Harmful animals Harmful insects Plant pests

Pest Control Guide: Preventing Pests in Your Home and Garden

By Cassandra Rosas

Cassandra is a content writer at Porch.com. She is passionate about home improvement, interior design, the environment, sustainability, reading, writing, and music. 

Whether you see insects, rodents, small mammals, or bats at home, dealing with pests can be an unnerving experience. You can sleep soundly with proper pest control and prevention, knowing that pests won’t invade your space. Some pests can carry diseases, while others can wreak havoc on your home, potentially causing all types of expensive damage. Thankfully, a few pest-proofing tactics can be used to keep your home safe and pest-free. This guide offers more information about different types of pests, how to pest-proof your home, and ways to control them so your home and garden will stay safe and healthy.

Pest Prevention Strategies

The best way to avoid dealing with pests is to prevent them from entering your home and garden in the first place. Let’s take a closer look at various pests and how you can pest-proof the exterior and interior of your home.

Pest Proof Your Home

House mouse
House mouse. Photo: Amirekul, Wikimedia Commons
  • Types of pests: Pests come in a variety of sizes and species. The most common household pests include ants, termites*, cockroaches, bed bugs, and spiders. But pests also come in the form of animals, including mice and rats, bats, raccoons, and even squirrels. It’s important to know exactly what types of pests you’re dealing with to properly prevent them from getting inside your home. Anything that can spread disease, damage items, and property, or cause you stress and fear is considered a pest.

*Wood-infesting termites are mostly found in regions that do not experience freezing temperatures during most winters, but isolated infestations occasionally occur in cooler climates.

  • Exterior proofing: Pest-proof the exterior of your home by sealing all doors and windows and look for any gaps where pests can come inside. Close off fireplaces at the roofline during the warmer months. Look carefully at your roof and flashing, making sure there are no points of entry. You should also look closely at your home’s foundation, sealing any cracks or repairing broken bricks. Remove debris and leaves from the perimeter of your home, and make sure there is no standing water. Stagnant water is a pest magnet, particularly for small mammals and mosquitoes.
  • Interior proofing: Make sure that the inside of your home is clean and free of crumbs and food that isn’t stored in a sealed container. Check your plumbing to ensure that no pipes are leaking, as this can be an easy source of water for thirsty pests. Remove piles of clothing, newspapers, and clutter in general since many pests like to build their nests in dark, dingy places. Clean up pet food regularly and make sure that your home is generally as clean as possible. Keep windows closed when you’re not at home and look in your attic to ensure that there’s no easy way for pests to get inside. If you want an extra layer of protection, use a pest control barrier spray, but make sure that it is child and pet safe.

Yard and Landscape Issues That Can Make Pests Worse

Potential mosquito breeding sites around the yard: old tire, bird bath, neglected child's pool.
Potential mosquito breeding sites around the yard. Photo: Fairfax County, Flickr

Surprisingly, there are some things that humans do that may attract pests to your lawn and garden. Here are a few common problems that can contribute to pests in these areas.

  • Standing water in old tires, birdbaths, and ponds will attract pests to your lawn and garden, particularly mosquitoes and biting flies.
  • Piles of leaves and dead plant matter are a significant pest attractant, as well as piles of firewood.
  • Leaks around the foundation may entice pests to come near your home to find water.
  • Trash that is not secured with a tight-fitting lid is a surefire way to attract pests to your yard and your home.
  • Dirty grills will tempt pests to come closer to find food.
  • Bird feeders filled with birdseed will bring more than just birds: they’ll also tempt various other animals to come and eat, such as mice and insects.
  • Leaving a porch light on at night is another pest attractant.
  • Gaps in your doors and windows will be an open invitation for pests to visit your garden, porch, and inside your home.

Learn How to Recognize Garden Pests

Bee visiting flower.
Bees are an example of beneficial insects. Photo: balouriarajesh, pixabay

Some garden bugs are actually beneficial, while others can cause serious harm to your landscape. Here are some examples of friendly and unfriendly garden insects, so you know the difference between them.

Insects That Benefit Your Garden: Some insects are actually beneficial to your garden, including ladybugs, butterflies and honeybees. Any insect that is a pollinator will help your flowers, fruits, and vegetables flourish. Praying mantises and some species of spiders are also beneficial, as they prey upon the pests that can harm your lawn and garden. Other beneficial creatures include ground beetles, earthworms, and carpenter bees.

Insects That are Bad for Your Home and Garden: Many insects like to feed on the plants in your garden or the grass in your yard, causing a serious threat to your hard work. A few examples of harmful garden pests include aphids, chinch bugs, cutworms, mole crickets, stink bugs and spittlebugs. Pests that are bad for your home include bed bugs, cockroaches, ants, and termites. These pests can spread diseases, and some, such as termites, can cause serious damage to the structure of your home.

