With the rainy season approaching, ManaSota-88 proposes the following ways for citizens to adopt integrated pest management:
1. Avoid mosquito breeding grounds by emptying water into cans, car tires and birdbaths (empty every five days). Repair gutters so they drain properly. Make sure that no garden fences are placed on the street where they could impede the drainage of rainwater. Report water that lasts longer than five days in areas that are normally dry.
2. Bromeliads can be a source of mosquito larvae. Treat with Bacillus thuringiensis israeli or hose bromeliads every five days to remove larvae. Similar to tree hole mosquitoes, these mosquitoes bite during the day and can transmit human diseases such as Nile virus and dengue fever.
3. Search plants for pests every few days. Picking insects by hand will often get rid of a few infestations, or a water spray will get rid of some pests. Early treatment with soap sprays, oil sprays or Bacillus thuringiensis, before the infestation is overwhelming, will be less harmful than using broad-killing pesticides. Early pest identification and appropriate treatment eliminate the need for more toxic chemicals. Learn the common plant pests and determine if there is enough damage to begin controls.
4. Learn to distinguish beneficial insects that are destroyed when using pesticides. Beneficial insects include ladybug beetles, lacewings, praying mantises, ant lions, hoverflies, assassins, predator wasps, and dragonflies. Birds, spiders and frogs will also help control pests, but pesticides harm the beneficial insects and these helpers.
5. St. Augustine lawns can suffer from chinch bugs. Soaking the area with water in a cylinder made from a coffee can with both ends cut off will prove the presence of chinch insects. Instead of using pesticides, mulching the area can alter the soil and allow the turf to grow later.
The Larra plant acts as a host that provides nectar for a predator wasp that will kill mole crickets, a common pest of sports fields. Larra flowers are available at the Sarasota County Extension Office at 6700 Clark Road.
6. Other Insect Problems: In the Southern United States, imported fire ants are a major concern. Pests have become resistant and many of the home remedies just encourage the colony to move, but never very far. Some people develop severe allergies to the venom and need to keep epinephrine available. Everyone gets a blister from the venom, usually it can become infected within two days with excessive scratching. Lip balm can be applied to the bite to prevent blisters and is convenient to take outdoors. The phorid fly can reduce the number of fire ant colonies and is a more natural control.
7. Indoor pests thrive when food and dirty dishes are left out, almost as bait for cockroaches and ants. In schools and offices where snacks are allowed, there is an increased tendency for pests. Damp and dark areas are preferred by cockroaches. Bait in child-resistant plastic containers for cockroaches and ants can provide control.
Maintaining a food-free area will be the first line of defense. Fresh bait should be added approximately every 3 months in most situations. In homes with small children, routine house and yard spraying is not a safe idea, but it is often the refuge when housekeeping is not done.
Bait to attract insects is used for both ants (borax) and termites. Some of these social insects prefer sweetened bait and others like oil bait. The bait is then carried to the nest and can poison most of the colony and queen.
8. Weeds must be removed mechanically before they take over the garden. Exotic plants should be avoided in the garden. Many exotic plants have no enemies and will spread quickly. Exotic plants often displace our native plants that are more suited to our own fauna. Mulch can be a way to control weeds, especially to separate the lawn from the beds. Using herbicides can build up poisons in the soil, making favorite plants difficult to grow.
9. Pet Pest Problems. Prevent fleas, ticks and mosquitoes on pets with products such as “Frontline”, “Top Spot” or “K9 Advantix” monthly. The fleas and ticks can be shared with the pet’s family in the house. Some products prevent heartworms, ear mites and mange by taking one tablet every month. Heartworms develop in pets exposed to mosquito populations.
10. Ponds should have fish or tadpoles to control mosquitoes. A healthy pond can benefit from a copepod population, copepods are small crustaceans that feed on insect larvae. Some plants in the pond provide shelter for these small animals, but avoid cattails, sea lettuce or water hyacinths as they encourage mosquitoes.
11. The popular mosquito traps that attract with carbon dioxide and then kill insects are not considered effective to control mosquitoes. Zappers kill many of the beneficial predators of mosquitoes. Additional information about zappers is available from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Glenn Compton is the president of ManaSota 88, a nonprofit organization that has been fighting to protect the environment in Manatee and Sarasota counties for more than 30 years.