Organic Pest Control: Fact and Fiction

Do grits kill fire ants? Will dryer sheets repel mosquitoes? Find out which DIY tricks really work when it comes to banishing pests.
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Fire Ants: Fact or Fiction?

You can sprinkle grits around fire ant mounds to kill these aggressive, stinging insects.

Fiction

Fire ants won't really eat dry grits, consume water, and then explode, says Dr. Ron Harrison, entomologist and Orkin Technical Services Advisor. To control them organically, remove outdoor food and moisture sources that may attract them, such as pet bowls or spills. Seal gaps around doors and windows to help keep them out of your home.

Aphids: Fact or Fiction?

Soapy water can help manage aphids, garden bugs that damage plants by sucking their juices.

Fact

Spraying plants with two tablespoons of dish soap mixed in a gallon of water will help manage aphids. For bigger pests, such as these harlequin bugs, wear gloves and handpick the pests. Then drop them into a jar of soapy water.

Mosquitoes: Fact or Fiction?

Dryer sheets will repel mosquitoes.

Fiction

There's no science to back up the notion that dryer sheets repel mosquitoes, although wiping them on surfaces may remove the dust and crumbs that attract pests. Dr. Harrison recommends banishing mosquitoes with an EPA-approved insect repellent with DEET.

Ants: Fact or Fiction?

You can destroy an ant hill by pouring boiling water on it.

Fiction

Boiling water will kill exposed ants, but by the time it seeps into the rest of the colony, it won't be hot enough to destroy the queen and worker ants. Boiling water can also burn grass, plants and people.

Whiteflies: Fact or Fiction?

Whiteflies are repelled by plants with very strong odors.

Fact

Certain plants with pungent odors can help deter or confuse insects.  French marigolds, planted in masses, can help control whiteflies and harmful nematodes. 

Spiders: Fact or Fiction?

Dryer sheets will keep spiders away.

Fiction

Dryer sheets get credit for doing a lot more than softening clothes. There's no proof that they repel spiders. Dr. Harrison, an entomologist with Orkin, instead suggests installing screens and tightening window and door seals to keep them out of your home. You can also remove webs and other insects that spiders eat. But most spiders, like this one, don't damage plants and are very beneficial, because they eat other pests. If you can identify them as harmless, it's best to leave those kinds of spiders alone.

Rodents: Fact or Fiction?

Traps baited with cheese will lure rodents.

Fiction

If you're battling mice, use chocolate or peanut butter in traps instead of cheese; Dr. Harrison says mice prefer foods higher in carbohydrates. If squirrels are the problem, catch them in humane traps, or bury your bulbs under chicken wire so they can't be dug up. Protect your home from rodents by using a waterproof sealant to close inside and outside cracks and crevices. Remember: mice can squeeze through dime-sized openings.

Mosquitoes: Fact or Fiction?

Fans will repel mosquitoes.

Fact

According to Dr. Harrison and Orkin, mosquitoes aren't good fliers, so you really can keep them away by circulating the air with fans. Direct the airflow away from outdoor gathering spaces.

Cockroaches: Fact or Fiction?

Orange peels will prevent cockroaches.

Fact

Bumpy, green Osage orange peels, placed on your countertops, really will deter roaches, says Dr. Harrison, thanks to a chemical compound they contain. But it won't prevent them from infesting the rest of your home. To discourage them entering in the first place, clean up all food and water spills and seal cracks and crevices indoors and out. According to Orkin, roaches can slip through a space as thin as a quarter.

Ants: Fact or Fiction?

Some ants species will avoid bitter cucumber peels.

Fact

Putting bitter cucumber peels around entry areas to your home can deter some kinds of ants, says Orkin entomologist Dr. Ron Harrison. But these insects can easily find other, unblocked entrances. Consult a trained pest professional to address this problem.

Mosquitoes: Fact or Fiction?

Botanicals and cedar oils will keep mosquitoes away.

Fact and Fiction

There's both truth and myth in the notion that certain plants or oils   repel mosquitoes. While these flying pests may avoid direct contact with citronella, mint or laurel growing around your home, botanicals and oils don't work at a distance or last long enough to keep them away. Because mosquitoes can spread life-threatening diseases, Orkin recommends using an EPA-registered insect repellent on exposed skin when you're outdoors.

Pests: Fact or Fiction?

Cockroaches, rodents and other pests will retreat from areas where sonic or ultrasonic devices are used.

Fiction

Orkin expert Dr. Ron Harrison says there's no evidence that commercially sold sonic or ultrasonic sound machines effectively control rodents or roaches. If you live in a wooded area, natural predators like hawks and owls may help, but these pests can reproduce rapidly. Since they can damage your house, garden and even your personal health, you'll probably need professional help to combat them.