Spring Is in the Air
Is spring really here? What insects do you see and in what number? There are thousands of insects in a typical residential environment. Many, if not most show up as the weather changes. Especially as temperatures rise. This year we’ve gotten another reminder that spring weather conditions can change a lot from year to year. For centuries, people have used plant phenology (blooms, leaf flush) as nature’s signs to set up wasp traps and mend window screens to fend off house flies. Phenology uses the relationship of recurring seasonal plant and insect life cycle stages, rather than calendar date, to predict the activity of pests. Though the exact dates of an appearance of the same species may vary from year to year, when and where there is food, there are food eaters, and shortly thereafter “love is in the air”. As spring gets into full swing, all kinds of creatures are getting geared up, looking for food and mates.
Carpenter Bees are among the first early spring adventurers. They’re out collecting nectar/pollen from blooming ornamentals and investigating your home looking for wood in which to lay their eggs. They do not eat wood, but do severe damage by boring half-inch wide burrows that can extend up to 14 inches into exposed dry wood – such as the siding, and porch window trim and ceilings. They also bore into decks, fence posts, swing sets, etc. If you had carpenter bees last year, you will likely have them again this year because carpenter bee females prefer to reuse the old galleries to rear the next generation. This behavior is called site-fidelity.
Wasps include hornets, mud daubers, and yellow jackets. While they help control other insect populations, their stings are still no fun. They are especially attracted to sweet food and drink. Spring is the time for them to build new nests. Hornets have open structure nests with visible hexagonal cells, often built under the eaves of houses, in attic rafters and other covered areas. Yellow jackets build open nests surrounded by a papery covering and are often found within wall voids and attic or cavities in the ground. Mud daubers build small mud nests in or around homes, and structures. Now is the time, while the nests are small for wasp/bee inspection and nest removal. If you decide to use a can of wasp spray to kill the wasps before removal, read and follow the label directions and put on protective clothing for this job. Spraying during the late evening hours when the insects have returned to the nest may provide better coverage. If late enough to use a flashlight, using a red filter over the light may be helpful to keep you from being a target.
Spring is also the time for seasonal insects entering homes. This group includes ladybugs, kudzu bugs, the brown marmorated stink bug, flies, adult carpet beetles, etc. These minor menaces are bothersome, annoying and a nuisance, though they don’t bite or sting.
Occasional trespassers include boxelder bugs, centipedes, earwigs, millipedes, pillbugs and sowbugs, silverfish, and spring tails. They are mostly moisture-lovers.
What to do?
- Take a tip from Ben Franklin: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Insects can squeeze in through tiny gaps, cracks, or openings in a wall, siding, around windows and doors. The time you spend sealing up openings is an investment in invasion prevention.
- Keep waste around the home cleaned and covered or sealed in tight containers. Promptly clean up pet poo. We all have to eat, insects too. Any food left out is an invitation for foraging insects. De-clutter inside and outside to remove hiding places.
- Do not bring them in. Inspect what you bring into your home. Look closely for insects on or in garden plants or in bags of soil and mulch. Examine paper bags and cardboard boxes for live insects or leavings.
- Check your home for damp areas that favor bugs. Create an unhappy home for pests (usually dryer and without many plants and rocks) so they will not want to come in. When watering, it’s better to water early in the morning rather than in the evening. The water will soak in and the excess will have a chance to evaporate.
- Take down the bridges between your house and shrubbery. Prune plant material that touches the outside of your home. Insects can crawl from the soil, up a plant, and easily onto your home.
Learn how to create, care for and enjoy a beautiful, bountiful and life-enriching garden this spring. Join us in The Garden Life classes. Find out more on the Lee County Center Garden Life Series web page.
Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.