How to Prevent Mosquitoes at Home

It’s January so why on earth are we writing about this? Well in Texas mosquitoes don’t exactly hibernate like they do in other areas of the United States. Temperatures need to stay under 55 degrees for 5 days in a row, or we need to have 3 deep freezes in a row, for hibernation to occur. As you may have guessed, that happens rarely in this part of the world, and when it does it is almost always immediately followed by a rise in temperatures that takes them right back out of hibernation.

It’s often a mistake to think, “oh the temperatures have dropped; I don’t need to worry.” Think of the folks in Alaska – they deal with incredibly low temperatures every year and have one of the worst mosquito problems in the summer. Even if we have unexpected low temperatures, it doesn’t mean anything in terms of our population the following spring (or in our case a week later typically.)

mosquito on skinWhat drives the population in your yard is the potential for egg-laying areas. If you have few moist or wet zones, mosquitoes will be much less likely to lay eggs. Granted it won’t stop mosquitoes from coming in to visit you from a neighbor, for that you need Mosquito Joe to help. But getting rid of those egg-laying zones on your property will have a HUGE impact on the population at home. So, what do you need to do?

We always tell our customers to, “think like a mosquito.” It’s no good walking around your yard without this in mind – it’s a bit like childproofing yourraking leaves home without thinking like a child. A mosquito wants to lay her eggs in stagnant water, or in damp soil that is protected from the sun. She is smart enough to know if a dry area has a tendency to hold moisture, even if the ground is bone dry when she is hunting for a place to lay eggs. You have to think this way as well when you walk the yard.

Here is what you need to look for:

  • Piles of fallen leaves or pine needles: It’s a pain and we all hate to do it but raking the yard and keeping the ground clear of all the leaf litter is green leafimportant. The ground covered in leaves stays damp and is protected from the sun. It’s an ideal place for mosquitoes to lay eggs, so rake, rake and rake some more!

 
 

  • Gutters: keep them clear of leaves and debris. It soon turns to sludge and blocks your gutters, puddlecreating stagnant pools of water. Even if you have gutter covers don’t be fooled into thinking your gutters won’t cause issues! The same leaves can decompose on top of the covers, causing the sludge to fall through into the gutter and producing the same effect. Running a hose through your gutters once you’ve cleaned them up is the best way to ensure there are no blockages.

 

  • Pot saucers, plant pots, wheelbarrows, toys, etc. You will be amazedred tricycle at how much water a kid’s toy can hold, and any small saucer has the potential to create quite the population for you. 1 teaspoon of water makes for 300 eggs! Remove all the water and then remove the object as well: store your saucers and pots upside down, preferably in a shed or indoor location.

 

     

    • Store wheelbarrows on their sides and be aware that you are looking for a teaspoon or more– so fence posts without caps, a frisbee, dog bowls, wheel barrelumbrella stands – the list is endless and you will be surprised at the amount of water you find. If you are not spending much time outdoors this time of year, store these items inside away from mosquito visits.

 

  • Tarps and other covers are also pretty sneaky when it comes to collecting rainwater. Pool covers can be a nightmare too – mosquitoes won’t visit chlorinated water, but the water on the top ofpool ladder the cover is a different story.

 
 
 
 
 

  • Drill holes at the bottom of your trash cans and tire swings etc. If water gets in them, you’ll want to find a way to get it to flow back out. It’s a simple job that can make a world of difference.

 

  • Finally, consider your drainage both above ground and below. If you have a French drain that backs up, remember that you will likely have stagnant water under the ground that you can’t see. The more you control and manage any drainage issues in the yard the better off you will be.

Mosquito Joe will remove and treat all your standing water at each visit. We do this because the majority of mosquito issues stem from these areas. You can help yourself a lot by taking the time to manage all these areas and by keeping on top of falling leaves, etc. The more you do this month the happier you will be, come summer!

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Why Are Mosquitoes Still Around in October?

halloween pumpkinLet’s face it, we all conjure up images of October that involve falling leaves, pumpkin spice and dark evenings with crisp fall air. In Texas, reality usually falls short and we find ourselves sweltering in the heat while trying to dispose of a molded pumpkin that deflated well in advance of the trick-or-treaters.

