By Julie Christensen
We can send a man to the moon, separate conjoined twins and build computers capable of storing millions of bits of information, yet we can’t get rid of the common flea. Fleas can be found almost everywhere, including your yard and your home. If you have pets that mostly live outdoors, you’ll want to focus your energy on ridding the yard of fleas.
Fleas are not only uncomfortable for your pet, but in severe infestations, they can cause serious illness, such as anemia. These blood-sucking pests can also cause rashes, itching and irritation. Fleas generally hop a ride on dogs, cats and poultry, but they can also attack humans. To get rid of them takes a multipronged, ongoing approach.
The Life Cycle of a Flea
Adult fleas lay their eggs outdoors in grass and in particular, in shady areas, such as under shrubs and trees. When the eggs hatch, the larvae begin feeding on animal or plant material, depending on the species. The larvae soon spin a web and emerge as adults, just waiting to hop a ride on any unsuspecting warm-blooded animal. If your pets come indoors, they can quickly migrate inside the house, as well. The entire life cycle of a flea ranges from 28 to 42 days and one flea can lay thousands of eggs.
Ridding the Yard of Fleas
When dealing with any pest, it’s always best to start with the safest, most natural approach. If you have a large yard, focus your attention on the areas where your pets seem to hang out the most. First, intersperse your garden with garlic, chives and other members of the allium family, which seem to deter fleas. Mulch flower beds and pet runs with cedar chips. Fleas don’t like the smell of the cedar and the chips are probably irritating, as well.
Another effective and simple strategy is to incorporate nematodes into your garden. Nematodes, which are microscopic worms, get a bad rap and some of them are harmful to garden plants. Many nematodes, though, are helpful because they feed not on your plants, but on fleas and other pests. Steinernema carpocapsae nematodes live in cool regions, while Steinernema feltiea live in warm areas. Nurseries and garden centers carry nematodes, usually marketed to destroy grubs. Spread the nematodes in the most troublesome areas and let them do their work.
Then, spread diatomaceous earth over the lawn, as well as under shrubs and in shady areas. Diatomaceous earth is the remains of tiny aquatic animals called diatoms. As these animals became fossilized, their shells were ground into a very fine dust that contains silica. Although diatomaceous earth is completely safe for humans, pets and wildlife, it is toxic to any animal with an exoskeleton, including fleas.
Diatomaceous earth works on fleas in two ways. First, it absorbs oils from the pests’ bodies, causing them to dry out and become dehydrated. Diatomaceous earth contains sharp edges that scratch the fleas’ bodies, causing further injury and dehydration.
Diatomaceous earth works only as long as it remains dry. Reapply it every 7 to 10 days for several weeks, or until the problem is resolved.
Some gardeners swear by Borax, a natural laundry product, for deterring fleas. Borax is particularly effective at keeping them out of the house. Sprinkle borax in the lawn or on the patio near any entryways. Borax deters ants and other insects too.
Flea Control Indoors
If your pets come indoors at all, chances are, fleas have migrated inside, as well. Any efforts you make to get rid of fleas in the yard should be backed up by a thorough cleanup inside. Start by vacuuming the house thoroughly from top to bottom. Vacuum carpets, hard surfaces, rugs and even under the rugs. Vacuum baseboards and corners.
Hit the sofas and mattresses, as well. After vacuuming, put the vacuum bag in a sealed plastic bag and send it to the trash. Wash all pillows, bedding and washable rugs in warm or hot water, depending on the fabric. Repeat this process over several weeks for a flea-free yard and home.
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Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.