Bug Off!

Whether in the garden, in the home, or during picnics and BBQs, spring and summer may bring unwanted pests in addition to the warm weather. Americans spend millions of dollars to use millions of pounds of pesticides each year to try to rid themselves of pests, killing innocent birds and other animals and affecting human health in the process. Meanwhile, only around 5-15% of bugs in the yard are pests. Some, like ladybugs and praying mantises, help control other, less desirable, bugs, and others (honeybees, for example) pollinate plants to grow the food we eat.

The EPA recommends using what it calls Integrated Pest Management, which progresses through using physical barriers, to biological controls, and then the least toxic chemicals possible to manage pest infestations. This means to start with things like traps, barriers, and fabric covers in the yard, and to seal off entryways to your home by caulking cracks and crevices, often around cabinets or baseboards. Aside from sealing off potential pest entrances, also be sure to seal food containers tightly, clean your home thoroughly, and frequently remove trash. Moisture is attractive to many bugs, so fix any leaky plumbing and look for moist areas, such as under houseplants.

Plants appropriate to our climate and proper watering will help keep insects away, but also consider attracting birds and insects who will eat the pests: ladybugs and lacewings, who eat aphids, are sold for this purpose. Consider a small birdbath or birdfeeder to attract birds (but make sure to change the water often so as not to also attract mosquitoes!). Certain plants will help you attract the right bugs: dill and fennel may attract lacewings and coriander and marigold attract ladybugs. Plants in the carrot family and mint family are also useful in attracting enemies of garden pests.

In the garden, small bug problems can be solved by removing the bugs by hand, spraying them with a blast from the hose, or sucking them up with a vacuum. Planting pungent herbs, such as garlic, may also deter certain pests. Pheromone traps exist for a variety of bugs, and are species-specific. These traps attract the insects and trap them, but may lure more insects to your yard, so do not place them directly in the garden. Sticky traps are also available, with different colors to attract different insects.

There are many simple things to do and concoctions to make at home to help rid yourself of pests:

For ANTS, soapy water or citrus oil and water will kill them. They also dislike cinnamon and cayenne pepper, so putting either of these near an entry point may deter them.

For MOTHS, clean and vacuum frequently. Extreme heat and cold can kill the larvae, so put infested clothes in the dryer, or place in the freezer for a few days. Moths dislike lavender and vanilla, as well as cedar, so sachets of these in closets and drawers may help as well.

For ROACHES, keep the kitchen clean, fix any leaks, use sticky traps with pheromones, and seal any cracks in your home.

For MOSQUITOES, remove stagnant water. Use essential oils like rosemary, lemon eucalyptus, lemongrass, cedarwood, citronella, lavender, and tea tree oils to mask your scent. Use only a few drops in a small spritzer bottle of water and apply frequently (but do not spray your face). Rather than make your own, you can also purchase natural repellents from makers such as Burt's Bees (http://www.burtsbees.com).

For TICKS or FLEAS, rosemary is a repellent that you can use on your pets - add 1/2 cup of rosemary to a quart of boiling water, boil for 20 minutes, strain, and cool, wash and dry your pet, then spray with the solution and allow to air dry. You can also use citrus peels, but should not use such a mixture on cats, as it may be toxic to them.

If all else fails, and you do get bit or stung, there are natural ways to treat them. Applying a paste of baking soda and water will help neutralize the venom, and lavender essential oil can help with the itch and/or sting.

Read More on Conservation Corner
Volume 4, Issue 10, Posted 8:08 PM, 05.04.2008