What Bug Are You?

Fall Pest Proofing Tips

pest proofing home

Summer is pretty much still in full swing across the country, and most of us are still trying to keep the mosquitoes at bay as we enjoy the outdoors. But I’ve already started to notice the nights are getting shorter, and the nights hold their chill a bit longer.

Why am I waxing rhapsodic about changing seasons? Well, I’m not entirely, although I always look forward to fall. Really, though, it’s time to look ahead and try to mitigate any possible pest issues the changing seasons bring.

It might sound odd, since summer is still lingering, but soon colder temperatures will prevail. All those pests you fought to combat all summer, like pesky squirrels and chipmunks, or those you begged to stay around, like lady bugs (Asian lady beetles) will be looking for refuge from the fall and winter weather.

Here’s a quick and easy guide to making sure your home is protected from a wide variety of fall and winter invaders.

Fall Pest Proofing

Outdoors: All types of pests, from rats and snakes to ants, cockroaches, and other unpleasant insects, love to use weeds, overgrown vegetation, tall grass, and debris piles as shelter or food sources. Once the grass, weeds, and other shelter areas die away from winter weather, those pests will search out new shelters, and will likely choose your house as their new home. To prevent this, make sure you:

  • Keep grass trimmed consistently, ideally throughout the summer and fall.
  • Keep weeds in check, and avoid letting them accumulate in piles.
  • Keep tree limbs trimmed away from your home, to prevent access of rodents.
  • Check to see if roof is in good repair before the winter season begins
  • Clean gutters
  • Do not let debris pile up in the yard.
  • Store firewood far from away from home, at least twenty feet.

In doing these steps, you will lower the chance that any critters are establishing a home in your yard, so when winter does hit, there’s a much lower risk of pests seeking out your home as shelter.

Indoors: The key to any pest prevention is restricting access to your home. If there are no ways that pests can get in, you will have minimal problems. These tips can help to prevent a huge variety of insect pets.

  • Install door sweeps on exterior doors
  • Repair all damaged screens
  • Screen all vents and chimneys
  • Seal all cracks and crevices in the exterior of the structure with caulk or sealant, especially where pipes or utilities enter the home. You can also use a great product called STUF-FIT Copper Mesh (image below) to block entry points.
stuf-fit copper mesh blocking hole in wall under kitchen sink
  • Make sure all food is in tightly sealed containers
  • Keep garbage receptacles tightly sealed
  • Replace any worn mortar or weather stripping around basement foundation and windows
  • Fix all leaky pipes, clogged drains, or any other source of excess moisture

Pesticide Applications

In addition to the non-chemical steps listed above, applying a broad spectrum, residual pesticide, like Talstar One or Suspend SC, to the exterior of your home and as a barrier treatment. This will give you an extra level of protection that will last for months.

Avoid These DIY Pest Control Mistakes

diy pest control mistakes

When it comes to pest control, it’s safe to say we’ve got you covered. Here at DoMyOwnPestControl.com, we want to make sure you have the confidence, knowledge, and products to be successful and happy with your pest control results.

That being said, we all make mistakes. But we don’t want DIY pest control to be one of those for you. Here are some common pest control mistakes that homeowners make, and ways to avoid them when you’re doing your own pest control projects.

1. Not doing sufficient research on the pest
Whether it’s incorrectly identifying a pest or using the wrong product for the wrong pest, not doing research before you begin your pest control steps can really throw your pest control efforts into failure.

It sounds basic and obvious, but correctly identifying the pest you want to control and learning where it lives, what it eats, and other habits, can better help you to control the pest. Reading through our information on each pest is a good place to start, as well as calling or chatting with our pest control experts who can help lead you started.

2. Treating only the symptoms of your pest problems, and not the cause
Setting mousetraps and not considering where the mice are gaining access or baiting for ants without cleaning up your kitchen is going to keep you in a pest control loop. It might get better for a while, but if you let little spills and crumbs build up or cracks and crevices unfilled, more ants, mice, and other pests will find a way in.

Prevention and non-chemical control steps are crucial in any pest control application. Relying solely on a product might end up costing you more money in the end, since the cause of the infestation remains unchecked, causing you to buy more product than necessary.

