By Bill Melville
It’s summertime and the living is easy—for pests, that is. Just as the weather gets warm enough for backyard barbecues, pests emerge to hamper all that fun in the sun. From flying and stinging pests to those notorious black flies, it can be hard to enjoy your backyard oasis if you’re swatting at bugs. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep pests from ruining your well-deserved rest and relaxation by the pool or on the patio. While it is difficult to fully eliminate pests from your outdoor hot spots, you can help take back your yard with a few common sense solutions. An added bonus: Most techniques for controlling outdoor pests are preventive in nature, meaning you can rely less on chemical treatments.
Nothing ruins summertime fun faster than scratching insect bites. Emerging in May and lasting through early July, black flies can cause red, itchy, swollen bumps after biting. Mosquito bites cause the same symptoms, but are more dangerous because of the insect’s ability to transmit West Nile virus.
While black flies are prevalent in Canada’s cottage country, mosquitoes threaten an even larger part of Canada. They need only a thimble full of water to breed, so any home with a small amount of water is at risk.
The most effective way to prevent mosquitoes is to eliminate potential breeding and development sites. While mosquitoes won’t breed in a chlorinated swimming pool, water features and other sources of standing water, such as bird baths or planting containers, are still at risk. Use the following tips to cut out unnecessary moisture around your home.
• Clean up toys and empty planters that collect water.
• Introduce gambusia, or ‘mosquito fish,’ to water features such as ponds. These helpful fish feed on mosquito larvae.
• Keep vines and bushes a sufficient distance from the pool deck. Mosquitoes are attracted to nectar and love to hang out on the under side of leaves, particularly ivy.
In addition to managing water areas, you should also mitigate other mosquito attractants.
• Wear light colours when outdoors, with long sleeves. Dark colours trap heat and attract mosquitoes.
• Install yellow or sodium vapour bulbs in outdoor lights to deter mosquitoes from the area surrounding the pool and patio. Unlike incandescent lights, these bulbs do not attract mosquitoes.
• Install mesh screens to prevent mosquitoes from entering indoor areas (look for a No. 16 mesh for maximum protection).
• Head indoors—or at least to a screened-in porch—during the early morning and evening hours when black flies and mosquitoes prefer to feed. If you must be outside during dawn and dusk, wear long sleeves, pants and insect repellant.
While bees serve an important role in nature by pollinating plants and producing honey, their stings can pose a serious health threat to humans. Reactions to insect stings vary from infection at the site of the sting to difficulty breathing to, in rare cases, anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction, which can be fatal).
At their highest numbers during the late summer and early fall, stinging insects build colonies and nests where they have constant access to food. They particularly gravitate toward foods providing protein and sugar, such as meats and sodas.
As you prepare for outdoor activities in the warmer temperatures, don’t forget these simple tips to make homes and yards less attractive to flying and stinging insects:
• Keep food in tightly sealed containers when barbecuing or picnicking outdoors.
• Cover soda cans in between sips. Yellow jackets often enter cans unseen, which can lead to an unpleasant surprise the next time you reach for a drink.
• Empty and wash garbage cans regularly; the residue from waste can attract stinging pests.
• Call a licensed pest control professional immediately for treatment and removal of nests. Don’t take the risk of removing an angry hornet’s nest on your own.
Stop backyard bird problems
As birds fly back from their winter migration, you want to make sure your backyard isn’t their final stop. Of particular concern are the three types of ‘pest birds’—sparrows, starlings and pigeons. Though nice to look at from afar, birds can cause structural damage to your home and threaten your family’s health. Bird droppings are highly acidic and can erode your home’s structure, not to mention any structural elements you’ve added to your backyard landscape. Droppings can also transmit histoplasmosis, also known as Darling’s disease, which affects the respiratory tract.
Try the following to minimize your risk and banish bothersome birds.
• Don’t roll out the welcome mat for birds by providing amenities such as feeders and bird baths.
• Eliminate nesting sites by installing bird spikes along rooflines or on top of structures such as garden sheds.
• If birds become a problem, call a licensed professional who is well versed in the humane removal of birds, as well as local laws governing each species.
Rodents actively breed as the weather warms up—one pair of mice can produce as many as 200 offspring in only four months. Upon entering your home, they can spread disease and cause expensive damage. In addition, rodents can contaminate household surfaces with their urine and feces, and have also been known to cause fires by chewing on electrical wiring. Protect your home and health by following these tips:
• To prevent rodents from entering your home in the first place, seal any gaps or holes in the building’s structure. Mice can squeeze through holes the diameter of a pinky fingertip, while rats can enter through openings as small as a thumbprint.
• Rodents don’t like to be out in the open, so trim back landscaping at least 0.75 m (2.5 ft) away from your home.
• Don’t feed pets outdoors and cover trash cans with tight-fitting lids to eliminate potential food sources.
Vanquishing all vermin
Don’t let pests have you on the run—take back your backyard oasis and enjoy the warmer weather this summer. Proactively tackling pests can help keep your summer free of pesky disturbances. If you still experience severe infestations, contact a pest management professional trained in pest biology and behaviour. He or she can work with you to identify the source of the problem and develop a plan to protect your property.
Bill Melville is quality assurance director for Orkin PCO Services. Melville has 35 years of experience in the industry and is an acknowledged leader in the field of pest management. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.