AUBURN, Ala.—Spring time brings warmer weather and blooming plants, but it also bring spring pests. Whether it is in the garden or at home, people needs to know how to deal with these pests.
“Just as spring weather conditions change considerably from year to year, so can the time to take action against certain insects,” said Dr. Xing Ping Hu, an Alabama Extension specialist of entomology and plant pathology.
Though the exact emergence date varies from year to year, pest emergence around homes in Alabama occurs in a similar order. The temperature-dependent biology of insects makes them better in tune with an ever changing climate.
With spring in full swing, live creatures are coming out looking for food and mates. A variety of bees and wasps are taking advantage of the first blooms to feed after several months without food.
Fending off Spring Pests
Hu says now is the time for home residents to control troublesome spring pests and to pest-proof homes. Homeowners can use these tips to manage spring pests:
- Seal everything. Insects can squeeze through any gap, crack or opening. The time you spend sealing openings is an excellent investment in prevention of invaders later on.
- Keep waste around the home cleaned, covered or sealed in tight containers. Promptly clean up pet excrement. Food left out is an invitation for insects seeking a quick snack and drink. Don’t leave clutter inside or outside where pests can hide.
- Do not bring them in. Many insects are excellent hitchhikers. Inspect items like garden plants, bags of soil and mulch before bringing them in.
- Minimize excess moisture and organic matter around your home. Check your home for damp areas. Create unsuitable environments to deter insects. Water plants early in the morning rather than the evening. The water will soak in and the excess will have a chance to evaporate.
- Minimize hiding places. Clean up leaf litter, mow your lawn regularly and discard the clippings away from the home.
- Minimize contact between house and landscape. Trim plant material that touches the outside of the home. Insects can crawl up a plant and easily onto your home.
Common Spring Pests
Carpenter bees are among the first early spring adventurers. They fly around collecting nectar/pollen from blooming ornamentals and buzz around homes looking for wood in which to lay their eggs. They do not eat wood, but do severe damage by boring half-inch wide burrows that can extend up to 14 inches. Carpenter bees bore into exposed dry wood, such as siding, the back side of fascia boards, porch window trim and porch ceilings. They also bore into decks, fence posts, swing sets and outdoor furniture.
According to Hu, if you had carpenter bees last year, you will likely have them again this year because carpenter bee females prefer to reuse the old galleries for the next generation.
Hornets, mud daubers and yellow jackets are all under the category of wasps. Wasps help control other insect populations, but their stings are unwelcome. They are especially attracted to sweet food and drink. They build new nests in the spring. Hornets have open structure nests with visible hexagonal cells, often built under the eaves of houses and other cover areas. The nests resemble an upside down umbrella.
Yellow jackets build open nests surrounded by a papery covering. The are often found within wall voids and attics or cavities in the ground.
Mud daubers construct small mud nests in or around homes and under open structures.
Hu said spring is the time for wasp/bee inspection and nest removal.
“Remove nests when they are small and there are only a few wasps to deal with,” Hu said. “You may be able to knock a nest down and dispose of it before the queen lays eggs. You can use a can of wasp spray to kill the wasps before removal. Wear protective clothing for this job.”
Ants are generally around the perimeter of a home, but may invade homes for food and refuge on rainy days. Most ants are opportunistic when it comes to temperature and food. They are active all year with increased activity in the warmer months. Argentine ants are the most common species around homes, but fire ants and black carpenter ants are also common.
Argentine ants build colonies in moist, dark, undisturbed places like under plant pots. Fire ant mounds are built in lawns and flowerbeds. The large black carpenter ants live in rotting or moisture-damaged wood. Piles of sawdust-like shavings indicate their presence.
To control Argentine ants, begin with killing them at the colony site. Next, get rid of all potential nesting and food sources around the home. You can also treat them with an insect growth regulator (IGR). Most of the currently available fire ant baits work well when applied using label instructions. Bait should be fresh and less than a year old. Another choice is creating an insecticidal barrier between the perimeter of the home and the landscape.
Cockroaches can carry disease-causing pathogens and contaminate households. They can trigger allergy symptoms in some people. The large cockroaches, including American and smokybrown cockroaches generally live and reproduce outside homes. These cockroaches may wander into homes but will not usually survive long inside. They are scavengers that love food waste and rotting organic materials.
“Your first defense is to protect and seal your home’s perimeter so that the cockroaches never make it inside,” Hu said. “Baits are proven to be effective in controlling cockroaches.”