3. Using untested methods and remedies
These are often called “folk” remedies. For example to keep deer from eating your plants, you might have heard to hang mesh bags of human hair in trees. Or perhaps you’ve heard of putting razor blades in mole holes to kill damage-causing moles. These may have anecdotal success, but often these are not shown to be widely successful methods of control.

When you purchase a pesticide or other pest control product, it has been tested and formulated to control precisely, with no recipes or guesswork. If you are worried about using natural pest control and are uncomfortable with the idea of an insecticide or pesticide, there are so many different types of all natural, organic, and non-chemical methods of pest control on the market today that can give you consistent results.

4. Using products incorrectly/not following instructions
Now, when it comes to using products incorrectly, this doesn’t just mean pest control products. Using anything that is not registered as a pest control product should not be used in that capacity. For example, mothballs are often touted as the perfect item to use in gardens to ward of rabbits, snakes, and a host of other garden pests, as well as rodent control in the home.

Labels on pest control products are not only just the instructions, but they’re also the law. Not following these instructions fully can result in you getting a fine or misusing the product in a dangerous way.

For both of these issues, it’s very important to follow label instructions fully. Using any product “off label” can cause a host of issues, including contaminating soil and groundwater, and harm animals and children. It isn’t just about getting rid of pests, but also keeping you, your family, and your environment safe.

5. Being afraid to ask questions
Never be afraid to get an expert opinion. Even if you are doing the pest control yourself, many pest control companies will come out to do an evaluation, which can be helpful when you’re a little unsure of yourself. But most importantly, we have experts on staff that are knowledgeable in all of our products and a plethora of pests. There’s no reason to hesitate when you can get expert advice for free, any time.

Garden Pests: Prevention tips to keep your plants healthy

plant pest diseasesOne of the best parts about the warmer months of the year is the beautiful plants and flowers that abound. Brightly colored, fragrant flowers, deep green foliage, and nutritious, bountiful vegetables, there is plenty for all to enjoy.

I’m still apartment living. While I still have a few pots of shade plants on my porch, I’m envious of those who have generous landscapes and gardens full of beautiful plants to enjoy. I know it is a lot of work to keep those plants healthy, and one of the biggest battles all gardeners and plant lovers are familiar with: pests and disease.

Even though I don’t have the space or sunlight to grow as many plants and vegetables as I’d like, I’ve learned a lot about keeping plants pest and disease free. Do My Own Pest Control has tons of products to make it really easy to keep my plants healthy, and I’ve also absorbed a lot of knowledge from writing about products, plants, and insects for the site. One main aspect of fighting insect pests and disease in the garden is prevention.

Preventing insects and diseases before they become a major issue can go a long way in keeping your work out in the garden to a minimum. Although most prevention techniques do require care and attention to your plants, it is much easier to prevent the devastation a certain plant disease or insect pests may cause instead of dealing with the aftermath. Here are some really great prevention and management techniques that will help you keep your plants healthy and beautiful all season long.

Before You Plant:
Sometimes, the best prevention starts before you even put the plant into the ground.

  • Inspect plants very carefully before purchase. Check to see that they look healthy, free of insects, larvae, and eggs, and are free of debris or other material. Planting a potentially infested or diseased plant can wreak havoc on your entire garden.
  • If possible, try to find a reputable seller than can ensure the plants are pest and disease free.
  • Select plants that are well suited for the environment and climate you will be planting them in, as this will keep them healthier and better able to resist disease and withstand insect damage.

In The Ground
Healthy soil equals healthy plants. A healthier plant will be able to withstand harsh weather, disease, and pest damage much easier than a weak or unhealthy plant. Build up healthy soil by adding organic matter like compost material or organic soil to the garden bed or planter, and till soil before planting.