Mosquitoes appreciate our fall just as much as our summer. In fact, they rarely go away here in the south. Hibernation only occurs once temperatures drop beneath 55 degrees and stay there for at least a week, or we get 3 deep freezes in a row. Mosquito Joe will never treat when those parameters are met. It’s worth adding that we’ve met those parameters only once in 6 years, and it lasted but a week.

raking leavesFall in Texas does involve falling leaves, and those play a role in your mosquitoes. The more leaf litter (and pine needles) on the ground, the darker and damper the soil. There is nothing a mosquito appreciates more than shade and moisture. The leaves create the perfect spot for a female to lay her eggs. One rain shower and a good 300 hatch under the one leaf. The hatched adults immediately breed and the females, once they have bitten and acquired the blood protein required to lay eggs, go off to find another lovely home to lay their eggs. Before you know it, your mosquito population is very high, and enjoying the cooler evenings is no longer fun.

Keeping your yard raked will play a huge role in reducing your mosquitoes. While we totally agree that raking is the worst, maintaining a tidy yard will have a huge impact.

leaf guttersAnother important location to keep your eye on is your gutters. Leaves and pine needles can quickly block them, and the resulting standing water is another location mosquitoes will quickly take advantage of. It’s worth mentioning that even gutters that are covered cause issues. The leaves that sit atop those will turn into sludge with rain. That sludge falls into the gutter and causes blockages. We often have customers who have a huge mosquito population because the gutters are blocked, and they don’t realize it. So long story short, keep your gutters free of leaves. If you have covered gutters, hit them with water from a hose to push out all the debris inside them and keep them clear.

pumpkins and squashesFinally, be aware that some of your fall décor can be causing issues. Check for standing water after rain and be sure to dump any you can. And remember, it won’t be long until Christmas and snow (not).

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How to Plant a Fall Vegetable Garden in Houston

August in Houston means high heat, high humidity, and an increased interest in staying inside and staying cool. However, if you are willing to brave the heat now you can set yourself up for some delicious produce come fall.

The good news is that you don’t want to start your plantings in the heat as what is too hot for us is too hot for those tender seeds as well. Instead, you will want to start your seeds off in little pots and take care to keep them consistently moist. Your best bet is to place them in the morning sun, but make sure they have afternoon shade – or move them out of the sun come noon. If you need to speed up the process and are getting a later start, soak your seeds overnight in water before planting.  This will soften the hull and give you a jump start on growth.

Another trick to fool seeds into sprouting at the wrong time of year is to start them in an ice cube. A good example is spinach, which typically sprouts later in the season. You can get them to sprout sooner by freezing the seed in an ice cube and then planting the ice cube (who knew!).

Once the seeds start to sprout maintain the watering and sun schedule until they reach 6” tall.
Remember: you want moist soil, but you don’t want to overwater and cause root rot. Once they hit 6” they are ready to be planted. Ideally, you will want to do so in a raised bed since it is easier to water and maintain moistness than flat ground.

Be sure to weed and prep the soil with a good compost before planting. If you don’t have raised beds work your soil into raised ridges and plant in those.

 

Some plants that will do well planted in August include cabbage, okra (if you speed up the sprouting time by soaking the seeds in water), and so long as you maintain good moisture, cherry tomatoes. You are best waiting until the end of the month for the latter.

Once we move into September the options increase. Having prepped your seeds for growth in mid-Augustyou can start planting out snap beans, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, swiss chard, kale, English peas, Irish potatoes, collards, kale, and summer squash.

In October, you can plant beets, garlic and leaf lettuce. In November, consider adding radish and turnip to your garden.

For a comprehensive list of what to plant when, and a guide on how to build your garden before planting, visit TAMU’s website here.  You can see a comprehensive list of Texas varieties of veggies that will do well here and have you winning the battle of vegetables vs. sun.  Come fall your family will enjoy a feast of fresh vegetables!  If you want to enjoy your gardening work without being bitten call Mosquito Joe.  Remember, we will never treat your veggie garden unless the situation warrants (and we speak with you first) and then we will only use an all-natural garlic option. Our services are tailored to your yard so we can make your outside fun again while minimizing our impact to pollinators and beneficial insects.

