Help me enjoy my outdoor space please. I hate bugs.
April 9, 2021 9:57 AM   Subscribe

I finally moved and now have a beautiful outdoor space in Essex County, NJ. Please help me enjoy it. The scary thing is it is a lot of space. A front porch and yard area. An upper and lower deck, and a wooded area in the back. I've seen deer, turkey, cats, a gopher... I also want to beautify it and have a garden. But I am also scared of bugs.

I am completely overwhelmed by the new house stuff and all the things I have to worry about. I would like someone to just come over and tell me what everything is and how to best deal with it all. Is this a thing? I would like to know what kind of plants and trees I already have and what kind can be added. I would like to know what kind of bugs are buzzing around and how can I get rid of them without harming the good bugs. Why does it look like onions are growing in the grass? What to do with the random poops? I would like to know what can I grow that won't be destroyed by the other creatures that I've seen. I also don't want to cause harm. The deer have been munching in the front yard, side yard, and back yard. The previous owners had chickens and I don't know if there are any left over chickeny things I need to be concerned with.

There are pest control trucks that say they treat mosquitos/ticks/fleas and you do a monthly plan. How effective is that? What does that mean for my garden? I have indoor-only cats but can they be harmed by any of these treatments?

Right now I am planning on reaching out to a gardener/ landscaper designer for a consultation and some of these bug companies to ask questions. I am wondering how other people deal with this stuff. I am not sure what to expect from a consultation but I feel like I need some hand-holding and to hear from other people.
posted by mokeydraws to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would guess that in your area there are gardeners/arborists who focus on restoration and reuse of land like this. They can consult for a reasonable fee (all outdoors, probably safe at this point) and give you a reality check on "maybe a fenced area here, don't put your garden there, the grass is dying here because of X" etc. After that they will probably offer follow-up work like actual planning documents and contracting options but I think this sort of consultation is common and a very practical first step.

I would not worry too much about bug control. The pros will know what's up. You're unlikely to affect the ecosystem by removing a few pest bugs with a small treated lawn area and so on. Again the pros will set your mind at ease and make sure you know your pets are safe. There will always be a few mosquitoes or biting flies or whatnot but a couple traps and preventative things will cut them down by a lot.

If you want to keep the space for natural critters you might consider a sort of two-stage fencing plan, one actual enclosure where you can keep your garden and controlled space (no pests allowed, deer can't eat your secret onions) and another more lightly delineated area that you can trim a bit to make safe (no standing water for mosquitoes, no poisonous plants etc) and put a symbolic barrier around.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:47 AM on April 9, 2021

Why does it look like onions are growing in the grass?

Those are probably wild onions - they're edible and tasty!

In my experience, the primary bugs you want to avoid in a suburban setting are mosquitoes, ticks, and chiggers. The first you can control to a limited degree by limiting the amount of standing water on your property, and the last two by keeping the grassy areas you're walking through regularly mowed and free of leaf litter - but, in the end, it's good to have some repellent handy, and use it judiciously when you're working or hanging out in the yard.

Mosquito Squad and similar services generally saturate yards in broad spectrum insecticide that kills everything, including many beneficial insects and other invertebrates. It's not only environmentally destructive, but it will make your job as a gardener harder by driving down pollination and, over time, damaging soil quality.

I made the decision a while back that I'd rather have a yard full of life than avoid getting bitten occasionally. I keep a bottle of this stuff in our entryway and do a tick check if I think I need one.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:26 AM on April 9, 2021 [7 favorites]

If you pick some green bit off a possible onion and it smells like onion, it's a wild onion.
posted by deludingmyself at 11:31 AM on April 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

Wild onions and mint are nice to taste, but difficult to control/eradicate. :7(

If you really hate bugs but want to be in your yard, you can soak some "garden clothes" in a weak solution of permethrin: bugs that touch it will fall down, stone dead. (Just don't let any cats near it until it's thoroughly dry.) You soak your clothes and then hang them to air-dry; it's good for about six washes.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:36 AM on April 9, 2021 [3 favorites]

how can I get rid of them without harming the good bugs

Please consider adding bat houses and trying to attract more birds to your yard to naturally control the bugs instead of spraying with chemicals. Insects are already struggling.
posted by pinochiette at 11:39 AM on April 9, 2021 [16 favorites]

Please consider adding bat houses and trying to attract more birds to your yard to naturally control the bugs instead of spraying with chemicals. Insects are already struggling.

