Summer is here and that means one thing: bugs. From ants and flies, to fleas and ticks, to bees and wasps, nothing can ruin your summer more than pests invading your turf. Remember, it’s not really your turf – it’s theirs. While we need to safeguard ourselves from the diseases that bugs can spread, we should keep in mind that pesticides not only hurt our families and lawns, but are contributing to the demise of pollinators – and when they are gone, we will no longer be able to grow food. How can you keep yourself, your family and the earth safe while avoiding pests this summer? Here is a list of top tips for natural pest control to keep the bugs away without spreading poisonous toxins.
If you’ve never had fleas before, count your blessings. These tiny pests get in on your pet and exponentially reproduce – you can go from two fleas to thousands in just a few days. Not only that, but fleas are great at adapting to their environment, so using chemicals that can be toxic to your family or pet may not be effective. This is why people who get flea infestations often need to reapply the chemicals or get stronger ones to eliminate the fleas. The key here is prevention, which is honestly the best form of natural pest control. If you have a pet, keep him clean and groomed – fleas thrive in dry skin. Maintain healthy nutrition for your pet, too, to keep his coat glossy and his skin moisturized. Next, keep your lawn short and groomed and be careful with shady damp areas where fleas thrive. Check everyone – pets and family – after playing outside if you suspect fleas and have them leave their shoes outside. If you do get an infestation, the Healthy Home Economist recommends using food grade diatomaceous earth – but be careful, inhaling it can be an irritant if breathed in. Read all her tips at Natural, Nontoxic Flea Infestation Solutions for Home and Pets.
Ticks are a big problem and their populations are growing. It’s not just a concern for those of us with pets, it’s also a problem among the native animals, such as deer population. These pests can carry Lyme Disease, which can lead to encephalitis and Parkinson’s, as well as other diseases, so keep your family safe by avoiding them. Again, check your family and pets when they come inside, especially if you here about an increase in local tick activity. Our own Joanna Liberty has written a definitive guide on how to take care of ticks in “Less Toxic Ways to Kill Ticks and Control Their Population.”
For those of us letting our lawns go natural or flowering with clover, we are doing a service to the ecosystem but we are also attracting plenty of bees! Bee stings are extremely painful and, for those who are allergic, can be deadly. While “I won’t bother you if you don’t bother me” is a great policy, bees tend to float around – or “bumble”, if you’ll pardon the pun – in a way that makes them hard to avoid. Help bees to avoid your family by planting bee-attracting plants in one corner or side of your yard, and keeping everything else as far away as possible. Your best choices are indigenous plants – that is, plants that are local to your area – and flowers. Lavender and sunflower are some great suggestions. Also, ask your local organic garden supply shop what is a good fit in your region. You will want to plant a variety of plants, but not too many – you don’t want to attract every bee, just pull the bees you already have into one area. About.com has an extensive plant list guide for attracting bees.
A friend of mine told me that wasps are no problem because you can make a decoy wasp nest, my favorite natural pest control tip. Because wasps are territorial, they see this as a threat and will stay away. You can buy these for a few dollars, or make one for yourself. This DIY wasp nest decoy tutorial proved effective for blog owner, Jen, as long as you hang them upside down. Simple to make, wasp nest decoys are also a great way to recycle paper bags, newspaper and plastic bags!
Fruit Flies and Flies
Flies are not the most dangerous pests, but they can carry disease and they can nest in unusual places your home. Last year, we had them set up shop in our garbage disposal! Remember to keep your door closed and make sure you have screens on your window to prevent them from coming into the house. Regularly clean out outdoors garbage pails and keep them tightly secured to discourage flies from setting up shop in old garbage. Lori Popkewitz Alper of Green Groovy Livin’TM recommends making a trap for fruit flies: “Use a funnel or a piece of paper rolled into a cone shape for the trap (rolled paper worked well for me). Place a small amount of apple cider vinegar or wine in a glass. Place the cone or funnel inside the glass. The fruit flies will fly into the cone and won’t be able to exit.” Read more of her tips in her article, Non-Toxic Natural Pest Control.
Ants are a nuisance because once you have them, they are hard to get rid of – and even a single crumb on your counter will draw them out. The problem with ants is there is no one solution. I was told to try cayenne and cinnamon, neither of those deterred my ants at all. Remember that these solutions can reroute them, but do not get rid of them. I’ve also read that vinegar is effective. The only way to get eliminate the colony is to kill the queen. We tried many things but were happy to finally rid ourselves of them – without a return – this year. We stopped up all the holes they managed to climb through (like outlet covers) with a sugar/borax mixture on a paper towel. The trick is plenty of sugar and a tiny bit of Borax. More ants came out after that, but in a few weeks, they disappeared, and I suspect they tracked the Borax back to the queen. Here is a great article on Nature Mom’s Blog on how to get rid of ants with natural pest control.
The best way to get rid of mosquitos is not to attract them in the first place. Make sure you drain out standing water every night in mosquito season. If you have kids, don’t just check after it rains, do so after they play outside – my kids always manage to create puddles and pools of water everywhere. Remember to dump out kiddie pools, too. But I really love this tip to repel mosquitos with natural pest control: plants! Pretty up your yard and keep bugs away – this is by far the most attractive form of natural pest control! Anna Hackman of Green Talk recommends lavender, and Lori Alper recommends catnip, basil and citronella plants which naturally repel mosquitos.
Natural Pest Control and Organic Bug Repellent
If you’re still having issues with a few of these bugs, you may want to reach for bug repellant. Most common off-the-shelf brands are filled with toxic chemicals and many contain DEET. Although the EPA claims that DEET is safe for use for adults and children, they have a long list of care you need to take when using it on their website. While DEET can cause skin reactions, it is also now being studied as a possible neurotoxin – that is, a chemical that can kill or disrupt the neurons in your brain and wreak havoc on your central nervous system. Rather than use these harsh and dangerous chemicals on your skin, try some natural pest control to rid yourself of bugs. Jenny of Conscientious Confusion has a recipe for Essential Oil Bug Repellant. Hippy Homemaker has a DIY flea & tick repellant recipe for dogs ONLY (essential oils can be toxic to cats). If you’d like something pre-made, you can use Dr. Mercola’s Bug Spray – recommended by my own pediatrician!
What tips do you have for eliminating these fair-weather pests using natural pest control?