diverse, aphids are both diners—on crops—and dinner—for many other insects. iStockphoto.com

There are hundreds of thousands of kinds of insects, but you'll probably run across only a tiny fraction of them in your lifetime. And an even smaller fraction will give you headaches.

If an insect does bug you, you don't have to reach for a pesticide—the damage caused by such poisons can be worse than the initial problem. But you don't have to surrender, either.

We have some suggestions for making your yard and home less attractive to pesty insects, along with tips for keeping them from putting the bite on you, without dousing yourself with DEET.

Around the yard

  • Mow grass to a height of 3-4 inches and keep the mower blade sharpened
  • Help your lawn stay pest-resistant by watering deeply and only when needed
  • Move wood or brushpiles away from your house and elevate woodpiles off the ground
  • Clear away litter, garbage, and pet waste
  • Attract insect-eating birds to your yard by providing native trees and other plants, water, and cover
  • Encourage beneficial insects to help control pest species
  • Clean out birdbaths every other day to prevent mosquito larvae from hatching
  • Keep gutters clean and eliminate or overturn objects in your yard that might collect water
  • Grow lemon balm, a natural insect repellent
  • Plant fleabane—a tall, daisy-like plant with violet blossoms—to deter fleas
  • Hose plants down to rid them of pests, rather than spray them with pesticides

In your home

  • Keep counters wiped clean, foods sealed tightly, and the sink emptied of water
  • Battle fleas and cockroaches by cleaning and vacuuming often and thoroughly
  • Spray ants, fleas, or cockroaches inside your house with a mixture of soap and water
  • Put tea bags with mint leaves in spots where ants are active
  • Make moth-repelling sachets of bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, eucalyptus leaves, lavender, or peppercorns to place in closets and drawers

On you

  • Remember that dawn, dusk, and early evening are peak times for mosquitoes to feed
  • Check the mosquito forecast when you have concerns
  • Ward off biting flies, mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, and fleas with picaridin bug sprays or towelettes
  • Apply lemon eucalyptus oil directly or mix it with lotion or sunscreen. Wash it off with soap and water when you go inside.
  • Wear long sleeves, long pants, and socks when outside at peak mosquito times
  • Wear light colors and tuck socks into your pants cuffs when hiking in areas with ticks
  • Check yourself for ticks as you leave the natural area and again when you undress
  • Place your clothes in a dryer set on high for 20 minutes to kill ticks you may not have noticed

One bad apple

Not unlike people, some insects have more winning personalities than others, but that does not necessarily make them bad, or invaluable. Take a few minutes to become better acquainted with the insects who might be worth keeping around.

Learn more

Intrigued? Browse this list of books and websites to learn more about your smallest wild neighbors.

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