 

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How to Keep Water Activities From Breeding Mosquitoes

It’s hard to believe that we are halfway through 2020 although some might say it’s the longest year on record. As we approach the hottest month of the year the yard is filling with toys to keep our kids cool. Slip n’ slides and water balloon fun can help make for an exciting afternoon outside while keeping the family cool, but they are also a potential attractant for mosquitoes. As always, we want to help you keep that mosquito population down and are here to point out some ways to do just that.

Water games are popular in Texas, and with good reason. In the mid-afternoon sun, you and your kids can overheat quickly. It’s what you do after the games are finished that will have a big impact on the number of mosquitoes in your yard. After all, mosquitoes need water to lay their eggs. The more water the merrier as far as they are concerned, but they don’t need much. Just one teaspoon of water provides enough surface area for 300 eggs!  So, the key to managing the population is in how you put the toys away.

Slip n’ slides and kiddie pools are often emptied of water and left to dry. If they are put away when they are still wet, pockets of water can attract mosquitoes.  Compound that with how we store them – often in a dark place – and we just made the mosquitoes a most excellent home. Ideally you want to hang these toys up to drip dry and then fold them and store them in a sealed location.

Buckets and water balloon toys often have the same fate. We hide them away in a tub or in a garage, but we don’t remove all the water before we do. Since these places are cool and shaded, mosquitoes will welcome the opportunity to lay their eggs in these locations and before you know it you have quite the population boom.

A simple and fun afternoon can be spent running around with a sprinkler in the yard. Where things can often go wrong is when other toys, inevitably in the yard as well, are hit with the sprinkler and fill up with water. We recently had a customer who was having continual issues under his car port. We made multiple visits to try and determine the issue with no luck. Finally, one day we arrived early, to find an outdoor play kitchen out in the yard. We realized that it was full of mosquito larvae (on the face of it looked very clean, but inside the walls of the kitchen was stagnant water). Turns out, the customer was putting the toy in his garage before we came to treat and then returning it outside for the grandkids. We estimated about 1.5 gallons of water in when we emptied it.

The key takeaway here is to just to be conscious of mosquitoes and their behavior when you clean up the yard after a day of play. Make sure everything is dry and that your storage location is completely sealed. Damp, shady places with pockets of water will breed millions of mosquitoes. Check slides and playhouses for water and get rid of as much as you can by rotating it or moving it into a sunny area.

We hope you create some great memories with your kids and none of them involve bug bites and if they do, give us a call and we will be happy to make your outside a fun place to be.

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How Do I Get Rid of Fire Ants?

This is the second installment in the series. If you want to check out information on chiggers and fleas head over to our last blog post. We are so often asked “how do I get rid of *fill in the blank*?” that we thought it would be useful to write a post on the most common pests we are asked about. This month we look at fire ants, bed bugs and fruit flies/house flies.

How do I get rid of fire ants?

Fire ants are migratory, so getting rid of fire ants is not a one-shot deal. It requires upkeep to maintain a fire ant-free zone in your yard. Each year, new queens are born. They mate and then fly up to 3 miles, before landing to nest. She feeds off her wings and then burrows below to lay her eggs. In this way new colonies of ants are established constantly when the temperatures are between 70 and 95 degrees.

Many folks are familiar with the fire ant poison you can purchase at large home supply stores. Once spread in your yard it requires watering in. Essentially the water releases the poison into the soil and kills any ants it comes into contact with. The problem with this is that fire ant nests are a little bit like icebergs. What you see above the ground is just a small hint of what lies beneath, and the poison only kills what it contacts.

At Mosquito Joe we prefer a 2-part method to make, and keep, your yard fire ant free. The first requires a bait. Since fire ants share all the food they bring to the nest, and since the queen (and the responsibly party for all the ants in your yard) also feats on the same, a bait will get rid of the source of the problem. The fire ant queen waits 2 days before eating any food brought back. She will only eat once those 2 days have past and the taster ants are still living. To get by this safety measure, we use a bait with a 3-day delay. In this way we can circumvent the safety mechanism she has in place. We combine this treatment with a mound service, designed to kill the population of each nest. Since there is much more going on beneath the ground than above, this must be combined with the bait program to be effective.

