The rich and fertile soils of the United States are great for providing good homes for a host of crops. The downside of being such a fruitful land is that there are roughly 91,000 species of insects in the ground, the air, on your plants, and in all of the nooks and crannies of your home. Many are beneficial; others creepy and crawly, and can destroy areas of your home or yard. They're everywhere, especially in wooded regions, although city dwellers have their own insect issues to worry about -- bedbugs and giant cockroaches anyone? Read on to find our 10 tips to help with insect prevention and maintenance.
Before you start the fight with insects in your home or on your property, you should first get acquainted with what you have in your neck of the woods. This will help you determine which ones to try and get rid of and how you should do it. If you have aphids, they'll suck the nutrients from leaves and stems while depositing disease along the way. Different types of beetles can attack everything from your asparagus to your potatoes, and slugs can wreak havoc on your lettuce. Once you know what you're up against, take a course of action appropriate to your extermination needs.
While some insects fall firmly under the heading of pests, there are also some that are quite beneficial to keep around. Research what kinds of insects are local to your home and figure out which ones to protect and even encourage. Beneficial insects, like bees, attack the pests and feed off plants in a good way. To help encourage this, plant as many native varieties of plants as you can, and really mix it up. A large variety of plants and flowers attracts a battalion of beneficial insects.
Aside from bees, some kinds of beetles, wasps, spiders, earthworms and ladybugs are all great to have around, to name a few.
The good news is that your insect friends can take care of your insect enemies as long as they have the numbers, so it's up to you to staff your little insect army for the big battle by planting the things that attract them. Wasps eat earwigs, bad beetles, whiteflies, mites and aphids, among others. Ground beetles will take care of your slugs and caterpillars. Spiders are the cold-blooded killers of the pest world, taking care of just about anything that crosses their paths. Once you know what you need to kill, find out what plants will attract the right insect friend for the job.
A sure way to get rid of pests is to use chemical pesticides and insecticides. But if you have small children or pets that can go outdoors, or if you simply want to live chemically free, you may want to think about some all-natural alternatives. The best chemical-free way to fight pests was detailed in the previous tip, which is with beneficial insects as your personal battalion. And then there are literally hundreds of homespun tricks you can try, including aluminum foil on the ground surrounding the plant base (pests on the underside of leaves don't enjoy it), or your own mix of natural pesticide with powdered charcoal and calcium dust. You can also try smashing some aphids and scattering them among your plants -- it releases a chemical that makes others scram.
If you feel like you have a real pest problem, you might want to consider calling in a professional exterminator. Depending on your specific invasion, an exterminator will know exactly how to best attack the problem. You can also work with your exterminator to dictate exactly what areas of your home and property you're comfortable treating. If you care about what chemicals come into your home, then be sure to ask questions about what kinds of methods and products they use.
Trapping insects is one way to get rid of them and there are a variety of ways to make it happen. There are chemical-laden traps, like your average roach motel. Then, there are natural traps that use baits like pheromones to attract and then trap the insect on some sticky stuff. Sometimes, it's simply a color that attracts the insect. There are also old school traps made from tight mesh wire, which also use bait to attract and trap, typically by having entrances with no exit.
Prevention is the best cure, so keeping harmful or undesirable insects at bay is the best way to make sure you never have a pest problem. The main way to do this is to keep a clean home. Insects love filth, grime, stinky smells and foodstuffs. You should also use the aforementioned plant-based system for acquiring helpful insects and keep that maintained because the key is to have more good insects than bad. If you use an exterminator, then you're likely on some kind of a quarterly maintenance plan, even if it's just for termites. For ticks and fleas, keep rodents off your property and keep the grass mowed and underbrush clear.
Fighting insects in your kitchen is different from the rest of your home because it's where your food is, not to mention your eating utensils and dishes. You don't exactly want to set off a flea bomb on your kitchen counter. For this reason, prevention is the main ingredient to keeping a pest-free kitchen. Keep trash in the can and emptied often. Clean up any liquid or food spills immediately. Take care to prevent any kind of long-term food spoilage from happening. One soggy orange at the bottom of your fruit bowl ruin an otherwise clean scene. Some insect traps under the cabinets are also a good idea.
Fighting pests in your basement is a little different because of the variety of creepy crawlies you can find down there. Most of the action is going to be centered around the spiders, because they kill so many other insects. Despite their reputation, spiders are great to have around so consider relocating them into your yard instead of killing them and watch your pest population shrink.
If you have an unfinished basement, you might want to let the spiders stay and do their thing -- just keep an eye out for black widows and other venomous spiders. Destructive termites are something to be aware of in your basement as well as fleas and ticks which usually hitch a ride in on some kind of rodent.
Insect pests can do a lot of damage to that vegetable garden you worked so hard on, but since this is food that you eat, you should try to control them naturally. One thing you can do is plant items that encourage beneficial insects. There are other plants that emit odors that are unpleasant to pests, like catnip, basil, mint and chives. Spraying your veggies with bio-degradable soap and warm water is another natural way to keep pests at bay. Water that was used to boil plants like ginger, garlic, horseradish and cayenne is another good all-natural solution to spray. In the end, you don't want to put anything on your veggies that you wouldn't want to put into your body.
What's in your typical can of bug spray? Find out how bug spray works at HowStuffWorks.
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- "Numbers of Insects." Si.edu. July 1, 2012. http://www.si.edu/encyclopedia_si/nmnh/buginfo/bugnos.htm