How to Control Pests in Your Garden Naturally

Most pests can be controlled using insecticides, but these typically contain harsh and potentially dangerous chemicals and toxins. Here are some ways you can practice DIY pest control in a safe, natural way.

  • Look for special disease-resistant plants and seeds that will help your plants thrive while keeping pests at bay.
  • Keep your yard clean and remove weeds, debris, and dead plants frequently.
  • Add some beneficial insects to your garden, such as ladybugs, which will eat aphids, mites, and other garden pests.
  • Plant a few strong-scented plants that repel pests naturally, like garlic, calendula, chives, and thyme.
  • Create a habitat that will encourage beneficial pests to lay their eggs and stay in your garden so they can help you kill nagging pests.
  • Rotate your crops frequently and keep the soil moderately moist and aerated.

How Do You Know If You Already Have Pests?

Caterpillar on cabbage leaf.
If you can see an insect eating your vegetable plants, you can be sure it’s a pest. Photo: Marco Verch, Flickr

If you suspect that you already have pests in your home and garden, there are some red flags to look out for:

  • Leaves with holes or jagged edges may indicate that a pest is eating the plants in your garden.
  • Shredded paper or small piles of sawdust could mean that you have termites, carpenter ants, or some other wood-boring insect.
  • If you notice small round or elongated white, black, or brown bumps in your home and garden, it may be an egg sac of a pest.
  • Spider webs in and around your home are a sign that there are already pests there.
  • Strong, unusual smells indicate that you have a pest problem. Musky odors or ammonia smells are common if pests are near.
  • Rotting wood near doors and window frames could be a sign of termites.
  • Gnawed furniture or frayed/damaged wiring could signify that you have mice or rats somewhere in the home.

When Should You Call An Expert?

The occasional pest here and there can be eliminated by normal means. However, an infestation or serious damage to your home means that it’s time to call the professionals. Here are some signs that indicate it’s time to hire an expert to help with your pest problem.

  • If you see visible feces or small waste piles, this is a common indicator of an infestation, and a pest control company should be contacted immediately.
  • Bed bugs are almost impossible to get rid of without professional help. Contact the experts at the first sign of a bed bug to get rid of them as soon as possible.
  • Larger pests like raccoons or bats require a pro to trap them safely and remove them from your home without hurting them. You could risk getting bitten or contracting rabies if you try to remove them yourself.
  • Swarms of termites are difficult to eradicate without professional help. Call the experts ASAP to prevent further serious damage to your home.
  • The odors mentioned above indicate that you have more than just one pest and that a serious infestation is highly possible.
  • If you hear scurrying, squeaking, or gnawing sounds and can’t identify the source, it’s time to contact a pest control company right away.

If you’ve tried proofing your home from pests and used some of the methods listed, but the pests return, call an expert to help you eliminate them once and for all.

Pests can be a serious problem in your home and garden. From causing damage to your home’s structure and wiring to eating your precious plants, they’re a real threat to your well-being. With the proper pest prevention and some DIY pest control, you can get rid of them and enjoy your home without worrying about pesky insects and other such creatures. Keep these tips and strategies in mind, so you can continue to enjoy a safe and healthy pest-free environment. 

Originally posted on Porch.com

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

10 comments on “Pest Control Guide: Preventing Pests in Your Home and Garden

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  2. To prevent pests in your home, also remember to keep your trees under control and trim them when possible because you don’t want to give rodents and pests an easy way to get on top of it and enter your home.

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  6. Thank you for your sharing. I learned from it. My small backyard garden with vegetable on it are being attack persistently by red ants, snails and bugs. I have tried lime or lemon juice with detergent soap but still they persist. What I did lately that somehow curbed their presence was trim the trees and other tall plants around and continue spraying with detergent, so far the bugs and red are still there but not totally gone. it is the snails that still persist until now. Any help without resolving to pesticides?

    • You have different pests and obviously the treatments won’t be the same: there is no “one product kills all pests” in gardening. For ants, you have to kill the queen (underground). You can control most bugs through spraying, but detergent is not particularly good. Try insecticidal soap or neem oil. Slugs: try a slub bait.

  7. marianwhit

    Great topic! I celebrate bite marks on foliage when the plant can handle them and the insect eating them is a balanced part of the ecology with predators, and get concerned when a mature plant is “stripped” because that means an invasive species is making survival of that plant difficult.

    One of my gardening goals is to have a resident owl, lol, because I know when I get one, that I have a healthy ecology that can support the highest level of predators. I am not out to destroy the rest of the world in the mere act of occupying space, but seek to determine how to “live and let live”, as my “pest” is just as likely to be another’s’ meal.

