July 13, 2012
Getting Insect Pests to Bug Off
How to minimize insect pest problems in
your yard and home
by Debra Firmani
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
- 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.
Create a sanctuary
Enjoy the company of your wild neighbors in your own yard. Every day, more and more wildlife habitat is lost to the spread of development. But you can help wild animals in urban and suburban areas by offering them sanctuary in your own backyard (or front yard, roof-top garden, or deck), no matter how small. Learn how to turn your green space into an Urban Wildlife Sanctuary.
Debra Firmani is a writer and long-time advocate for animals and nature. Her articles on wildlife, wild lands, backyard habitat creation, and nature education have appeared in print and online.