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Garden Safety: Protecting Yourself From Summer Pests


By Ron Harrison, Ph.D., Entomologist and Orkin Technical Services Director

Gardening is giving baseball a run for its title as the American pastime. According to the National Gardening Association, one in three Americans grows a vegetable garden, and Americans spend upwards of $3.5 billion on gardening each year.

Despite their differences – golden glove versus green thumb, base path versus flower bed – these boys of summer are not too dissimilar. Both are at the mercy of the weather, and both try to protect their field from rivals.

When summer temperatures rise, it’s not just vegetation and blooms popping up. Pests start showing up in the summer months too. And if a gardener isn’t careful, the pests can be downright dangerous.

So who cultivates the home field advantage in this rivalry? The one who scouts the competition and plans ahead. Learn about three of the top pests growers may face in the garden, and how gardeners can fight their bite:


Mosquitoes: Mosquitoes can be a major health concern for anyone who spends time outdoors in the summer, especially in hot, moist environments that are vital to mosquito growth and survival. While some people have no reaction to mosquito bites, others get itchy welts or suffer allergic reactions from mosquito bites. Mosquitoes can also spread diseases like West Nile virus and Chikungunya virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the risk of infection is highest for people who work outside or participate in outdoor activities because of greater exposure to mosquitoes.

Before gardeners step out into the yard, they should dress in a protective “uniform” that covers as much exposed skin as possible: loose fitting pants and long sleeves — mosquitoes can bite through tight fitting clothes — and an EPA-registered insect repellent.

Adult mosquitoes prefer dense vegetation for shelter. If the vegetation is thick, the leaves give adult mosquitoes a place to hide, protecting them when wind blows. By thinning out vegetation, mosquitoes lose their hiding place, and wind will naturally have an adverse effect on the mosquito population.

Immature mosquitoes need stagnant water to grow and survive, so getting rid of any standing water in the yard is essential to helping prevent mosquito breeding. Check flower pots, bird baths and anything else in the yard that might hold standing water, as mosquitoes can breed in as little as 2 or 3 inches of water.

It’s important that gardeners never assume they’re “in the clear.” They should take precautions all day long and for most of the year since mosquito season can last from April to October in warmer parts of the country. And some species of mosquitoes — including the Asian tiger and yellow fever species, which are common in the southern United States and can carry Chikungunya virus — are active all day, not just between dusk and dawn.

Symptoms of common mosquito-borne illnesses are similar to flu-like symptoms. Anyone who comes down with those symptoms over the summer should contact their doctor to be safe.


Ticks: Tick bites can pose a threat to both people and pets. Lyme disease, which causes muscle and joint aches, fatigue, chills, fever and skin rash, is the most common tick-borne disease in the United States. However, it is only one of many that can be transmitted by ticks. Ticks transmit these diseases through their bites as they attach themselves to their host — a gardener, family pet or other animal — with their mouth and feed on blood.

Ticks are masters of disguise. Most unfed adult ticks are about the size of an apple seed and immature ticks are even smaller. Both hide in outdoor areas with shrubbery and tall grass. Given their tendency to hide in this type of vegetation, the tick population can be reduced in the yard by regularly trimming shrubbery and grass.

When outdoors, gardeners should wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants that are light colored so ticks are easier to see. Pants should be tucked into socks or boots to prevent ticks from crawling under pant legs.

Many people are misinformed when it comes to proper tick removal. When returning inside from working near woods or tall grass, gardeners should immediately check their bodies for ticks and only remove a tick with tweezers. Ticks should be lifted at the head gently and firmly, but never squeezed. Using alcohol, nail polish, hot matches, petroleum jelly or other commonly accepted methods to remove a tick may actually traumatize it, causing infection.

Fire Ants: According to the Food and Drug Administration, people in the United States spend more than $5 billion each year on medical issues and control related to fire ants.

Fire ants are very aggressive; they will quickly attack and sting when they feel threatened, especially if something is touching their mound. Their stings are painful and pose a significant health risk to those who experience severe allergic reactions.

Fire ants have strong survival instincts, which makes long-term control difficult. Simply destroying one mound may not eliminate the problem — if something disturbs a colony, fire ants can completely relocate in a matter of hours. A trained professional who can assess the situation, implement a treatment and monitor for improvements over time is the best solution.

For more information on preventing common summer pests, visit

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