It is just the worst part of gardening. I mean it, the worst. The bugs. My former biology teachers would scold me for saying “bugs” and not insects, but that’s what we call them.
I appreciate beneficial insects in the garden – the praying mantises, ladybugs, spiders, and even bees and wasps that can sting. But here in the Deep South, we are just overtaken by unpleasant bugs – redbugs, ticks, mosquitoes and anything that can bite or sting.
I must have the most delicious blood in the South. I can stand next to people and be the only one who gets bitten by mosquitoes. I’ve gotten redbugs from SITTING ON CONCRETE before. It just shouldn’t be possible.
So, if you’re going to be outside gardening in the Southeastern U.S., this are the top 3 bugs, er….insects, that you should know about and do your best to avoid.
These guys suck! Quite literally, actually, they will suck as much blood out of you as they can. It seems that certain people are more attractive to mosquitoes than others, and there is a lot of speculation as to why that is (amount of carbon dioxide they omit, their blood type, etc.).
But the best thing to do is to try and prevent bites. While I’ve tried a lot of different repellents, the best advice is to wear long sleeves and long pants. Coating these with permethrin is an even better idea (but don’t get this on your skin).
It is so hard to consistently wear clothes that cover the skin here in Mississippi in the summer. I mean, sometimes the heat index is over a hundred and the humidity? Don’t get me started. So I get bit, a lot.
I don’t like putting DEET directly on my skin, so I tried out one of OLE (oil of lemon eucalyptus) or PMD (the man-made chemical version of this) repellents (that the CDC has shown is as effective as DEET) this year. It works fairly well, but the one I bought was a lotion and had to be reapplied frequently.
With the prevalence of West Nile Virus in my state, I really need to be more careful.
Mosquitoes are most active around dusk. Avoiding being outside during this time can help keep you from getting bites.
Mosquitoes breed in standing water, so follow these tips to remove standing water from your yard and foil the future the mosquito population!
#2 Red Bugs
Commonly known as chiggers in these parts, these tiny insects are such a nuisance. If you get one bite, you’ve gotten dozens.
The bane of chiggers has caused me to avoid tall grass all of my life. I was amazed when, in Oregon, I could walk through hip-height grass without fear of red bugs or venomous snakes. It was like heaven!
Most of the time you won’t see red bugs, you’ll just find the bites. They crawl up your legs from the ground level and will “bite” you in areas where your clothing is tight against your body (read underwear, sock, or bra line).
Treating your socks with repellent or peremethrin helps a lot. I’ve also found that taking a shower or bath immediately after being exposed helps too. Do not keep the same clothes on that you had while gardening. Put those immediately into the laundry.
If you’ve gotten chiggers, then utilize anti-itch creams and/or Benadryl and TRY NOT TO SCRATCH. If you’re unlucky, like me, then the itchiness can last for a couple of weeks.
Ticks are just gross. I even have a hard time pulling them off of my dogs – imagine me trying to get them off of me!
Again, the best method is prevention! If you’re going in to an area that has ticks, a trick I learned in my days of fieldwork is to coat your shoes and socks with permethrin and tuck your pants into your socks.
Then, after you come indoors, take a shower, wash your clothes, and do a thorough check for any ticks and get them before they can embed themselves in your skin. My skin is so sensitive I usually feel them crawling along before they embed themselves. But once or twice I have found them after the fact. Yuck!
Avoiding ticks is so important because there are several diseases that they carry . Some of these diseases can cause serious complications. There are different kinds of ticks – deer, seed, dog, etc. and they range in size and coloration.
I recommend avoiding walking through areas with tall grass as they tend to be found there. I think that’s my general outdoor strategy for bug-avoidance. Avoid tall grass.
CDC tips on avoiding tick bites: http://www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/on_people.html
Don’t let the bad bugs spoil your outdoor fun
This is the not-so-fun part of enjoying the great outdoors and gardening, but taking steps to prevent coming into contact with these insects can keep you from suffering the consequences.
So, before you go outside, cover up your skin and/or treat your clothes with repellents. And don’t forget to avoid walking gleefully through the TALL GRASS!!