Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Insect Deterrence & Removal

Spring is here and with it, in addition to flowers and butterflies, are various pest ranging from Japanese Beetles who eat the leaves off our trees, to Tomato Hornworms who devastate our tomato crops, and to fleas, ticks, and other biting insects who make us and our animal companions miserable.

Every year we have insect incursions into our home and garden. While there are various natural remedies, none seem to be quite as effective as the harsh and toxic chemicals available on the commercial market. I'm not a fan of these, but sometimes, nothing else will do.

Tomato Hornworm

We use a variety of methods to attempt to moderate their damage, which includes having a contract with our local exterminator to spray around the outside of our house to keep as many of the pests from getting in as possible. However, this system isn't perfect, and does nothing for our food plants. As with many things, a defense in depth is important.

To help keep insects from gaining entrance to our home, I use a light layer of diatomaceous earth (DE) on the thresholds of exterior doors. To deal with any bugs who managed to get in anyway, I sprinkle some on rugs prior to vacuuming. In case of a more major infestation, placing a dusting of DE in corners and along baseboards, then leaving it for at least several hours or up to a day before vacuuming, can help significantly.

Diatomaceous earth is the fossilized remains of single-cell algae called diatoms. Present in most soil and many bodies of water, these tiny creatures had cell walls or shells made of silica that's similar to glass. When crushed, the resulting powder has sharp edges capable of cutting through the exoskeleton of insects, sometimes even removing it entirely. It can also absorb fat and oil from the exoskeleton, causing the bug to dry out. Basically, DE can kill a wide variety of insects as long as they have an open circulatory system and an exoskeleton, although some pests (such as caterpillars and cabbage worms) have a coating of mucus or slime on their bodies which renders DE ineffective.

If you are considering this option, make sure to purchase food grade DE. By FDA regulation, it must contain less than 1% crystalline silica, which makes it safer for humans and the best option for pest control around the home. There's also feed-grade DE, which is held to lower standards, as it's intended for use in animal feed.

A commercially available, more natural option we purchased recently is Vet's Best Flea & Tick Spray for Cats. Made from a relatively low concentration of peppermint and clove extracts, it's supposed to be both safe and effective. It's also highly regarded and seems to work well.

Vet's Best

Important Notes:
  • Cats don’t have a necessary liver enzyme, so most mint oils are particularly dangerous to them. Read and follow the directions carefully.
  • Allow any products used to dry completely before allowing pets back into the area. 
  • Do not spray any of these solutions directly on the animal.

A common folk remedy for dealing with pests on plants is to spray them with soap and water. However, several sources noted this can harm the plant directly, and also make the leaves more susceptible to sun damage by removing the waxy outer surface.

A safer, but less effective option is cayenne pepper, either dusted around the base of the plant or mixed with water and used as a spray. This reportedly makes the plant less palatable to many pests, both insect and rodent. As I mentioned in a previous post, mint extract can be used for a similar purpose. Note: there is some evidence that cayenne pepper can be harmful to bees, and some types of plants react poorly to the spray. Test it on a single leaf before applying more.

A less natural option is called Permethrin, a chemical insecticide used for pest removal on everything from farms to aircraft. However, we will not be trying this remedy. Even though Permethrin is noted as being safe for cattle, birds, dogs, etc, it's extremely toxic to cats. While our cats are indoor only, we don't want to chance tracking it inside and putting them at risk.

Many people use citronella candles or diffusers to keep bugs away outdoors. Again, be careful with this extract, as citronella oil is also not safe for use around cats; whether inhaled, ingested or applied topically, citronella oil can cause a variety of health issues to our feline friends. There's also debate on whether commercial citronella candles or oil have a high enough concentration to repel mosquitos.

Some additional options for natural outdoor pest repellents include cinnamon oil, clove oil, and other pungent herbs or their extracts. Planting marigolds around the periphery of an area can also help reduce invading insect populations.


This is in no way an exhaustive list of pest preventatives or remedies, but hopefully it will be of some benefit to our readers.

Good luck... and I hope you can stop scratching.

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