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
Water Our World websites.
Common Insect Pests: Ants | Aphids
| Spiders | Snails and Slugs
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
- 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
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 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.
- 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.