Good Plant Practices

  • One of the biggest aspects of insect pest and plant disease prevention is careful observation. Paying attention to what your plants look like and if there are any critters visiting them can alert you to possible problems. Recognizing a possible aphid infestation or the start of leaf curl early will make it much easier to fix.
  • Make sure there is not an abundance of weeds and plant debris around your plants. Weeds can take away nutrients and water from your plants, and plant debris can harbor damaging insects.
  • When inspecting plants, try to handpick any insect pests, larvae, and eggs you might see, as this will help reduce the amount of pest control product you might have to apply.
  • Encourage and even introduce beneficial insects into your yard. Beneficial insects and mites will eat or destroy insect pests. Ladybugs, spiders, dragonflies/damsel flies, syrphid flies, green lacewings, bees, paper wasps, butterflies, and beneficial nematodes and more are all great and welcome visitors to your garden and landscape.

Garden Pest Control
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a disease or pest may take over certain plants in your garden. We carry a huge selection of garden pest products and disease control products, from natural and organic to conventional, we have almost anything you need to combat all types of insects and plant diseases to make sure your plants are always at their best.

Going Batty: Why Seeing Bats in Your Yard Is a Good Thing

flying batBats get an unfair reputation as blood-sucking rabies monsters, but really, they’re one of the most efficient pest control critters you can have around.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking “Why would I actually want bats in my yard?” It does sound odd, but keep reading.

A bat can eat more than a thousand mosquitoes and other insects in a single night. That’s just one bat in one night! Bats are probably already around your area anyways, you just don’t realize how helpful they are.

If you have a big mosquito problem, encouraging bats to roost in your yard by putting up a bat house could drastically reduce nuisance insect problems. Providing a place for bats to sleep and hibernate will encourage bats to your area (and keep them from roosting in your house).

Exclusion

Before you set up a bat house, it is important to make sure bats won’t be able to set up camp inside your roof, attic, or other areas of your home. This is especially important if you know there are already bats existing there.

Bats won’t leave an established roost for a designated bat house. This means you will have to exclude them and make sure they are not able to return, and will hopefully take up residence in your new bat house.

However, be careful to wait to exclude bats or take exclusion measures when there are no baby bats present. Often, female bats may roost together to give birth and raise the pups, and this is generally from March until August.
It may be impossible to completely block bats from creating roosts in your home, since they can fit through spaces as small as 1/4 inch, which is why offering a bat house is so important, in order to give the bats a better option than your attic. To find out how to exclude bats, visit our bat removal page.

Encouragement

Bats can live almost anywhere, from wetlands to cities. They usually feed in relatively open areas, like over water, clearings, fields, and even under streetlights. To have the most success with encouraging bats to move into your bat house, you can:

  • Begin to observe outdoor lights at night to see if bats are feeding in the area.
  • Ask a neighbor, wildlife expert, nature center, etc., about the bats and habits of bats in your area.
  • Put up a bat house and hope for the best!

Bat houses are best in a more rural area, but as long as you have enough room (about 20 feet of unobstructed flying space), are about a quarter of a mile from a water source like a stream or pond, and can receive half a day of direct sunlight on your bat box, you have all the ingredients to make a happy home for bats.

Make sure to put your bat house about twelve feet above the ground, on a house, building, or pole. Avoid putting houses on trees, as the shade from the branches and possible predators will discourage bats from use.

Even if you are still a bit nervous at the thought of inviting bats into your backyard, they can greatly reduce mosquito and other insect populations, making your outdoor experience much more enjoyable. You can get bat boxes here.

Bug Off!: Choosing and Using Insect Repellents

Recently, I needed to pick up some bug spray before going to an outdoor play. There were only about five or six choices at the store, but it still took me a good ten minutes to decipher through the labels to choose what I needed. DEET or no DEET? Deep woods? Gentle? Scented or unscented? Natural?

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. While I do know that DEET is highly effective, I’ve heard differing opinions on whether it is really “good” to use on our skin. I also know that there are tons of natural insect repellents on the market today as well, and I know even less about them. And to top it all off, I have no idea how well any of the products work, how long they will last, and what bugs they’ll repel.

Hopefully next year, though, everyone will have a much easier time choosing the best repellent. The Environmental Protection Agency, along with the CDC, released a statement this month detailing a new graphic that will be available on licensed insect repellents early next year (see image below).

The graphic aims to accomplish several things. Most importantly, the new graphic will hopefully protect people better. The incidences of mosquito and tick borne diseases are on the rise, and the EPA and CDC hopes that if people can see the efficacy of the insect repellent at a glance, they’ll be more likely to both purchase and apply the repellent.

