The Basics of Pest Control

Pests are organisms that cause damage to living or nonliving things. They can be animals, plants, bacteria, fungus or viruses. They can also be parasites (living on or in a host) or pathogens (causing disease in other organisms). Some pests, such as fleas and ticks, are also vectors (carriers) of diseases like cat scratch fever, plague, typhus, and flea-borne spotted fever.

Prevention is a key to successful pest control. The first step is to remove the food, shelter or water that the pests need. This can be done by getting rid of ripe fruits or vegetables for fruit flies, sealing food in containers, washing dirty dishes and clothes before storing them, not leaving pet food out overnight, repairing leaky pipes and making sure garbage bins are tightly closed.

Next, eliminate places where the pests can hide and breed. For example, seal cracks and crevices with caulk, use steel wool to fill spaces around pipes and cover them with wire mesh, and keep the yard and garden free of debris that pests can hide under. For indoor infestations, clean and vacuum carpeted areas often, and keep kitchen benches, cupboards, counter tops and shelves clear of food and utensils.

If the preventative steps fail, there are several options to reduce or eliminate the pests. Biological methods are nonchemical alternatives to pesticides that use living organisms to help control the insects or rodents. Some examples include plant growth regulators, hormones that mimic the natural insect hormones and pheromones (messenger chemicals) that control insect behavior. These alternatives are generally safe for the environment and humans but may take longer to be effective.

Chemical pesticides are generally more rapid, but they can be harmful to the environment, human health and pets. They can also be poisonous if swallowed or inhaled. They can be residual, meaning they last a long time and continue to kill the pests that have come into contact with them, or nonresidual, which means they are not absorbed by the soil or water.

When using pesticides, always follow the directions on the label, even when applying a residual spray or bait. If possible, avoid using pesticides where people live and work and only use a small amount of the product. Also, use only those pesticides that are designed for the specific type of pest you want to kill.

Integrated pest management (IPM) is a holistic approach that uses prevention, monitoring and control of pests in the yard and garden. It is based on the principle that most pest problems are caused by a combination of conditions and factors, rather than one single factor. For example, a chemical treatment for grubs in the lawn can help reduce their numbers, but will not stop them from becoming adult beetles that dig up and destroy the roots of landscape plants. This is why IPM includes preventive measures such as proper timing of treatments and careful selection of resistant varieties of plants. It also involves using the least toxic methods for removing existing pests, and applying controls only when they are needed.

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