As many as 300,000 Americans contract Lyme disease from infected ticks each year, according to CDC modeling. Much of the Eastern half of the country has a large chunk of these cases. However, only a small fraction of Lyme cases are reported to federal health authorities.
Elsewhere in the United States, people contend with potentially fatal tick-borne illnesses like Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Mosquitoes inhabit every corner of the country, spreading potentially serious pathogens like West Nile and Zika viruses and general bite-induced misery. Meanwhile, fire ants terrorize backyards in the southern United States. And they’re joined by too many other insect pests to name.
In this year of social distancing, backyard camping is a great way to spend time with your family and enjoy the outdoors. The good news is that suppressing outdoor pests isn’t as difficult or costly as you might imagine. And there are natural ways to get rid of these annoyances.
These natural backyard pest control solutions will increase your enjoyment while keeping your kids and pets safe from harm.
1. Moisture Control and Standing Water Management
Mosquitoes love standing water. It’s where adults breed and lay their eggs and where larvae spend their lives before transitioning to adulthood. They don’t need much water, so it’s important to identify and control sources of moisture and standing water, even if they don’t seem troublesome.
You can’t do much about standing water beyond your property lines. If you live near a pond or swamp, you’ll need to get used to mosquito activity. But you can follow these tips to make your yard as inhospitable to breeding mosquitoes as possible:
- Dump and Scrub. The CDC recommends dumping standing water from human-made vessels, such as birdbaths and flower pot saucers, at least once per week and thoroughly scrubbing the empty containers. No soap is required, though nontoxic insecticidal soaps can help.
- Add Oil. If you don’t want to dump the water, drizzle about one teaspoon of olive or vegetable oil into standing water. The oil kills larvae without harming birds or plants.
- Add Vinegar. Another solution if you don’t want to get rid of the water is to add vinegar to standing water sources. You want to achieve a ratio of about one part oil to five parts water, so this isn’t practical for larger bodies of water, but it should work fine for your birdbath.
- Mosquito Dunks. These “bacteria bombs” kill mosquito larvae without harming kids or pets. Add them to standing water and let them work their magic.
2. Brush Management
Standing water is to mosquitoes as dense underbrush is to disease-carrying ticks. During the cool season, ticks retreat to leaf litter for warmth and protection. They lurk on grasses and ground-hugging vegetation in warmer months waiting for unsuspecting mammals to brush by.
Homeowners keen on making their backyards safe for camping need to reduce or eliminate places for ticks to breed and ultimately to find new victims. Here’s how:
- Edging. Take a trimmer to high weeds and brush along the perimeter of your yard at regular intervals throughout the growing season.
- Mowing. Mow your lawn regularly, keeping grass ankle-high or lower.
- Gravel Borders. Create a gravel barrier at least 3 feet wide between your yard and surrounding wooded areas. If this is impractical, use wood chips instead.
- Stacking Wood. If you keep firewood or downed wood on your property, stack it neatly to discourage tick-carrying rodents from setting up shop.
- Raking. Rake your grass and cultivate areas to remove leaf litter, grass clippings, and other tick-friendly habitats.
3. Fire Ant Suppression
Years of steady northward expansion have brought invasive fire ants, known as red imported fire ants, into contact with backyard campers across a broad swath of the southern United States, from central Texas to Virginia. According to the World Health Organization, fire ants sting as many as 60% of people living in colonized areas.
Backyard campers eager to avoid joining their ranks can try two eco- and people-friendly remedies to suppress their colonies:
- Hot Water. This remedy is only kid- and pet-friendly when kids and pets aren’t around. For each mound you’d like to treat, you’ll need to heat several gallons of water to a near boil, then pour it slowly onto the mound to drench and hopefully penetrate the soil. This measure will also kill nearby grasses, but that may be a small price to pay.
- Organic Treatments. Though they’re not as effective as EPA-regulated chemical pesticides, two compounds do work to suppress fire ant colonies: d-limonene (citrus oil extract) and spinosad (a microbial byproduct). Follow package instructions carefully.
4. Encouraging Predation
Insect-loving predators are the ultimate backyard pest control solution. Bats are voracious consumers of mosquitoes and other biting flies. They’re polite enough to do their work at night too. To encourage them to frequent your yard, Good Housekeeping recommends doing the following:
- Plant Night-Blooming Flowers. A night-blooming garden should draw night-feeding insects, which in turn will encourage bats to hang out. Popular options include primrose, honeysuckle, dahlia, and raspberry.
- Put Up a Bat House. Place a bat house (whether purchased pre- or partially assembled or built from scratch) on a south-facing second-story wall or exposed pole near your yard’s edge. The optimal height is 15 to 20 feet above the ground.
Your backyard is yours to enjoy. You shouldn’t have to live in fear of it. Nor should you feel compelled to invest in drastic pest control solutions that could put your children and pets at risk.
Thankfully, these kid-friendly pest mitigation solutions really do work. Get started today, and look forward to making your backyard yours once more.
Jeremy Kallen is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast who uses a number of strategies to watch out for ticks and pests.