Mosquitoes, Ticks and Fleas

How wonderful it is to have the warm weather return! But there are three annoying insect pests that often can make the summer less than enjoyable: fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. Happily, there are organic controls that can be applied by the landscaper or the do-it-yourselfer to help eradicate the problem.

First, learn to properly identify the pest. There are many types of fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. A good reference book for basic identification and information is Ninety-nine Gnats, Nits and Nibblers by May R. Berenbaum (University of Illinois Press, 1989).

Gardeners working in their yards, as well as children and pets, can pick up ticks without knowing it, as ticks lurk in vegetation. It’s a good practice to conduct a tick check when returning indoors from an outdoor activity. Pay special attention to the scalp area and warm places such as armpits. Deer ticks are a major carrier of Lyme disease, which can be transmitted by ticks after they have been embedded in you for 24 hours. Tick checks performed every night before bed can greatly reduce the risks of getting Lyme disease. If you find a tick embedded on you or your pet, remove it with tweezers, then wash the area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. Save the tick in a zip-sealed plastic bag for identification and possible testing for Lyme. If it is a Lyme disease carrying tick, call your doctor or local health department and ask for a fact sheet on Lyme, which will describe the symptoms of the disease. Do not squeeze an engorged tick, as it may regurgitate the Lyme disease vector into your body. Use tweezers where the head enters the body.

Fleas are very annoying and cause great discomfort to pets and people. Both dogs and cats carry them. They also lurk in vegetation and can be picked up while working and playing outdoors. Look for natural flea repellents for your pets, and make sure each pet wears a non-toxic flea collar. Keep pet sleeping areas frequently washed and vacuumed. Borax dries out fleas and can be used in the lawn or bedding.  Over 20 species of fleas feed on humans. Flea bites are distinctively clustered in groups of two or three, particularly around the ankles and legs. They itch persistently.

A barrier of wood chips or gravel approximately three to five feet wide surrounding the perimeter of your property will drastically reduce the flea and tick population. Why? Because they do not cross such a barrier. They love moisture and hate dry, uneven surfaces.

We all know the annoying whine and bite of the mosquito! With the ever-present threat of West Nile virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, a good preventative strategy is to rid your property of areas of standing water where mosquitoes may breed. Watering cans, tires, buckets, and even children’s toys can all catch water. Empty them after each rainstorm or automatic irrigation interval. Better yet, turn these items upside down after use or take them indoors. Bird baths and water gardens without agitated water should also be avoided. Do not let water stand for more than four days. Mosquitoes are also responsible for transmitting heartworm to dogs.  Mosquito Dunks™ are donut-shaped floating larvicide dispensers containing Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). Float these doughnut-shaped bricks in standing water for unequalled control of larvae without harm to beneficial insects. One doughnut treats 100 square feet of stagnant, standing water for 30 days. These are useful for containers such as decorative ponds which are difficult to drain on a regular basis.

Garlic repellent sprays are the key to organic control of these three insect pests outdoors. Garlic repels rather than kills insects, so it is important to apply it before they have taken up residence, if possible. For mosquitoes, it is sprayed onto grass and foliage to discourage mosquitos from landing there and lying in wait. A spray can be made at home by liquefying 3 peeled cloves of garlic in the blender half filled with water. Strain out the garlic, and dilute with enough water to make a gallon. Use this to fill a spray bottle or sprayer. A drop or two of a biodegradable liquid soap will help conduct the solution through the spray mechanism more easily. Also, three natural oils that repel mosquitoes and gnats – lemon grass oil, peppermint oil, garlic oil – can be purchased as Dr. T’s Mosquito and Gnat Scat™. Clay is the inert ingredient.  A product on the market, called Garlic Barrier™, can be diluted in water for those who would like the ease of using a safe, effective, ready-made mixture. Follow the label directions carefully, which suggest a dilution rate of 1 part Garlic Barrier to 10 parts water. For large areas, such as a backyard abutting a wooded area, hire a landscaper who is willing to use a backpack or large wheeled sprayer to do the job.  Repeat spraying the property at least once per month during the summer in order to keep the pests under control. Before an outdoor party, have the property sprayed two days in advance. The garlicky odor quickly dissipates minutes after application.

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