Summertime means spending lots of time outside for yardwork and cookouts, but it also is the prime time of year for insects to infest your yard and garden.
While it is important to keep pesky bugs like mosquitoes out of your yard, there are some bugs you probably want to keep around that work as natural pest control.
Mike Cunningham of Country Gardens Farm said that planting more nectar-producing flowers can draw in good insects like dragonflies that eat mosquitoes.
“If you plant more flowers, more nectar-producing plants, in your yard you can draw in the good bugs,” he said.
The best plants for pest control are plants that attract pollinators including sunflowers, cosmos, hyssop and asters, according to ugaurbanag.com. Generally, native flowers and non-double blooms tend to produce more nectar.
Scott Tyson of 180 Degree Farm said the most important thing you can do in the summer to keep mosquitoes away is by making sure there is no standing water.
Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and removing that will make controlling them easier, he said.
There are other methods to take care of insects using natural insecticides. One way to control bugs is to use biological control, which uses bacteria in the soil to control pests, according to Cunningham.
A biological control agent that Cunningham suggests using is called Bacillus thuringiensis, usually abbrevited as Bt. Bt is a naturally occurring microbe found in soil. This bacteria affects insects in their underground larval stage when it is consumed by producing proteins that are toxic to immature insects (larvae/ grubs) but is not harmful to people or animals.
Similarly, another microbial species, Paenibacillus popilliae – commonly called milky spore – is used to primarily control Japanese beetle grubs. Milky spore in the soil is not harmful to beneficial insects, birds, bees, pets or people.
Tyson also suggested using a product called Diatomaceous earth, also known as DE.
DE is a dust made from fossilized diatoms, which are microscopic organisms made up largely of silica. DE dehydrates hard-bodied insects by absorbing the oils and fats from the cuticle of the insect’s exoskeleton. Common pests like roaches, fleas, ticks, spiders and ants are all susceptible. The Food and Drug Administration has determined DE is generally safe for humans and animals.
There are other ways to safely protect your yard from insects, including using insecticidal soaps. Cunningham said brands like Garden Safe can be found at many major stores.
Most insecticidal soaps are safe to use in yards and on plants, as long as there is no detergent in the soap, according to Cunningham.
Besides biologicals and soaps, natural oils are another method to protect yourself and your yard from insects.
Neem oil, derived from the Neem tree, is a popular oil to use in the garden. This oil can be sprayed on plants so that when an insect consumes the oil, it will disrupt their life cycle, according to Cunningham.
Natural oils can also serve as bug repellent for humans. Cunningham said when he is working on the farm, he sprays on a mixture of essential oils that has lemongrass and citronella to keep him protected from insects.
The most important thing both Cunningham and Tyson said about using insecticides is to make sure you read the directions well.
Cunningham said that some pest control is better sprayed in the morning or evening, rather than in the heat of the day.
“Always read the directions. Lots of people just buy it and start spraying things that could be harmful to us and the environment,” Cunningham said.
Also, some oils and natural remedies can burn plants, so it is a good idea to test a section of a plant before you coat the whole plant.
Tyson warned against using brands such as Round-up or other harsh chemical sprays in your yard, and especially your garden.
“When you spray pesticides that aren’t organic on your plants, they absorb into the cell walls of the plant and when you consume that you’re consuming the chemicals,” he said.
Cunningham added that you shouldn’t set out to kill every bug in your garden, as most insects are important to the environment and keep your yard healthy.
“Only three percent of all insects are harmful to us or other insects, you don’t want to kill them all,” he said.