Unfortunately, there are no preventative actions you can take to reduce the numbers in your yard. Fire ants are not fussy, and don’t particularly care if your yard is neat or messy, leaf filled or raked. It’s all the same to them.

How do I get rid of bed bugs?

We are going to go on record here, right out of the gate, and state that we do not treat for, nor are we experts in bed bugs. That being said, we get the question a lot, so we thought this topic was worthy of a conversation.

Firstly, we need to dispel the myth that bed bugs are only found in dirty homes. Bed bugs are everywhere – public buildings, schools, gyms, airplanes, in all 50 states and globally. They hitch hike from one place to the next, whether it be in furniture, your gym bag, wild animals, clothing or any number of ways. Just like mosquitoes, bed bugs find their food source through carbon dioxide and are bloodsuckers, feeding of exposed skin, then dropping off and hiding until the next feed (typically in the mattress). The preferred location is the bed as sleeping exposed skin is the easiest meal. While some humans have no reaction to them, the other 80% reacts with small red bumps.

Heat is the enemy of the bed bug, and treatment will include laundering sheets at a high temperature, possibly removing the mattress and disposing (marking it “bed bugs” so the cycle is broken) treating the room and the furniture, box spring, mattress (if you choose to keep it), the air and crevices with heat and insecticides. It is possible to do this yourself, but most people would rather have an expert come in and manage the infestation.

The only prevention is to be alert to their presence, and to take precautions after visiting an infested site. It is advisable to check the bed in a new lodging before taking your suitcase in, and never leave your clothing on the floor. Look for white small eggs and fecal matter in and around furniture, crevices and mattresses. Adults measure 4-5mm long and can be seen with the human eye. It is said that they smell like “rotting raspberries” and trained dogs are able to detect them.

How do I get rid of fruit flies and house flies?

There is a lot of information online on this topic, but often the misinformation comes from the identification of the fly itself. We’ve had customers complain about fruit fly’s only to discover they have issues with house flies and vice versa. A fruit fly measures about 1/8” and is brown, while a house fly is 1/8 – ¼” long and dark grey. You can also find gnats, drain flies and several other species causing issues for you inside and out. Fruit flies often feed from decomposing fruit, typically that rotting lemon forgotten at the bottom of your fruit bowl. These small flies, sometimes known as vinegar flies, can be trapped and killed by placing a solution of apple cider vinegar and liquid soap around the house. The flies are attracted to the vinegar and then drown in the solution as the soap coats their wings and prevents them from flying. There are various other methods, involving red wine, mashed bananas and so on.

For gnats the easiest remedy, and you should do this twice a year whether you have a problem or not, is to clean your drains. For this you pour about a gallon of bleach into each drain (especially those in a guest bath or shower that gets little use) followed by 10 minutes of hot water. This will flush and clean the drains, preventing new little homes for gnats in your house.

We also often get asked about flies in the yard, which often turn out to be blow flies and house flies. The easiest way to manage these is to manage the stuff they are attracted to. Open trash, pet excrement, and for the blow fly, decaying meat. Mosquito Joe can treat for flies for you, but our treatment is only good when the smell we spray is stronger than the others around it. We place an attractant, coated in pesticide, on the trunk of trees and other areas close enough to your living area to attract them, while far enough away not to be noticed by you. Because scents are short lasting, we recommend the service for a party or outside celebration and always let our customers know that it is not long lasting, and the flies will return in time.

To help yourself in the yard, keep your grass short and your yard tidy. That means keeping up with leaf litter and your pet(s), making sure any compost is far away from your home, and understanding that new mulch and manure will bring them in. The popular suggestion of hanging a bag of water up does not work, in our experience. Homemade fly traps can be helpful, but they can also attract more flies than you otherwise would have.

We hope this series has been useful for you. If you would like us to write on another topic just send us an email with the subject line “blog topic”. For us, pest control is more than killing bugs. It is educating and helping our customers gain a better understanding of how they can help themselves.

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