Garden Variety: Protect your home from winter bugs

Feeding birds and squirrels, enjoying pine cones and dried flowers, and burning wood in the fireplace are just a few activities that keep gardeners tied to the outdoors through the winter months.

As enjoyable as the activities may be, occasionally the plant materials associated with them are accompanied by less-welcome guests. Insects likely find your home as inviting as you do, and the various species of moths and beetles that enjoy plant materials may also make their way into your kitchen.

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Be wary of pantry pests, like this grain beetle, that may make their way into your home this winter.

Specifically, Indian meal moths; sawtoothed grain beetles; confused and red flour beetles; cabinet, carpet and larder beetles; cigarette and drugstore beetles; seed and grain weevils; and mealworms are common pests that enjoy bird and pet food, squirrel corn, and dried plant products in addition to stored foods. Commonly referred to as pantry pests, the varying species may prefer cereal, flour and other grains, spices, dried fruit, dried meat and cheese products, and even medications, books and clothing.

If any of these common pantry pests make their way into your home, the first step to eradicating them is to locate all infested material. Beetle and moth larvae will chew their way into cardboard and thin plastic packaging and make their way into containers with loose-fitting lids. Dispose of infested material or heat/cold treat it. Pantry pests insects and their larvae can be killed by placing infested material in the freezer for three to four days or by heating it to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour.

After removing infested material from the storage area, clean thoroughly. Vacuum every crack and crevice where additional insects may hide and remove the bag to prevent insects from chewing their way back out. Detergents and disinfectants are unnecessary as the insects lay their eggs within their food source.

To prevent infestation and re-infestation by pantry pests, store any susceptible materials in tightly sealed containers, in the refrigerator or freezer, or outside. If insects continue to appear, seek the help of a pest control professional.

Insects that emerge from firewood stored inside the home are generally woodboring beetles, carpenter ants and insects that feed on decaying wood. Although these pests are unlikely threats to stored foods, they may still be a nuisance in the home.

Firewood is best stored outdoors and off the ground. If firewood is left inside and insects emerge, use sticky traps or a vacuum to remove them.

— Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation. She is the host of “The Garden Show” and has been a gardener since childhood. Send your gardening questions and feedback to features@ljworld.com.

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