If you're away from light sources that you can't control (e.g. close by streetlights) this is a great option for aiding in mosquito control. Bat Conservation International has some helpful advice, and the Wild Bird Store sells a variety of designs.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:47 AM on April 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Purchase some tick tubes (and do not make your own).

Tick tubes are a wonderful hack to get rid of ticks. They're just cardboard tubes filled with cotton that's been treated with a pesticide that kills ticks on contact. Field mice will grab the cotton and use it to line their underground burrows. Any newly hatched ticks that are attached to the mouse will die when the mouse snuggles up against the cotton. This completely shatters the lifecycle of ticks and means there won't be any adult ticks to bother larger animals.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 11:50 AM on April 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

You do need to understand your property, intimately, so you can make good decisions (better than a landlord or renter) and be a good steward of the land you have. That takes time. Just handle one thing at a time, and learn what you can.

Ask your neighbors whether mosquitoes are a huge problem, and ask what they do to handle it. One of them will probably know what the different plants are.
posted by amtho at 1:52 PM on April 9, 2021

Well, the previous owners had the right idea: chickens are great for insect control, especially ticks.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:25 PM on April 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Check out the Native Plant Society of New Jersey to get ideas of what things you might want to plant. Native plants are good for attracting local pollinators and are easier to care for since they are already adapted to the kinds climate and ecology in your area.
posted by brookeb at 4:51 PM on April 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

I am scared of bugs too. Outdoor maintenance goes a long way: eliminate any source of standing water! Mosquitoes tend to come out at dawn and dusk; chiggers live in long grass (it doesn't even have to be that long!)

Diatomaceous earth is an environmentally friendly pest repellent. Make sure you get the "amorphous" kind not the "calcinated" or "crystalline" kind.
posted by basalganglia at 8:08 AM on April 10, 2021

Diatomaceous earth is an environmentally friendly pest repellent.

I don't know if I'd go that far: it's not a poison, it's a mechanical action that kills all insects it comes in contact with. Great in your home for fleas and bedbugs. Not great outside where it kills beneficial insects, and spiders* as well. It will definitely kill bees, especially ground-nesting bees like bumblebees. It kills insects that prey on slugs**, like beetles and fireflies.

*spiders are definitely beneficial, keeping populations of insects balanced and serving as a food source for birds and other critters.

**snails and slugs help compost dead and decaying plant matter, and some of them obviously eat live plants one wants to keep. In the long run they are beneficial even if special measures need to be taken to keep vegetables from being eaten. Even so being preyed on by insects is a natural part of ecology that helps keep slug populations in check.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:39 PM on April 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

I ignore the bugs I don't want and encourage the bugs I do want--so I try to plant stuff for bees and other pollinators and wasps (wasps are good for figs) (and they eat mosquitoes) and butterflies. Is there a farmers' market in your area? I'd start there--go see who has native no-spray organic plants for sale and wait 'til they're not busy and lay out your situation. (Don't try to chat when they have customers waiting, and be willing to step aside if somebody shows up to buy something while you're talking.) They may have some good advice for plants to get--and they may have general yard advice. Best-case scenario, they might be willing to look at your yard and make recommendations. Ask around, too, about nurseries in your area. My independent one is great--they know what grows well and they know how to care for things. Your county extension office is another great place for general information about yard care and gardening topics for people of all levels of expertise. Just google your county name and "extension," and that should get you the contact information.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:28 AM on April 12, 2021

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