This Summer Prevent Pests by Reducing Moisture Outside of Your Home

By Marcia Anderson

Clogged gutters provide the standing water that mosquitoes need for egg laying and larval growth

Clogged gutters provide the standing water that mosquitoes need for egg laying and larval growth

Like most suburban dwellers, I spent the past few weekends trimming vegetation, mowing the lawn and making sure gutters and other areas around the house were clean of debris and standing water. I soon realized that the mosquito, black fly, and other insect populations were blooming along with the flowers. But where were all of these pests coming from?

Bugs and rodents go wherever there is water. If you have a water leak in or under your house, and the wood stays wet, it will attract pests such as: wood lice, carpenter ants, and termites. Pests that eat wood are particularly interested in moist wood because it is easier for them to chew. They also rely on the moisture in the wood as a source of water. Termites and carpenter ants are known for burrowing through wood and forming nests inside the wood structures. Once holes are made because pests have found wet, weakened spots, rodents may enter the home through those gaps. Have your home’s crawlspaces checked for pests when plumbing problems are detected.

Insects and other small pests need to draw life-sustaining moisture from their surroundings, so they avoid dry places and are attracted to moist areas. If the soil around your house is dry, it’ll be less attractive to insects, spiders, centipedes and other pests.

Buckets provide great habitats for mosquito breeding

Buckets provide great habitats for mosquito breeding

Downspouts and gutters are the first places to look for breeding pests. Termites thrive in the moisture often found around your home’s downspouts. Direct water away from your home by turning the downspouts away from the house and use downspout extensions (splash blocks) to disperse rainwater and prevent soil erosion around the foundation. Also watch for leaks and clogs in your gutters that may eventually lead to water damage. Make sure all other drains, including the air conditioner drain lines, flow away from the home and that the pipes extend at least two feet from the foundation.

I found a few standing water sources on my property.

  • The drainage holes on the bottom of a planter were clogged with leaves and collecting rain water.
  • My grandson’s plastic pail and other play equipment had been forgotten outside and had filled with rainwater and mosquito larvae.
  • One of my sprinkler system’s underground lines was leaking, creating a puddle in the yard.
  • Water was collecting in a cavity in one of our trees.

Everyone should take steps to eliminate places where water collects outdoors, such as: tires, garbage cans, tree holes, buckets, wash tubs, even table umbrella stands, etc. This will not only eliminate mosquito breeding habitats, but also water sources for cockroaches and termites. Empty out any water you find to eliminate this problem.

I also had to remove some mulch that was piled too close to the house and trimmed the plants that were growing too close to the siding.  Mulch traps moisture and should be raked away from windowsills, siding and any other wood. Keep a two-foot pest-free strip around the building by trimming branches, and making sure mulch doesn’t touch the foundation.

Tree cavities provide an unexpected breeding spot for mosquitoes

Tree cavities provide an unexpected breeding spot for mosquitoes

Plants growing against the house will also keep siding damp so trim back bushes and trees. Make sure that the soil is sloped away from the house at least six inches every 10 feet. This will reduce soil dampness near your foundation and keep your basement drier.

Lastly, monitor irrigation systems. Ensure sprinklers are adjusted to spray away from the foundation walls and the house.

Be PestWise! Regular maintenance and sanitation are key components of a smart, sensible and sustainable pest management program. Recognizing the value of pest prevention is an important first step. Preventing the accumulation of moisture outside of your home protects you from pests, saves water, and helps the environment. Visit EPA’s website for more information on controlling pests in and around your home.

About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

School Parties, Holiday Crafts… and ants? (A is for Ants-Part 1)

By Marcia Anderson

 A is for Ant

A is for Ant

Remember the ant marching song: “…The ants go marching two by two hurrah, hurrah…” The ants are lining up to enter classrooms around the country, eagerly following our children. Why? Why are ants the most common insects found in schools? Ants do not attend class for the math lesson. They could care less about multiplication, dividends or square roots. The dividends they are looking for are the crumbs students have dropped or left in their desks. With the holidays around the corner, many schools celebrate with food and special treats. If ants cannot find food, they will march on to, perhaps the kitchen or other classrooms.

It is important to recognize that most ants can be both beneficial and pests. Most ants are not a serious threat to human health or property, with the exception of carpenter ants (or fire ants in southern states). Ants provide an important ecological cleansing and fertilization service by aerating the soil outdoors and recycling dead animal and vegetable material. Ants also kill numerous pest insects, including fly larvae, termites, fleas, and caterpillars. Ants become pests when they invade school buildings searching for food and water to take back to their nests.

Before taking any action against an invading ant, be sure there is more than one ant present. Just one may have hitchhiked in on food packaging, clothing, or a backpack that had been placed on the ground for a while outside. Multiple worker ants (those without wings) suggest a nearby nest and an entrance hole. Take a few minutes to watch the ants. Where are they going? Where did they come from?

Did you know that there are approximately over a quadrillion ants alive in the world at any one time, or about one million ants for every human on earth? So it is neither desirable nor practical to try to eliminate most ants from their outside habitat.

 Ants feeding.

Ants feeding.

Ant control. Management efforts should aim at keeping them out of structures as part of a smart, sensible, and sustainable approach to pest control called Integrated Pest Management or IPM. Ant control should focus on excluding ants from the building, good sanitation, and building maintenance rather than routine spraying with pesticides, which may not always be effective. Ant management requires continuous effort.

Inspection and Detection. Often it takes detective work and ingenuity to discover where ants are coming from. When you spot large numbers of ants in a trail, try to follow the ants to where they are entering the building. Carry a good flashlight. Take good notes during your inspection and record problem areas, entry locations and areas needing repair. If a nest is found inside, it must be removed. Call your IPM coordinator or a pest management professional for help. To do it yourself, use an industrial vacuum, and vacuum up some cornstarch to prevent ants from escaping, then seal and destroy the vacuumed material.

Habitat modification: Exclusion. By carefully sealing places where ants enter, you will make a long-term impact on the number of ant invasions. Begin with sealing actual and potential entryways – especially where wires and pipes enter the building, then weather-strip around doors and windows. Always carry a tube of sealant when making inspections and seal as many cracks as time allows, especially those around baseboards, pipes, sinks, toilets, and electrical outlets. Silicone sealant is flexible, easy to apply, and long-lasting. Keep plants and mulch away from the foundation of buildings as they provide ant nesting sites.

For more information on ant control in schools go to: http://www.sites.ext.vt.edu/schoolipm/ipmtechniques/documents/ants.pdf and look for more information in a future blog.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.