September 10, 2004 | By: Ellen Brightwell

As cooler fall temperatures begin to approach, insects start to prepare for winter. Many insects look to homes for winter comfort. Some try to sneak in; others hitchhike indoors on cold-sensitive plants and firewood.

"Since pests' natural predators are not in our homes, insects can cause serious plant problems," said Rick Durham, Extension horticulturist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. "It is a good idea to inspect cold-sensitive plants for pests several weeks before bringing them in to provide ample time to take care of any problems."

Durham said a rule of thumb is to bring cold-sensitive plants indoors before the night temperature drops below 50 degrees.

"Separate plants you have just taken inside from others for several weeks to keep insects on the newcomers from traveling to other plants," he said. "Regularly inspect plants to keep inconspicuous pests from becoming big problems, and give plants a favorable environment concentrating on sufficient light. Remember that plants growing indoors generally require less water and fertilizer then when they grew outdoors."

People usually can control small infestations on a few plants without using insecticides, according to Durham. A brisk stream of water may help wash off mites. Use a swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to remove small infestations of aphids, mealybugs and scale.

Dispose of severely infested plants rather than trying to nurse them back to health, Durham said.

"When people begin to build fires for warmth in the fall, insects may enter homes by hitchhiking on firewood," said Ric Bessin, Extension entomologist.

Termites, wood-boring beetles and carpenter ants are some of the insects that may tunnel into firewood or hide beneath the bark.

"Properly handling firewood can reduce pest problems," Bessin said. "Burn older firewood first to shorten the time infestations can become established. Bring in only enough wood to burn immediately or within a few hours. Check the bottom of wood carriers for insects. Keep outdoor woodpiles away from the house and off the ground."

"Do not spray firewood with an insecticide because it is ineffective and could cause harmful vapors when the wood is burned." he added.

In September and early October, lady beetles often cause concern when thousands gather on the outside or inside of homes on sunny afternoons.

"Lady beetles are various shades of red, orange and yellow, some with spots and some not," said Mike Potter, UK Extension entomologist. "The variations in coloring and marking may make it appear that more than one pest has entered a building or home. Lady beetles are a nuisance because they emit an unpleasant odor as a protective measure and, when squashed, produce a yellow stain that is quite difficult to remove.

"There are several ways to reduce their entry but it's virtually impossible to keep a home or building completely beetle-free," Potter said. "One way is to seal cracks, crevices and other openings to prevent entry. Another is to apply an exterior, or barrier, insecticide treatment, preferable a longer-lasting liquid formulation. A third alternative is to hire a professional pest control firm."

When temperatures warm up next spring, people will see swarms of lady beetles again as they leave overwintering sites, Potter said.

Sources: Rick Durham 859-257-3249
              Ric Bessin 859-257-7456
              Mike Potter 859-257-2398


Writer: Ellen Brightwell  859-257-4736 ext. 257