The climate that makes Southern California such an inviting place for people also makes it inviting for pests. While enjoying the outdoors is part of the California lifestyle, we don’t want all nature’s offerings in our yards and homes. Household pests are plentiful here, from disease-bearing rodents to crawly things that can sting, bite, chew up houses, or destroy a lawn.
Here’s a list of some of the most common pests and what to do about them.
These social insects work in groups and are intent on eating up your house. They can live for years — a queen for decades — and go about their destructive business until the damage is painfully obvious. Natural remedies such as aloe or orange oil can help. But do-it-yourself termite control is not recommended. If you suspect a termite infestation, call a professional who can fumigate the property, repair damage, and apply preventive treatments.
2. Grubs and cutworms
There are lots of reasons for brown patches in your lawn: poor care and unwelcome visits from dogs among them. But the white grub is one of the most common of the many lawn pests that California homeowners contend with. These curly white larvae of beetles and chafers feed on the roots of your grass, creating characteristic brown patches. Even worse? Mature grubs attract raccoons, skunks, armadillos. Grubs do the bulk of their damage in summer. The similar looking cutworms are active from March through October. In either case, pesticides will take care of them. But the best defense is a healthy, well-maintained lawn.
Roaches can make themselves at home anywhere in your house. You’ll usually see them in the kitchen, where there’s food. But when there’s overcrowding in the kitchen, they’ll move into other areas. They contaminate food and often trigger asthma attacks.
The German cockroach is the most common. They’re attracted to water, so you can discourage them by making sure all plumbing is tightly sealed. Gel bait and boric acid powder and bug bombs are effective at killing them. But when it comes to an infestation, insecticides only treat the problem, they don’t solve it. A pest control specialist will be able to locate their hiding spots and get rid of the nests.
4. Fire Ants
The red imported fire ant invaded the United States in the 1930s when the critters stowed away on board a cargo ship bound from South America to Mobile, Ala. They immediately started spreading across the South and marching west. Orange County was the first place in California they were found, in 1998. Their bite and sting are painful and can be deadly for small children, pets, and people with allergies.
Fire ant baits work when placed around the ant mound, encouraging the ants to carry poison back to the nest to kill the queen. Insecticides can have the opposite effect, since they encourage the colony to disperse, making the problem worse. Pouring a liquid fire ant killer or boiling water into the mound is a good temporary fix until an exterminator can eradicate the problem.
You’ll notice droppings near pet food dishes and telltale scratchings inside your house. You’ll also see burrows among plants, vegetable gardens and compost heaps. The damage rats can inflict is endless, and in recent years, rats have become a major pest for Southern California. In 2019, Los Angeles gained the sad distinction of being named the second-rattiest city in the U.S., behind only Chicago.
They eat and contaminate food, transmit disease, gnaw at electrical wires and wood, and tear-up insulation. Traps, and a lot of them, are the first line of defense. Place traps in secluded areas that show evidence of infestation. But you’ll need rodenticides for larger infestations around a building. Keep in mind that poisons and traps can also harm your pets and kids. Put your traps and baits where it’s hard for domestic animals or children to reach. And dispose of dead rodents promptly.
For all pests, the best approach is integrated pest management. It focuses on long-term prevention by managing the ecosystem through a combination of biological, chemical, and physical controls. IPM requires identification and assessment of the problem before developing the right attack. Doing it yourself is always possible, but seeking professional services can be your more efficient and best alternative.
Victor Wang grew up in Central California, plucking tomato worms from his mother’s heirloom tomato garden and is now a master gardener and freelance writer. His areas of expertise include landscaping, pest control and, of course, gardening.