Close-up of young woman's legs being sprayed with insect repellent outdoors

Close-up of young woman's legs being sprayed with insect repellent outdoors

Planning a summer garden party? If so, be sure to disinvite the most unpleasant gate-crashers: ticks, mosquitos and chiggers.

Practically every garden in Missouri hosts one or more of these nasty creatures. We all want to enjoy spending leisure time in our carefully manicured yards, but not with bloodsucking critters that inflict nasty bites, itchy reactions, secondary infections from scratching and serious blood-borne illnesses.

Unfortunately, some traditional methods of tick prevention have serious environmental consequences, like the widespread use of GardenTech’s Sevin insecticide dust. In addition to ticks, Sevin’s active chemical, carbaryl, kills honey bees, butterflies, lightning bugs and a multitude of other desirable organisms. Although popular for insect control for decades primarily because of its low toxicity to mammals, it devastates beneficial insects when used over large areas.

The most eco-friendly method of reducing tick populations has been to raise guinea fowl, as they love to eat ticks. However, if you can’t tolerate their incessant noise, live in a neighborhood that forbids urban poultry or can’t defend these less-than-brilliant birds from coyotes, other answers may be needed.

In that light, a new method of tick control involves existing chemical treatments handled in a different way. The chemical permethrin constitutes the synthetic sister to the naturally occurring pyrethrum, an insecticide derived from the pyrethrum daisy. Traditionally used to treat clothing and camping gear to resist ticks and mosquitos, it’s now being used to treat cotton wads placed in weatherproof tubes for – get this – mice to line their nests. The permethrin then transfers in a low dose to the rodents’ fur and kills young ticks carried there, thus interrupting the tick life cycle and reducing the number of adult ticks in your garden.

As our climate continues to warm, more mosquito-carried diseases, like the Zika virus and dengue, are predicted to arrive, making environmentally friendly management methods for them critical. Consider, for instance, the newest offerings in the Thermacell Repellents family: Radius units. A battery powers the product and warms a heat-reactive mosquito-repelling pad treated with allethrin (a relative of permethrin) that volatilizes to protect an area of more than 100 square feet.

By combining a Radius unit with a natural insect repellant for mosquitoes (30 percent lemon eucalyptus oil, say), you can camp in Wisconsin – whose health services department cautions that the type of mosquito that spreads West Nile virus plagues every county in the state – with no bites. Check earlier articles I’ve written on mosquito control for more tips and techniques about preventing and avoiding their itchy, dangerous bites.

As for chiggers, early removal remains the best option. Their soft, nearly microscopic bodies are easily crushed by rubbing a dry towel vigorously over your body. So if you live in a chigger-infested area, mow your lawn very low and, at the end of evening get-togethers, pass out towels, with instructions, to departing invited guests.