It will make it much easier and faster to look at a product and immediately know what it will protect you from and how long the protection will last, sort of like a sunscreen SPF label.

Many people either do not use insect repellent or do not use it correctly. It is very important whenever you are spending time outdoors to protect yourself from mosquitoes and ticks, not only to avoid bug bites, but also to protect yourself from diseases. Mosquitoes carry West Nile virus, chikungunya, malaria, degue, Japanese encephalitis, and others. Ticks carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and many others. Along with using common sense and other precautions in conjunction with proper insect repellent use, you can avoid contracting these preventable diseases.

Choosing Insect Repellents
While this new addition to repellent labels will make it much easier to glance through the products and make your choice, it might also be helpful to know a bit more about the active ingredients found in popular insect repellents and how they work.

Repellents don’t technically “repel” insects or cause them to move away, but instead block the receptors insects use to detect their hosts. An individual’s genes and diet, as well as what activity they might be doing (like hiking or sitting at the beach) also affects how well and for how long a repellent will continue to work.

DEET
DEET is the shortened name of the chemical N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, which has been used since the late 1940s as a highly effective mosquito repellent, and is the standard to which all other repellents are judged. It works on mosquitoes and ticks very well and will last for several hours. It shouldn’t be used on infants younger than two months, and never around eyes, nose, or mouth. Some experts recommend using a product with 30 percent DEET or less.

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus
This essential oil has been seen to have a similar efficacy to a low concentration of DEET, but for a shorter period of time. It should not be used on children under three years, and may have to be reapplied more often.

Other Essential Oils
Many natural insect repellents contain a wide variety of essential oils as the active ingredient. Cedar oil, lemongrass oil, and peppermint oil are popular choices. Their efficacy varies, but they do not work well against ticks. Natural products do work for many, and are great for times you are simply in your yard or outdoors for short periods of time or in an area ticks are not known to be.

Tips For Applying Insect Repellents
We want you to have a safe, fun time outdoors. Follow these tips to ensure you’re using insect repellent correctly.

  • Always apply insect repellents according to the label directions
  • Only apply what you need; avoid over-application
  • Do not apply under clothing, broken or irritated skin, or the face
  • Do not apply repellents on or near children’s hands or faces
  • Do not apply around food or drink
  • Apply product in a well ventilated area
  • Once inside, wash treated skin with soap and water and launder treated clothes before wearing again.
  • Avoid combination sunscreen insect repellent products, as you may accidentally apply too much insect repellent while regularly applying the sunscreen.

Be on the lookout for the new graphic next year; we won’t be wasting precious outdoor time in the bug spray aisle anymore!

Shoo, Fly! How to Get Rid of Those Annoying House Flies

 

fly

I was once a barista at a coffee shop – a wonderful, lovely place. Except in the summer. The flies would come in droves, attracted to the back door (near the dumpsters) and, as it was warm, we would leave the door cracked for a breeze. Big mistake. Soon, we were overrun, and they made their way into the cafe area to annoy customers, too. Eventually there was a no-door-open rule, as well as fly paper and a UV light trap set up. Slowly but surely, the flies began to disappear!

Flies Can Carry Diseases

We weren’t just concerned that our customers would be annoyed, but that they might be a bit grossed out. Flies aren’t just nuisances; they carry and transmit many diseases.

Flies breed and feed in places like sewers, dumpsters, garbage heaps, manure, and any other moist decaying matter like rotting meat.  They can transmit typhoid fever, dysentery, cholera, leprosy, tuberculosis, salmonella, malaria, and many more.

Now, I’m not trying to use scare tactics here, but many people don’t realize that the flies in their kitchen are more than just nuisances. They can make you and your family sick if not controlled and kept in check.

Luckily, it isn’t hard to get rid of houseflies. It takes time and patience, but following the steps below can make it simple.

How to Control Flies in Your House

The four main points of indoor fly control include sanitation, exclusion, non-chemical, and chemical measures.

