18 Natural pest control tips

Insects have their place in the natural world, but when the weather warms up, they occasionally take residence in the most inconvenient of places — our homes and gardens. Some bugs are an unwelcome nuisance (say, when a palmetto bug scares away potential buyers at your house for sale in Charleston, SC), while others can carry disease or harm your home, family, or belongings.

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Using noxious chemicals to keep pests at bay comes with its own set of consequences. While sometimes turning to them is a necessity, there are plenty of DIY pest control remedies you can try first. These 18 natural pest control tips can help you tackle some of the most common pest problems this summer.

1. Be tidy
If you don’t want pests in your home, start by eliminating things that attract them. That means keeping food in tightly closed bins, cleaning up food scraps and crumbs promptly, and keeping lids on garbage cans and emptying them frequently. Moisture will also attract many pests, so fix any leaks and use a dehumidifier. Outdoors, don’t allow water to pool, which provides a breeding ground for some bugs, like mosquitoes.

2. Use borax to deter ants
To create a nontoxic ant trap, mix ⅓ cup of borax, ⅓ cup of sugar, and 1 cup of water in a jar. Add a wad of toilet paper, then poke a few holes in the jar’s lid before fastening it on. Trapping ants won’t affect their colony, though. To attack them at the source, sprinkle borax along their pathways, where they’ll pick it up, bring it back to home base, and share. One caveat: Keep borax away from curious pets and kids.

3. Lure fruit flies with vinegar
Who says you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar? Fill a small jar with apple cider vinegar, then affix plastic wrap over the opening with a rubber band, poke a few holes in it, and wait.

4. Deter flies with a basil cocktail
Keep fruit flies away by soaking a pint of packed basil leaves in water overnight. Pour the infusion into a spray bottle, then douse infested areas.

5. Sniff out houseflies
Houseflies can’t stand a host of great-smelling plants, including basil, lavender, sweet woodruff, lemon verbena, mint, thyme, rosemary, bay, and chamomile, according to Annie Berthold-Bond, author of Better Basics for the Home. Plant these near doorways or keep potted specimens on windowsills.

6. Let roaches belly up to the bar
Since cockroaches are attracted to moisture, fixing any leaky faucets or pipes should be a priority. You can also lure them with a saucer of beer; once drunk, kick them out. Alternatively, sprinkle borax or diatomaceous earth around to keep them away.

7. Send pantry moths flying
Pantry moths are a nuisance because they can quickly infest your cupboards, eating through dry goods and reproducing rapidly. Discard any food packaging where you find larvae or pods, wipe shelving clean, then try placing dried bay leaves in your cabinets to keep moths away.

8. Put the heat on closet moths
It’s annoying to pull out sweaters from storage in the fall and find them full of holes. Using cedar blocks or lavender sachets will help deter closet moths, but the best practice is to dry-clean or wash woolen clothing before you put it away. High heat will kill moths, and you can put wool garments through the dryer — only when they are dry, of course, to avoid shrinkage.

9. Say goodbye to fleas
Fleas are the worst — but flea bombs are pretty bad too. If you find your house (and pets) infested, scrub floors and other (nonfood) surfaces with a cleanser containing d-limonene, which is made from citrus peels. Bathe pets using Dawn blue dish soap and use a nit comb on fur. It’s hard work, but it does the trick.

10. Send mice and rats scurrying
To avoid rodents, it’s important to keep your home clean from the get-go. Barring that, choose traps, not poison.

11. Go garlicky with garden bugs
Sometimes it’s possible to handpick bugs off garden plants. When it’s not, try this all-purpose concoction from Berthold-Bond: Peel and mash one head of garlic, then place it in a Mason jar. Cover with boiling water; allow it to sit overnight. Strain, empty the liquid into a spray bottle, and spray on affected areas.

12. Blow away mosquitoes
Mosquitoes are known to dislike citronella and lemon balm, but that won’t always do the trick. One friend found that adding an oscillating fan to her arsenal gave the scents extra power and blew the bugs away.

13. Plant companions
Many plants — such as nasturtiums, chrysanthemums, and marigolds — can be planted alongside others to act as natural protectors. Known as companion planting, it helps repel unwanted bugs. Native plantings also tend to be more resistant to local critters; it’s just how they evolved.

14. Shrug off snails and slugs
Place eggshells, sawdust, or salt in the soil to avoid snails and slugs; they hate crawling over scratchy stuff. Or put out a saucer of beer; they’ll feast on that instead of your tomatoes.

15. Avoid ticks with simple tricks
When working in the garden, wear light-colored clothing, which will help you spot ticks more easily. Pull socks up over the hems of your pants; tape gloves over shirtsleeves. Undress right after you’re finished in the garden, always perform a tick spot-check, and take a shower immediately. You can also make a homemade tick repellent using one part tea tree oil to two parts water mixed in a spray bottle.

16. Mix natural bug spray
Here’s a DIY bug spray that’s safe for kids and adults alike. Place ¼ teaspoon of salt and 5 drops of essential oil (try citronella, lemongrass, tea tree, myrtle, or rosemary — you can use all of one or mix them together) in a 4-ounce spray bottle. Allow the mixture to sit until the oils soak into the salt. Add water, shake, and spritz (just be sure to avoid your eyes).

17. Try a cat, indoors or out
Cats are all-natural predators. Mine have also been known to clear out critters including mice and bunnies (sorry, bunnies). They’re worth considering!

18. Do nothing?
How badly do you need those bugs gone? “I have found great success in letting insects do their thing in my house with no ill consequences,” says Starre Vartan, founder of Eco-Chick.com. “It works particularly well for ants, which are mostly just dedicated to their pathways. I also let spiders keep their webs as long as they are not directly in my way and find that they end up with plenty of food — that is, insects I then don’t have to worry about.” Like everything else in life, a healthy home is all about balance.

What’s your go-to way to achieve natural pest control? Share your tips in the comments below!

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