    The carpenter ants that live on my property are the reason I have pileated woodpeckers…can’t have one without the other. So I leave downed wood, and standing snags where I can to rot. I am fastidious about spending time outside in the rain a few times a year inspecting my house to make sure water does not create wet wood and invite them. I use ant bait in the house, but also put large flat rocks around my garden so the smaller ants, beetles, and crickets have homes. Wasps may not live in my front step, but live in peace almost everywhere else. There is a lot of great information in this piece…especially about home maintenance…so important, but I think, at times our “white hat,” “black hat” thinking at times misleads us.

    Asian ladybugs (which bite, convene inside your house to winter in large numbers, and leave stains if squashed) were spread around N. America by well-meaning folks trying to control pests without “chemicals”. Often short-sighted solutions create more problems than they solve. It is good to know the difference between our native lady bird beetles to this one.

    Earthworms are not native north of the Texas area, having been eliminated by glaciation, While they are great for speeding composting and growing potatoes, they can cause serious harm in forested areas by eating leaf cover that native tree seedlings evolved to need. Trying to understand why no native plants seem to want to live in my ex-lawn dominated by primarily European weeds, I dug a 2’x10’x3″ deep plot in my garden a few weeks ago, and collected all the earthworms…286 in 30 minutes. It is hard to imagine the profound impact that so many earthworms may have had on the ecology beneath the soil I am resisting the urge to do a similar plot across the street in a much “more” undisturbed landscape and compare numbers. I attract the earth worms and slugs with dying weeded plants onto a tarp and eliminate them…and voila, got an orchid in the ex-lawn and some amazing mushrooms…fairy caps..both of which did not survive long because the slugs (all of which are introduced) promptly mowed them down, literally overnight.

    It is totally great advice to make the home impregnable to pests, and to monitor very closely the areas around it. But I also think it is very important to know the identity of what you think may be a pest, because you could discover it is something different.

    Most native rodents have no interest in your house…it is Mus musculus, the non-native house mouse that is the problem. A cotton rat in Florida used to be the basis of the food chain for many animals, but our “zero tolerance” means all who depend on it are threatened by its removal from the ecosystem…and a vacuum is created for an invasive rat like Rattus norvegicus to move in. We have zones where squirrels and chipmunks are welcome, but definite lines where they are not. Most of them live their lives in the wood shed, or in a burrow on the bank by the stream and are never a problem…however the squirrel that shredded the screen repeatedly trying to get in, was quickly and humanely removed from the gene pool, and set out for the raven to come collect. So decisions have to be made, but it is not usually necessary to declare total war on a whole species. Knowing their true binomial names, and learning their story can lead to such ideas as providing potential problem species a more attractive habitat than your house so you can enjoy them as cherished “wildlife” rather than enemies.

    An example of “knowing thy animals” (and a confession, but I think the experience is instructive, so here goes) is that we are, of course, protective, but not overly so, of our food plants…we need a row cover for our Brassica family of plants (cabbage, turnip, kale, broccoli, etc.). We have been fighting the non-native invasive Cabbage White butterflies all over our property for years, mostly reducing population by “spray and stomp” which is quick, chemical-free, and humane.

    However, on participating in a Nature Conservancy “bioblitz” in August, we spent 5 days and took about 3,000 photos trying to identify virtually everything “alive” in our garden, as we have been converting to more native plants for years and wanted to see where we were at. We ended up making the highest number of “research grade” observations for that event of the thousands of participants across Canada and 90% of the observations were…in our back yard. Pretty thrilling!

    Anyway, I got a very nice photo of our white butterfly denizen and uploaded to I-naturalist….only to find it was not a “cabbage” white at all, but a “mustard” white…which turns out to be IMPERILED where I live! OMG!

    On investigating this animal (feeling quite guilty) I found that it was first reported a few miles away…by my great uncle, an entomologist, in 1973…about the time I was a child running about barefoot in his meadow covered in the sweetness of citronella swinging a butterfly net under his guidance. He had dozens of specimens carefully mounted and preserved in boxes, our local historical record of the abundance of Lepidopterans that were so common in my lifetime, that killing a few for collections was not considered a problem.

    It turns out that this butterfly’s food source and host plant has become very scarce as a result of mechanized agriculture and forest management, which came quite late to my remote region. We have so many, because purple leaf mustard self seeds itself in a very non-aggressive way around my garden, and I believe they opportunistically survive on it. Since moving to this house, and seeking 80% native plants on the property we have gone from that one white butterfly to more than 22 species, and moths we have not begun to count…simply by knowing and acting on “if you plant it”….that is, their host plants and give them habitat and winter cover in the form of unmown native grasses…”they will come”. Why is the butterfly a “flying flower” and the caterpillar or moth a pest? Making careful consideration of the real threats to your house and garden based on observation and science reduces your costs and physical efforts and sets you on a path to having your mind blown constantly by the beautiful and mysterious complexities and interdependencies of both your animal and plant neighbors… ie: the rest of creation.

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