  • Sanitation is one of the most important aspects of fly control. Even the smallest amount of food residue or access to garbage, etc., can provide food for many flies. Restricting access to food will discourage flies from being in your area. Clean up all spills, make sure garbage cans are lidded or secured from access, do not leave dirty dishes out overnight, and try not to leave fruit out on the counter. Outdoors, keep garbage cans away from the house and make sure they are closed tightly.
  • Exclusion is the next step; making sure flies cannot get in. Check to make sure all screens are intact, repairing any holes or gaps. Check for any gap or crack around doors, vents, pipes, or any access point from outdoors to indoors.
  • Nonchemical fly control can be highly effective and is very safe to use indoors around pets and family members. Using UV light traps, sticky traps, fly swatters, and more, you can easily reduce or eliminate flies when you include nonchemical control products in your control efforts. You can even use nonchemical fly control products outside, using hanging flytraps that use a safe lure product that can trap hundreds of flies.
  • Chemical control methods are best used outdoors on the exterior of your home to discourage flies from landing or getting near any windows or doors to get inside.
    bug-a-salt salt fly gun

Now, none of these methods really help you out if you’re hanging outside, having a picnic or barbecue. Hang traps up outdoors around the perimeter (away from your guests) and have plenty of flyswatters on hand.

To turn fly killing into more of a sport, bring in the big gun – Bug-A- Salt, into the mix (image to the right —>). If we would have had the Bug-A-Salt at my old job, I’m pretty sure we would have been having a lot more fun with those flies!

Check out more in-depth fly control and our full range of fly control products here.

 

Pet Pests: Keep Your Dog and Cat Bug-Free This Summer

When summer hits, the annoying insects do to, and it seems that everyone prepares with bug repellents, citronella candles, bug foggers, the whole nine yards. But as we spend more time outside, our pets often follow suit. What we might forget is that our pets need that same level of protection (see pet flea control), but we might not know just how to give it to them.

bug spray

Image via Inhabitat.com

To most of us, our dogs, cats and other furry friends are simply part of the family, so it seems silly that we would neglect to protect them from bug bites as we ourselves are dousing ourselves in bug spray or perform rigorous tick checks after a hike. Our pets are vulnerable to a host of insect-borne diseases, like heartworms and Lyme disease, which can be very dangerous. It is easier to prevent rather than treat these conditions, and makes it more convenient and worry free for everyone.

heartworm life cycle

Image via kleinbrookah.com

It might just seem like one more thing to add to your ever-growing summer checklist, but if you take a look at these guidelines for the right and wrong way to achieve pet pest control, it will be simple to keep your pets safe, healthy, and happy!

Wrong: Treating your pets with human products or medicines
Products made for people, while effective, can contain chemicals and ingredients that can harm your pets. While it might seem like a good idea to spray down your puppy with the same bug spray you use, it can be dangerous. For example, DEET, a common ingredient in mosquito repellents, can cause neurological damage. Citronella, a plant-derived repellent ingredient, can cause respiratory problems and skin irritations.

Applying skin creams for rashes or bites, or giving your cat or dog an over the counter antihistamine, can also be very dangerous. Cats and dogs are much, much smaller than us, so medication will affect them much differently, and it is never a good idea to risk it without talking to a vet or seeking out more appropriate options. Skin creams and applications can cause harm, especially to cats, since they clean their fur with their tongues and can ingest these products.

Right: Seeking out specially formulated repellent products
There are many great, safe products made just for your pets that repel all of the common nuisance insects. Pet Peeve Insect Spray contains naturally derived ingredients that repels mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, biting flies, etc., and is a great option for dogs and cats, and can also be used to treat your home, commonly used areas by the pet, and so on. There are even more products available for flea and tick control.

Wrong: Over or under treating your pets with medication or treatments
Some people like to think “the more medicine, the better!” or, they like to split dosages up to make the product last longer over time. However, the dosage listed on the package for tick, flea, or heartworm medication is very specific for dogs and cats, especially when it comes to weight. One pound’s difference is huge for small animals, and can greatly affect the efficacy and safety of the medication.

Another important point on dosage: do not give dogs and cats the same medication unless it is formulated for both species. The size, tolerance, and allergies is different for dogs and cats, and some ingredients present in dog flea and tick medicines are dangerous for cats.

