Safely Control BACKYARD Insect Pests
Just when we want to spend more time outdoors in our own backyards enjoying the long summer days, inevitably that is also when pests of the insect persuasion, make being outside a challenge. Beside the irritation factor, both physical and mental, when it comes to backyard insect predators, there are also serious health concerns related to some of the common perpetrators such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain fever carried by ticks, and West Nile Virus and encephalitis carried by mosquitoes. For the comfort, safety and enjoyment of family time outdoors, it’s imperative that we understand the options we have to control insect pests outside our homes, using common sense, nature and appropriate commercial products.
Okay, we want to get rid of those pesky insects, but we also want to do that in a safe manner that won’t harm our family members, pets or the natural environment. So where do we turn to get reliable advice about our treatment choices. Well-Being turned to The Mississippi State University Extension Service, Entomology Department for help.
According to Dr. Blake Layton, Extension Service Entomology Specialist, we have more safe products available today, than any time throughout his entomology career.
“Over the past 30 – 40 years, the EPA has weeded out the insecticides that were most toxic for mammals and birds, by banning their use,” explains Dr. Layton. “This doesn’t mean that any chemical insecticide should not be treated with extreme respect and caution. The key to safe use of insecticides around the home requires that you follow some simple, yet very important guidelines.”
1) First identify the insect pest you need to control and seek products that are designed specifically for that purpose.
2) Know the active ingredient of the product you use. That is more important than brand names that might change or not be available where you shop.
3) Read the product label and follow all instructions carefully.
4) Apply only as needed and as directed, and always use the correct rate of application for the coverage desired.
5) Know the appropriate re-entry period. In other words, the amount of time you should wait before re-entering or allowing pets to re-enter the treated area.
Four of the most common and worrisome insect pests in and around the home are fire ants, ticks, fleas and mosquitoes. Here are some tips to help you safely rid your home lawn of these invaders. The most important point to remember about treating insect pests is that you follow label directions carefully and use only as directed. Ultimately the safety of your family and the effectiveness of the product to control the pests, is in your hands.
Fire ants are one of the most common insect pests in the home lawn, especially here in Mississippi. Controlling them is a never-ending battle. The most effective way to control the fire ant population is to treat the lawn with a broadcast application of fire ant bait in the spring, midsummer and fall, combined with spot treatments of individual mounds.
Apply baits when the ground is dry and when ground temperatures are between 70o and 90o, with no chance of rain. Granular forms of insecticide are intended to act slowly. Ants will pick up the bait and carry it back to the colony where it will come into contact with other ants, including the queen. Depending on the specific bait used it can take from two to six weeks for the treatments to have full effect on the ant population.
Mound treatments contain contact insecticides that give much quicker control. They can be purchased in liquid drenches, granular treatments, dry powders and even injectable aerosols. When treating mounds with any insecticide, do not disturb the mounds before treating. Disruption of the mound will cause the ants to move the queen or queens to safety, deep into the ground or somewhere else to establish new mounds.
Because of the numerous forms of insecticides designed to control fire ants, space will not allow for listing the active ingredients in all the various applications. However, the products can be divided into the following categories: bait for fire ant control; mound drench treatments; dry mound treatments and broadcast treatments. For these products to be safe and effective against fire ants it is crucial that label directions are followed carefully, including paying close attention to moisture and temperature conditions before and during application.
Ticks most often are brought into the backyard on pets and other animals, including visiting neighbor pets, strays and wild creatures, such as rabbits, squirrels and raccoons. Once they are in, they will be waiting to latch on to the next unsuspecting human or animal for a meal.
Ticks like to hang out several feet off the ground in tall grass and in low brushes around wooded areas. Since they can neither fly nor jump, they attach themselves through direct contact with people and pets passing through the vegetation. Once they’ve found a target, they crawl under clothes, hair or fur and attach themselves to skin. Some ticks have the uncanny ability to detect people up to 18 feet away!
The first step in controlling ticks in your yard is to control them on your pets. There are a number of effective treatments that can be used on your dogs and cats. Talk to your Veterinarian about what is best for your pet, based on weight, size and age. You can also help cut down on your pet’s exposure to tick infested areas by keeping them from roaming in wooded or unmowed areas.
When lawns become infested with ticks, you will need to treat the effected areas. Check with your local garden center for products that are designed to control ticks safely. Products with the active ingredients of bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, or permethrin are suitable for use in tick control. Always read the labels carefully and apply only as indicated.
Reduce the chance of being bitten by ticks when working or playing in the yard by tucking pant legs into the tops of boots or socks, tuck in shirttails and use an effective tick repellant. Repellants containing the active ingredient permethrin are highly effective, but read the label carefully. Repellants containing permethrin should not be used directly on the skin. Repellants with DEET are generally safer for use on the skin, but again, read labels carefully. Products containing more than 10% DEET should not be used on young children.
Fleas, like ticks, find their way into your yard on the backs of your family pets or other animals both wild and domesticated. Once they have made it into your backyard, their numbers can multiply quickly and they will soon make their way inside your home unless you take preventive action. To control these pests outside, start by controlling them on your pets. Use topical, spot-on type treatments, flea collars dips, or sprays. Talk to your Vet about the best way to treat fleas on your pet.
Once you have gotten the fleas on your pet under control it’s time to take on the yard. Fleas can be controlled in the yard by applying spray or granular insecticides labeled for use against fleas in a home lawn situation. For a lawn that has become infested with fleas, broadcast the insecticide over the area.
Pay particular attention to areas where the pet rests, under porches or shrubs, garages, utility sheds, etc. Be sure that the product you use is recommended for both inside and outside use. Pay close attention to product labeling and apply only as directed.
To control your flea problem outdoors, look for products that can be sprayed or applied as granules. The active ingredients you should look for on the product label are bifenthrin, permethrin, cyfluthrin. They can be purchased in varying levels of concentration and all are available in spray or granular form. When using the granular-type insecticide, water the area after applying.
The first step in controlling the mosquito population around your home lawn involves ridding the area of any unnecessary standing water where mosquitoes can breed. This includes birdbaths, wading pools, pet watering containers, aquatic gardens, used tires or improperly maintained swimming pools.
You can help to control mosquitoes naturally by planting Thai lemon grass in areas where your family gathers for backyard fun. It contains the natural oil, citronella, which is safe and effective. You can find lemon grass at garden centers and it grows readily into clumps abut 15” across and about 2’ tall. Planting it around a patio or deck will help to repel mosquitoes. You can also turn the smoke of your barbeque grill into a natural mosquito repellant. When you are barbequing, throw a bit of sage or rosemary on the coals. The smoke it produces will help keep pesky mosquitoes away while you grill out.
When it comes to personal control of mosquitoes, most chemical-based mosquito repellants contain DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide). It is a powerful chemical that is absorbed readily into the skin and should be used with caution. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that repellants used on children contain no more than 10% DEET. Parents should also assist children in applying DEET-based products. Lotions can be applied more effectively than sprays and only a thin layer should be used. Avoid areas near the eyes and mouth. As with any product used on the skin, always read instructions carefully and apply only as directed. Minimize exposed skin areas by wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants when you are going to be outside, especially in the early morning and late afternoon or evening.
For other mosquito “zapping” or repelling products, consult with the professionals at your local garden center for assistance in selecting products that can be used safely in your backyard.