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Managing Common Pests

Many of the insect pests that we find in our home and landscapes can be controlled through careful management and non-toxic methods. Here are some tips for controlling a few of the most common pests. For more thorough information on home and garden pests, check out the UC IPM and Our Water Our World websites. 

Common Insect Pests:  Ants | Aphids | Spiders | Snails and Slugs

Argentine Ants  return to the top of the page

In Sacramento, if you’ve got a swarm of ants in your home, it’s most likely Argentine ants. Don’t reach for a can of bug spray! Instead, use the tips and references below for effective, safer control of these common pests—they may take some time and effort to be effective, but the end result is longer term control with less pesticide use.

For more detailed information on controlling Argentine ants check out the Controlling Argentine Ants page of the Sacramento Stormwater Quality Partnership website.

To manage ants without pesticides, start by incorporating home and landscaping practices that will reduce the likelihood of them becoming a problem in the first place:

  • Keep mulch away from the house, as mulch is a favorite nesting site for ants
  • Argentine ants need fairly moist conditions. Low water use landscape plants reduce the habitat available to them.
  • Reduce aphid populations. Ants and aphids have a symbiotic relationship, so controlling one will also help control the other. Limit ant access to aphids by applying Tanglefoot to the trunks of trees and shrubs.
  • Seal the cracks and holes where ant trails are coming in to the home. Ants  will look for alternate routes, so this may take some patience and persistence.
  • Trim back branches that contact your house, since they provide a highway for ants.
  • Be aware that pet food can attract ants. Consider creating a barrier of water or Tanglefoot barrier to keep ants from getting to pet food.

To eliminate ants that have become troublesome:

  • Indoors, spray dish soap and water to kill ants on contact and provide immediate relief from ant swarms.
  • Avoid using bug spray! Besides being toxic, they don't work any better than soap and water for killing ants indoors.
  • Limited use of pesticides. When pesticides become necessary, use the smallest effective amount. Containerized ant baits can be very effective while using a much less pesticide than sprays. Boric acid works well and is less-toxic than most other pesticides. Baits must be placed in out-of-the-way places. Properly placed, containerized baits also reduce the chance of people coming in contact with the pesticide, or the pesticide being washed away down the storm drain.

Aphids  return to the top of the page

Aphids are common on landscape plants and only cause serious damage in large numbers. Incorporate the following practices to keep their numbers to a tolerable level:

  • Attract beneficial insects ("good bugs") to your landscape by incorporating flowering plants and shrubs.
  • Avoid broad spectrum insecticides since they kill the good bugs as well as the pests.
  • Reduce ant populations.
  • Avoid quick release fertilizers that stimulate an overabundance of succulent growth that aphids love.

Spiders  return to the top of the page

Spiders are generally considered to be beneficial because they eat large amounts of insects.

Bites from black widows are painful and serious. The most important thing for reducing the chance of being bitten is to avoid or remove their habitat (such as debris piles). See the Our Water Our World spider fact sheet for more information.

Other types of spider bites in Sacramento can sometimes cause a significant adverse reaction in humans, but generally spiders in the our area are not a much of a threat, and are primarily a nuisance through excessive webbing on houses or when they wander indoors.

Snails and Slugs  return to the top of the page

  • Don’t use highly toxic snail baits that contain metaldehyde, which pose an unnecessary threat to children, pets, wildlife, and water quality.
  • Iron phosphate baits are an effective least-toxic alternative.
  • Reduce snail habitat and moisture.
  • Exclude snails from planting beds (this is really only practical for raised beds where copper strips can be readily mounted)
  • Trap or handpick snails, and smash them underfoot. To avoid flies that will feed on dead snails, make sure you either bury the dead snails, or bag them up and put them in the trash.


Is your landscape River-Friendly?
Use our benefits calculator to find out.

Here are some more in depth articles on specific RFL topics that you might find of interest:

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RFL Inspiration Garden

RFL Examples

Rain Gardens

Mulch, Grasscycling, and Compost

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Fertilize Naturally — Is Feeding Frenzy Really Needed?

Plant Trees, Save Energy!

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Plant Selection

Plant Communities

Take Action to Save Water Outdoors…

Lawn Care: How Green is Your Grass?

Rethink Your Lawn

Pests Bugging You?

River-Friendly Pest Control

Managing Common Pests

Good Bugs

Interview about RFL (MP3)

Choose California natives first

Don't Blow It!

Reducing Outdoor Asthma Triggers


Watch the YouTube video
"Slow the Flow - Make Your Landscape Act Like a Sponge"
to learn about the importance of landscaping to stormwater quality.

The Seven Principles of
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