Right: Asking your vet for approval
Do your research before purchasing any preventative medication for your pets. Since many less expensive options are available outside of your vet’s office, make sure you ask your vet if it is safe or effective before giving it to your pet.

Wrong: Leaving your pet unprotected
A “no pest, no problem” attitude might work for people, but it isn’t a great motto for pets. Just because you might not see any fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, or flies around your dog or cat, doesn’t mean they’re not there or haven’t already passed on a bite or disease.

Even indoor animals are not immune to summer’s bugs, and should not be left out. A disease-carrying mosquito could find it’s way inside, or even a tick or fleas could wander in when everyone is coming and going.

Right: Treating your pet early and often for common cat and dog pests
Prevention is much, much easier to handle than treating an infection, infestation, or illness after the fact. Your pet won’t suffer, and you’ll be able to enjoy the summer without worrying about your furry friend. Don’t wait till your pet is scratching and itching and miserable, but be proactive, just as you would for yourself.

What To Do About Snakes in Your Yard

Once, when I was about six or seven, I was camping with my large extended family in the summer time. There was a manhole cover with access to some sort of drainage system, and one of my cousins insisted we open it. My uncle lifted the cover, and out poured hundreds of snakes. Big and small snakes of all colors were squirming around inside, and almost every adult bolted. Not us kids, though. Not even me. I ran to the commotion and picked up a tiny green snake. It bit me, and I was bleeding, but it didn’t even hurt! I was shocked and surprised, but ever since then, snakes haven’t phased me. They’re sort of cute…aren’t they?

Most people will probably disagree with me. This time of year, you might start hearing your neighbors complain about all the snakes they’ve been seeing in their yard. Maybe you’ve accidentally come across a few of these slithering creatures in your own yard or garden. Despite my insistences that snakes aren’t the bad guys, my friends and family are very anti-snake. Late spring is when snakes are on the move to their summer habitats, so seeing snakes in larger numbers is not uncommon – nor should it be alarming!

Garter snakes and king snakes are a couple of the most common snakes seen, and are harmless to humans.

garter snake

Garter Snake - www.domyownpestcontrol.com/snakes-c-179.html

Before you jump to kill every snake you see, you might want to consider a few things first.

  • Snakes, despite their reputation, can be very beneficial in your yard and garden. Snakes eat small nuisance wildlife animals, including rats, mice, voles, and even other snakes. They can also eat many destructive insect pests.
  • Each state has a couple dozen native snakes. Within the native group, only a handful or less of those are dangerous. So, the likelihood of you coming upon dangerous snakes is fairly slim. However, knowing how to identify the dangerous types of snakes in your area can help you feel safer and more in control around snakes.
  • Many times, at least some or even all snakes in a particular state may be protected. In Missouri, for example, all snakes and reptiles are protected and considered non-game animals. It is illegal to kill protected animals.
scarlet king snake

King Snake - www.domyownpestcontrol.com/snakes-c-179.html

However, there are some instances where having snakes around isn’t necessarily desirable. I am a big advocate of getting rid of nuisance wildlife in a humane, non-lethal way, and luckily, there are methods and products you can use to keep snakes at bay without harming or killing them. Whether you see snakes only occasionally or have a small population living around your property, there are some simple steps to follow to make your property unappealing to snakes.

Snakes are just like most pests; removing food and shelter drastically reduces their presence in your area. Adding in some repellents to the mix should make your yard and garden an unappealing place for snakes to hang out.

 

snake in brush pile

Snake in Brush - gardens-in-the-sand.blogspot.com

1)   Removing food sources: Since most snakes eat rodents and other small animals, reducing their population will in turn reduce snakes hanging around your garden. Check out our rat and mouse pages to learn how to get rid of these critters.

2)   Removing shelter: Snakes like to live in damp, dark, cool places, and your yard could be full of them. Make sure you do the following things to reduce shelter for snakes and other pests: Store firewood at least a foot off the ground, remove lumber or junk piles, remove or reduce heavy mulch, trim bushes or trees close to exterior foundations, keep lawns trimmed and raked free of leaves or debris, seal any cracks/crevices especially in attics or basements.

