Unwanted Guests

Natural Ways to Show Insect Pests the Way Out

When one or two insects visit your home, they seem like obnoxious guests. And when an invasion occurs, your first reaction may be to call the exterminator or spray something noxious. But insect infestations aren’t always as bad as they seem, and there are numerous options that don’t involve the purchase of toxic pesticides.

Integrated Pest Management, or IPM, is a holistic approach to treating and controlling pests without pesticides that has become very popular nationwide. And with good reason. According to Dr. Michael Hansen of the Consumer’s Union, pesticides pose significant health risks to you, your pets and the environment. “Consumers use more than 73 million pounds of pesticides in and around their homes each year,” Hansen says, “with pesticides (including insecticides, rodenticides, fungicides, and herbicides) being linked to headaches, dizziness, nausea, short-term memory loss, pneumonia, and chemical hepatitis in humans.”

Biological Controls

Beneficial insects naturally prey on the species we consider pests. Increasing beneficial insect numbers in your yard not only encourages healthy soil and pollination, but reduces the need for chemical pesticide applications. Beneficial insects can be lured by “houses”(ladybug shelters) or by specific plants which attract “the good guys.” Plants in the parsley and sunflower families are good attractors, including chamomile, asters, dandelions, marigolds, alyssum, mint, ivy, white clover, sunflowers and most culinary herbs. These plants attract lacewings, ladybugs, bees, parasitic nematodes and wasps and spiders—your allies in pest control. Beneficials can also be ordered from natural gardening suppliers like Gardens Alive!, Gardeners Supply and Nature’s Control.

Beneficial nematodes are another excellent option for decreasing pesticide dependency. These microscopic worms parasitize and consume pest larvae. Ordered from gardening suppliers like Arbico Environmentals, nematodes are purchased according to the problem species.

Bat houses are another excellent investment, for bats pollinate while consuming 3000 insects per night, and love mosquitos and other pests.

Ants, Flies and Fleas

Boric acid powders, (like Borax, Bushwhacker, and Roach-Prufe) are safe and effective in ant control—just keep large quantities away from companion animals. Silica gels (like Dri-Die) and Diatomaceous Earth (DE) also work well. DE is fossilized algae which dries out insects and larvae and is low in toxicity.

House and fruit flies are attracted to the indoors because of food. Don’t leave food out, and invest in tightly-sealed compost buckets and garbage cans. For fruit flies, you can purchase traps which are pre-baited ($12 for two) from garden suppliers or hardware stores.

Because conventional flea products for animals are highly toxic and poison hundreds of animals each year, avoid their use by giving companion animals brewer’s yeast or garlic (Yeast and Garlic Bits) as a preventative measure—fleas don’t like the odor. Bathe animals with an herbal soap like Flea Stop Plus or Safer’s Flea Soap. Flea-comb your animals often with special metal-teethed combs, available from pet supply stores.

Pyrethrums (extract of chrysanthemum) can also be sprayed on animals’ bedding and carpets. Popular brands include Buhach and Safer’s Pet and Premise. Pyrethrums cause fleas to have spastic attacks, making them fall to the floor, where they are easier to retrieve with the vacuum.

Parasitic nematodes like Bio-Flea and Nature Gard for Fleas attack flea larvae, and are very effective outdoors. And as an alternative to highly toxic flea collars like Sargeant’s and Haartz, try Natural Animal, Solid Gold, Nature’s Best, or Nature’s Way herbal collars, which use tick- and flew-repelling oils.

Roaches, Termites and Mosquitoes

Buhach or DE can be applied to crevices and under appliances where roaches hang out (but keep away from pets). Bio-Path uses naturally-occurring fungal organisms to infect roaches which visit the fungal “station,” later parasitizing the entire colony. Woodstream, a popular pest trap maker, has also introduced the Victor pheromone trap. Three times more effective than regular roach stations, pheromone traps produce scents which strongly attract roaches to the stations, where they are captured by glue.

For termites, many exterminators now use heat, electricity (the Electro-Gun), or cold to kill colonies, and have been proven to be safe and competent. A new product, BioBlast, is an effectual fungal parasite for both drywood and subterranean termites. Pyrethum sprays and DE are also effective if the colony can be located and directly sprayed.

As far as repellents go, most are extremely toxic, such as DEET formulas like DeepWoods OFF!, Skintastic and other popular varieties. Competent non-DEET versions include Natrapel and Skin-So-Soft, which many a hiker will swear by.

Mosquitos breed in stagnant water, so drain standing waters (tires, barrels, gutters) and apply mosquito dunks (which contain Bt, a parasitic bacterium) to remaining water. Nematodes and Bt powders can also be applied to the yard.

Also remember a clean home is the best safeguard to stop natural intruders. Keep insect breeding grounds like stagnant water and woodpiles away from the house, and fix leaky faucets and drains. Seal cracks and crevices, keeping insects from coming in and going out. And above all, don’t obliterate every insect you encounter—determine which groups are causing harm, and eliminate only the really bad pests.