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Pest Patrol

Cockroaches in the kitchen? Mice in the walls? Try these natural solutions for safe pest control.

| May/June 2017

  • As pests make their way into your home, try simple, non-toxic methods to keep them at bay.
    Photo by iStock/Svetl
  • Store food in durable, mouse-proof containers, such as jars, to keep rodents out.
    Photo by iStock/Kwanchai_Khammuean
  • Keeping dry goods on shelves, and spaces in walls and near windows tightly sealed, will deter unwanted critters.
    Photo by iStock/Kwanchai_Khammuean

As spring and summer begin, many of us start looking forward to longer days, warmer weather and garden-fresh food. But spring and summer are also the beginning of the seasons when we confront household pests — from now through fall, mice, ants and other critters come out to forage, build nests and reproduce, sometimes finding our homes the ideal locale for these activities. While some of these animals can cause damage to our homes, few of them cause damage equal to the negative environmental and health effects of chemical pesticides. When you find a trail of ants or evidence of a mouse in your home, try these natural and nontoxic solutions rather than turning to harmful chemical pesticides.


If you find a trail of ants marching across your kitchen countertop, it’s easy to panic. However, several natural options work well to block ants’ paths and discourage future entry: diatomaceous earth (read more at the end of the article), orange peels, vinegar and lemon water are all purported to mask the scent trails ants leave for one another and deter future invasions.

This is not true when it comes to fire ants. When it comes to these invaders, shelve the grits, baking soda, club soda, vinegar, molasses, plaster of Paris, aspartame, cayenne pepper, cinnamon and coffee grounds! In scientific testing, none of these home remedies worked worth a lick against the red imported fire ant — a nasty, non-native species that’s invaded the South, from Florida to Texas, and is spreading westward into California.

Although most ant species are neutral or even beneficial, this one can ruin a garden in no time by devouring germinating seeds, tunneling into potatoes and tomatoes, and girdling young fruit trees — and they’ll bite and sting you, too. Drought makes these ants even more voracious, as it prompts them to turn to garden crops for moisture.

If you have just one or two fire ant mounds in your garden or landscape and not a widespread problem, drench the mounds with a citrus oil and soap solution, a combination that’s repeatedly proved effective. In controlled studies conducted by Texas A&M University entomologists, the researchers had significantly less active fire ant mounds for as long as a month after they drenched the mounds with a mixture of 1-1/2 ounces of Medina Orange Oil, 3 ounces of Dawn liquid soap and 1 gallon of water. A compound in citrus oil, d-limonene, breaks down the ants’ exoskeletons and causes them to suffocate. The commercial product Orange Guard Fire Ant Control — approved for use in organic agriculture by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) — also contains orange oil. (For other approved products, check the OMRI website,

If your fire ant problem is more extensive than a mound or two, step up your response with the “Texas Two-Step” method recommended by Texas A&M University extension specialists for fire ant control in home vegetable gardens and landscapes.

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