3)   Snake repellents: Snake repellents can be very effective tools in keeping your yard snake free, and work even better if you follow the steps above, because once a snake encounters the unpleasant repellent and realize there’s nothing for them in your yard, they’ll be highly deterred from returning. Made of sulphur, essential oils like cinnamon, clove, and cedar, naphthalene, or a combination, these oils irritate or confuse snakes and make them want to leave the area.

During the late spring and fall, you are going to see more snakes than usual. This seasonal migration only lasts a short time, and is no reason to panic. Snakes don’t like people and want to get away from us, so just let the snakes move on and let them be. Most snakes are harmless, so just use these techniques listed above for a safe, humane way to keep snakes away.

All About Plant Food, Fertilizer, and Compost

plant food

‘Tis the season for planting: flowers, vegetables, and plants of all kinds are ready to grow. Most gardeners are also adding fertilizers, plant food, and compost to their soil and plants, boosting plant health and allowing plants to grow to their fullest – but that can get a little confusing!

Fertilizers, plant foods, and composts often get lumped together in the same category, but they have very different functions and produce different outcomes, so it is important to know the differences between them. Here is a quick rundown of what they are and how they affect your pants.

Plant Food

Let’s get this one out of the way first. Plants make their own food, producing it through photosynthesis. Any extra nutrients the plant receives, via fertilizers or otherwise, give the plants what they need to function and carry out other processes. If a product is labeled “plant food” is usually a form of fertilizer, a very specific nutrient labeled for a specific result. So if you see something called “all-purpose plant food,” it’s simply a different way of saying “all-purpose fertilizer.”

Fertilizer

Fertilizers give plants nutrients immediately, allowing them to take up the nutrients they need. Fertilizers can include the three main nutrients plants need, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as well as micronutrients like magnesium and calcium. Fertilizers target the needs of plants, allowing them to grow faster, bigger, etc. You have a huge selection of fertilizers available to you. From grass to flowers to fruit trees, you can find the formula that will work for you.

Compost

Compost is made up of decomposed organic material, usually fruit or vegetable kitchen scraps, leaves and grass, or manure. When decomposed fully, you’re left with a nutrient rich mixture that can be added to your soil. However, it is not a fertilizer. Putting compost in your soil improves soil structure, increasing aeration and keeps it moist. The whole point of using compost is to improve the health of your soil, because healthy soil yields healthy plants. There are some nutrients in compost, but it isn’t used as a source for plant nutrients. The longer you use compost, the better your soil will become and the less fertilizer and other products you will have to use.

The Differences: Fertilizer vs. Compost

*See also: How to Compost

Even after researching, reading, and writing about these products many times, I still get tripped up on when to use what products. Here is an even closer look at exactly what makes these products different.

  • The easiest way to differentiate between fertilizer and compost is that fertilizer feeds plants and compost feeds soil.
  • Fertilizers are used to add nutrients to the soil with the intent of meeting needs of plants. It is best to add a fertilizer if you know your soil is lacking in nutrients (soil already has nutrients plants need) or if your plants display certain signs of malnutrition. A small, regular application of fertilizer is often recommended for most plants. There are some risks associated with using fertilizers, including leeching of fertilizer chemicals into waterways and over fertilization that can harm plants. Using an organic fertilizer (made from naturally sourced fertilizer like fish waste or plant meal) can help avoid over fertilization and leeching.
  • Compost adds a rich mix of materials that promotes healthy soil microbe growth. It offers a food source for beneficial soil dwelling insects, bulks up your soil, and introduces a balance of micronutrients to your soil. While there are nutrients in this mixture, they are very slowly released and are not meant to “feed” plants nutrients, but rather feed your soil and create a really rich, healthy soil for your plants to grow in. The soil is the most important foundation for your plants, and a healthy soil environment helps your plants grow larger, resist diseases, and there are no risks when using properly treated compost.
  • You can use both of fertilizer and compost simultaneously, since they are used for totally different purposes. Always read instructions carefully!
  • Check out our selection of fertilizers, plant foods, and compost, and don’t hesitate to ask questions to our experts; we want you to have the best garden on the block!