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Home & Garden Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, April 30, 2009

How to treat pests — spring’s unwelcome guests

By Paige Spawn Pierle

While people welcome the warm weather, sunshine, and flowers of spring, most are not as eager to welcome the insects. According to James Wang, owner of Able Pest Control, April is a hot season for carpenter ants, termites, bees, and wasps, all of which peak in May or June.

“Carpenter ants are a really big issue in this area,” Wang said. He uses pesticides that can be purchased by his customers themselves. However, since Wang has researched pest control since 1995, earning a master’s degree in entomology, he said he comes with the knowledge of how to use the pesticide.

“The label is the law,” he said. “If you violate the label, it means you violate the law.” Pesticides must only be used for the type of insect specified on the label, and only in the locations listed on the label.

Besides using pesticides to treat the insect problem, it is important to prevent the insects’ entry into homes. Carpenter ants like to live in moist areas, said Wang. Home-owners can prevent carpenter ants from entering their houses by reducing the amount of moisture in their homes.

Wang advises people to correct any roof leaks or damp areas of their houses. Dehumidifiers can help reduce the amount of moisture in basements, one of the areas where carpenter ants are most likely to be found. The other two areas include the front and back doors.

Wang recommends for people to check their foundations and pipes, which could be entry points for carpenter ants. “Seal the house, repair the siding and foundation if they are not correct,” he said. “This is very important.”

Carpenter ants live in trees—especially maple and pine trees. Tree branches that touch part of a house can serve as bridges that allow ants access to the house. In addition to live trees, stumps of cut trees and firewood also attract carpenter ants. Wang said that people should remove tree stumps and avoid storing their firewood next to their homes.

The area around the house should be kept dry. Trees and shrubs, which may keep the area moist, should be at least two to three feet away from the house, said Wang.

“People like to have bushes really close to the house,” he said. Mulch should not be applied next to the house, as mulch can attract termites. “I never mulch around my house,” said Wang.

Vincent Comparetta, a Guilderland resident and owner of Northeastern Landscapes of Albany, Inc., agreed that mulch can attract insects. However, an alternative to wood mulch is that made of rubber.

“Dumping tires is illegal but putting chunks of them in your bed is OK,” he said. While Comparetta has not seen recycled tires used in flowerbeds, he has seen the rubber mulch used in playgrounds. “Rubber does not hold moisture like wood mulch or the way a compost might hold moisture,” he said. This inability to retain moisture makes rubber an unsuitable living environment for bugs.

However, rubber does have its flaws. “It can be a fire hazard,” said Comparetta. “It doesn’t degrade. It’s there forever.”

Comparetta’s company, which specializes in landscape maintenance work, does not landscape with rubber mulch. His mulch is created from ground-up recycled wood products.

Robin Olsen, co-owner of Olsen’s ACE Hardware and Garden Center in Slingerlands, noticed that customers would purchase cedar mulch with the notion that it does not attract insects as much as other types of mulch. “That’s probably the main reason why people buy cedar mulch,” she said. While her store no longer carries cedar mulch, she does sell hundreds of pesticides.

“We have our traditional chemicals, more natural ones, and a lot of repellents,” said Sandy Brousseau, an employee of Olsen’s. Many of her customers complain about carpenter ants, ground bees, ticks, household ants, moths, and pantry pests.

Brousseau recommends some herbs that may repel insects. “Supposedly, in vegetable gardens, they say to plant French marigolds around the perimeter,” she said. “But even that is a question depending on who you listen to.”

Brousseau mentioned that fritillaria, a bulb with a skunk-like smell, may keep deer away. She referred to a sign in the garden center’s herb house for herb-repelling pests. The sign was created by Gilbertie’s Herbs, the company from which most of Olsen’s herbs are purchased. According to the sign, catnip detracts flies and mosquitoes. Pyrethrum repels mites and aphids. Lavender, lemon thyme, lemon balm, and scented geraniums repel mosquitoes and gnats. Tansy repels ants.

“It is also invasive,” said Brousseau. “It can reseed itself all over the place, but it is good for borders.”

Comparetta does not list any herbs or plants that may repel insects. Instead, he said that homeowners should identify their specific insect problems. For example, if the homeowner has a lot of Japanese beetles, Comparetta said to plant something other than sand cherries or dogwood—both of which attract Japanese beetles.

However, there are a whole variety of insects that target certain plants, he said. “You’re going to have insects no matter what plants you have,” he said. “Even if you have no plants around your house, you can have some insect problems.”

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