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Bug off! Keep indoor pests away the natural way

Handy home staples that help keep bugs outside rather than inside include diatomaceous earth, 30 percent vinegar, and bug lights. Photo by Martelle Luedecke/Luedecke Photography

Bug lights, white vinegar, sugar water, nematodes, diatomaceous earth, crushed calcium, and even spiders are key household items to keep your indoor living space free of intrusive pests without resorting to chemical warfare.

In the early morning, while my coffee brews, I often open the back door to hear the world awake. When I finally switch on the lights to find my favorite mug, whoosh, a swarm of moths, damselflies, and more sweep into my sanctuary. Solution: I switched out my regular indoor light for a yellow bug light.

Reaching for the sugar bowl, I see the sugar ants have claimed a share of the sweets. Time to grab some 20 percent or 30 percent vinegar that you can purchase from the local hardware or feed store. Using a basic spray bottle, wet their trails and around the base of the room. No more pesky sugar ants.

I keep fungus gnats off of household plants by adding nematodes to my watering can. Nematodes are tiny little worms that distribute bacteria and fungi through the soil and along the roots. It’s also a source of nourishment for an entire food chain of creatures you can’t see that keep plants healthy.

For fleas and ticks, I use my best friend ever: diatomaceous earth! I grab an old flour sifter to lightly distribute a fine layer just about everywhere, including under the cushions on the couch, under the fitted sheet on my bed, on the carpet, and in the pets’ bedding or kennels. When the ground is dry, I may apply diatomaceous earth for ants, fleas, and roaches. Diatomaceous earth is pet- and child-friendly.

For chiggers, I apply elemental sulfur at 4 pounds per 1,000 square-feet.

Scorpions are also not welcome in my home, especially when they show up in my kitchen sink as it’s hard to spray them down the drain. They can be especially worrisome in hot weather when they are looking for a cool, moist place to hang out. Here are some tips on how to keep them outside:

  • move debris and wood away from your home
  • walk around your home, filling any spaces, cracks, or crevices with copper mesh or steel wool
  • keep the grass touching your home closely mowed

Some friendly advice when putting on your shoes or boots: I turn mine upside down over the toilet and bang them together. If a scorpion has taken up housekeeping in my footwear, it will fall into the toilet and not on my bare feet.

Inviting avian friends over keeps aphids and gnats at bay.

Hummingbirds are especially helpful. Insects are 80 percent of their diet. To keep these tiny carnivores around, I mix them a little sugar water and nectar. I use a 3-to-1 water-to-sugar ratio, which quenches their thirst after feasting on the aphids, gnats, and mosquitoes with which I no longer have to contend.

Now, let’s talk spiders. That’s one creature I keep around.

"Spiders are Mother Nature's natural means of pest control," according to Sheryl Smith-Rodgers, a Texas Master Naturalist who specializes in the eight-legged creatures. "Every year, they collectively eat more than 400 tons of insects around the world. Around our home, the webs of orb-weaver spiders can trap pesky flying insects like mosquitos and flies.”

A lot of other bugs are also helpful to have around, but those are for the garden and that’s a story for another day.

Farmer and rancher Martelle Luedecke owns Luedecke Photography in the Highland Lakes and, along with her father, Bill Luedecke, writes “In the Garden,” a locally syndicated column on best gardening practices year-round. You can read it at

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