Put those pests to rest

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Whether you live in a one-bedroom apartment or a sprawling island estate, we all share a common concern in this paradise known as the Lowcountry. From acrobat ants to wolf spiders, the seemingly never-ending variety of insects and critters you can expect to encounter run the gamut.

While natives might try to pass that hard-shelled creepy crawler off as just an innocent Palmetto bug, it’s a cockroach, folks. And it’s just one of the many pests that are looking to infiltrate your fortress.

But you do have a choice: You can either be the predator or the prey. That might sound harsh, but you might never have to call yourself a killer if you spend a bit of time thinking about prevention.

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION

The experts at the Clemson Extension Home & Garden Center offer plenty of research-supported tips that translate the science of entomology into layman terms.

Insects and menaces like raccoons and bats are not much different from humans in that they need water, food and shelter to survive and thrive. While different species have different habits — bats like to slip in through cracked windows and uncovered chimneys, while armadillos like to burrow in brush — the prevention methods are largely universal. If you get proactive in eliminating each of those necessities, you’re more likely to stave off any frantic middle-of-the-night showdowns.

Here are some ways to show insects that your home is not an all-you-can-eat buffet:

  • Remove pet food and water dishes at night. Store food, pet foods and bird seed in tightly sealed containers.
  • Clean up crumbs and spills on counters, tables and shelves immediately.
    Don’t leave dirty dishes on counters or in the sink. Run the garbage disposal daily to eliminate food in the drain.
  • Make sure you get all the food off dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.
  • Make sure you’re consistently cleaning the grease off of oven hoods and walls near stoves.
  • Vacuum carpets regularly and clean up spills immediately.
  • Store your trash in sealed garbage bags inside garbage cans with tightly sealed lids.
  • Wipe out the insides of cabinets regularly and rinse out recyclable items before storing them in a bin. Yes, this might sound like your mom asking you to do chores, but a little advance work on the prevention side goes a long way toward eliminating the chance of an insect attack. Take one look at the average house on “Hoarders” or “Buried Alive” and you will see they have done zero tasks on this checklist.

BLOCK THEIR ENTRY

To make sure bugs don’t take shelter in your palace, clean, dry and seal cracks and crevices in the foundation and within your home with a silicone caulk. Don’t place lights directly above or pointing at entry points to your home. The closer the light, the more likely insects will sneak in when doors are open at night. Trim branches and shrubbery so they are not touching the outer walls of your home. This eliminates bugs’ escalator into your house. Other tips:

  • Don’t place mulch against the foundation of your home. Always create air space between vegetation and the wall. Bonus points for creating a gravel barrier between soil and the foundation. Rodents like moles and opossums want an easy, soft path through soil and weeds. Gravel is too much work.
  • Don’t store timber or wood products (that includes cardboard boxes and newspapers) beneath a suspended floor like a crawl space. And move the woodpile away from the house.

MAKE ’EM THIRSTY

Insects are often come into home searching for water. Follow these tips to keep them parched:

  • Don’t leave water in the base of potted plants.
  • Check your fridge’s drip pan often to make sure it’s dry.
  • Fix leaky sinks, showers, baths and pipes
  • Don’t leave pots, pans or glasses in the sink filled with water.
  • Check your gutters and downspouts to make sure water runs away from the home and does not splash near the foundation.
  • When paving, make sure the pavement is lower than your interior floor level and angled away from the house to drain water.

A BALANCING ACT

Keeping your home pest-free while still protecting the Lowcountry’s environment requires a bit of thought before going for that brand-name pest killer.

“Pesticides have more impact on our wildlife than just that one pest you’re targeting,” said Tony Mills, education director at the Lowcountry Institute on Spring Island and host of the ETV show “Coastal Kingdom.” “When you put out pesticide to kill a mouse, the raptors that eat the mouse are also poisoned.”

Mills said the institute’s education program includes explaining how to deal with native species versus the species introduced to the area that are the true problem. Cotton rats, wood rats, marsh rice rats and cotton mice can be a nuisance when they get into boats or sheds and start gnawing on wood and wires, but for the most part, they keep to themselves. They’re an important part of this area’s circle of life, Mills said.

True problems, he said, come from invasive non-native species including Norway rats, black rats and house mice. They have no interest in contributing to the ecology; they just take what they can get and pillage. They’re the pests area residents should worry about.

Whether it’s rodents, insects or vermin, Mills said that first, it’s important to distinguish between minor annoyances and infestations.

“If you see an occasional critter, odds are they have just wondered where they don’t want to be,” he said. “Leave them alone because they’re going to leave you alone.”


PEST PROBLEMS?

For more information about the creepy crawlies that call the Lowcountry home, call the Clemson Extension Service Home & Garden Center at 888-656-9988 or go to www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/pests.