Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.
I know fall is here because when the weather cools, a quiet invasion by boxelder bugs takes place. In a bizarre insect version of the swallows returning to Capistrano, these annoying insects flock to my house in a single-minded desire to turn my home into a haven for the winter. Once here, they move in and commence their winter pastime of driving me crazy.
Having a few buggy visitors drop in is one thing, but boxelder bugs take possession of the house, then invite all their friends by laying an attracting pheromone on the outside walls. So powerful is this scent that it draws every boxelder bug in the neighborhood to the home for the next two years.
My house becomes a center for the medium-sized black bug with red chevrons on their backs, which come in to take shelter from the cold. At first glance they don’t seem so bad; after all, they spend winter in a state of insect hibernation, called diapause, where they don’t eat or reproduce.
But they do stroll around, especially when I’m hosting a dinner party or my mother comes to visit. I daren’t turn my back for moment, because when I do, guests are treated to a pop-eyed sleep-walker landing in their lap or taking a turn around the table. No amount of explaining that it’s not a cockroach can erase their looks of horror.
The good news is they’re harmless; the bad news, my reputation as a housekeeper takes a beating.
This is where the shop-vac enters the conflict. Defending the home by vacuuming them off the side of the house before they come inside reduces their numbers to a manageable level. But must be repeated frequently while the bugs are moving in, and the neighbors worry for my sanity when I start dashing about, jabbing the vacuum hose randomly at the house.
Another approach suggests mixing laundry detergent with water to hose the bugs off the house. This has a lot of appeal. Not only will the soapy water kill them, my reputation as a questionable housekeeper will get a boost once I’ve texted pictures to my guests of me laundering the house.
Super soaker water toys are a handy way to spray the soap too, since their stream can reach higher up on the house. Plus, kids love lending a hand with the target practice. The soapy water must hit the bug to be effective, so if you want to try this, line up the little ones, hand them their ‘soaker of choice, and keep the recharges coming.
But if you try the laundry soap and water, be warned: it can kill plants at the foundation if it sprays on them. Cover those plantings with plastic before turning the kids loose on the house.
Once the bugs are indoors, the choices for control are vacuums, tissues, shoes, or common household cleaners. Because the bugs trickle in over the span of a month or more, insecticide sprays or bombs are no more than temporary relief and it will only be risky for humans and pets in the home.
If you must spray something, even if only for the emotional gratification, common household cleaners are good at stopping the bugs. It has to hit them, though – it has no residual effect once dried. And take my word for it, too often these cleaners can stain furniture or leave unsightly bleached spots, so be careful what you aim at.
The most permanent method of controlling boxelder bugs, which feed on the seeds of the boxelder tree, is to remove the female boxelder in the area. This, however, is impractical unless one can get all the neighbors in a mile radius to comply, and maintain a posse to patrol the de-boxeldered zone to remove volunteers that spring up.
Until that day, keeping weather-stripping around doors and windows sealed, plus having a shop-vac and the will to use it will go a long way to reducing boxelder bug stress on you.