Garden Plot: Chiggers, poison ivy and those darn deer

Chiggers: the itchiest garden pest! Paula in Loudoun County writes: “In the past three years, chiggers have found a home …

Chiggers: the itchiest garden pest!

Paula in Loudoun County writes: “For the past three years chiggers have found homes in my gardens, and this year is the worst. I’ve treated my work clothes with permethrin and used insect repellant, but I want to be able to go to my gardens without such protection and also want my one and four year old grandchildren to be able to go to the gardens. “

As the Ohio State University Extension Bulletin on These Creatures begins, “Probably no creature on earth can cause as much agony for its size as the tiny chigger.” Virtually invisible at less than a hundredth of an inch in length, the tiny demon mites lurk in weedy brush areas and burrow under the skin of unsuspecting people they encounter. They do not take blood or cause disease; They just make you itch like crazy.

Clothing treated with permethrin is a sensible approach. Permethrin is a synthetic form of a botanical insecticide made from chrysanthemum leaves. Clothing impregnated with permethrin (such as those sold by the Insect Shield Company or professionally treated) is an excellent measure. Mosquitoes, ticks, and mites like chiggers cannot get near you while your clothes are treated. Good news – there is no need to use insect repellant as well as the clothing provides complete protection. It’s what the American military uses in tick-infested areas.

Long-term chigger solution: useful nematodes

Paula also writes, “The person who answered our master gardener’s call line told me to spray Sevin on the garden, but I don’t want to kill beneficial insects.”

Good for you, Paula. The nasty chemical insecticide Sevin would kill your predators and pollinators – and maybe much larger creatures too.

The baby chiggers that cause the misery breed just on or below the bottom line, much like the flea larva, which has been shown to be controlled by beneficial nematodes. Useful nematodes are microscopic predators that you order. Gardens Alive sells them. They are alive, so they have a very short shelf life. When they arrive, water them in damp soil first thing in the evening. Don’t expose them to the heat of the day.

The millions of microscopic predators in a single serving will then hunt for flea larvae, mites (like your chiggers), and beetle maggots – but they won’t harm earthworms or any other goodness. You only get rid of pests.

Beneficial nematodes work best in warm, moist soils. Order a batch as soon as possible, pour it into your mite infested areas the first night after arriving, and then again with a fresh batch after the soil warms up in the spring.

And try to keep your gardens open and dry; Chiggers like it brushy and damp.

Blocking the allergenic oil in poison ivy

Will in Silver Spring says his girlfriend has some large poison ivy plants in her back yard, and he just discovered that the ivy block lotion that I always recommend sensitive people apply to their skin before pulling is no longer in production .

Unfortunately, Will is right, which is a bloody shame, as this particular kaolin clay solution was excellent at keeping the allergenic oils from poison ivy oak and sumac off your skin. I’ve been doing some research and some of the products I see to replace Ivy Block look extremely dodgy. I warn against them.

Fortunately, the basic type of product you need is older than Ivy Block: what you want is commonly referred to as “barrier cream”.

There are many types on the market, from zinc oxide, which some people use to prevent their noses from getting sunburned, to specialty products designed to protect workers in industrial environments – even diaper rash lotions. It appears that Desitin has great potential in preventing poison ivy problems.

Remember, no barrier cream can provide complete protection and you should never touch poison ivy with bare skin.

Mike McGrath’s patented poison ivy removal plan

  • First – don’t waste your time, money, and personal health spraying the vines with herbicide. Tanned, dead poison ivy plants cause a rash as nasty as light green ones.
  • Instead, soak the soil with plenty of water right where the vines emerge from the soil. Weeds are easiest to pull when the soil is saturated.
  • Pull heavy plastic bags over both hands. Reach deep down, right at the bottom line, and slowly pull up on each vine so the entire root system comes out.
  • Drop the grown plants into a heavy trash bag held open on a stand so you don’t have to touch it.
  • Sing “Don’t touch your face” as you touch.
  • Oh – and don’t touch your face.
  • Have a helper scratch your nose if it becomes necessary to scratch your nose.
  • When the last of the poisonous plants are grown, remove your handbags with a third plastic bag, drop all three with the grown plants, close the bag tightly and put it out for garbage disposal.
  • Wash off immediately in cold water – no hot water, no soap, no washcloth. Cold water alone dissolves the allergenic oil.
  • Do not use gloves to pull poison ivy. Hold on to heavy plastic bags, preferably those that reach high above your arms.

Hungry deer will eat any tree while it is still small

Doctor Bob in Arlington is considering a huge project – planting thousands of tiny trees in the hopes that they will get tall and healthy enough to block the deafening noise rolling into a Boy Scout camp from nearby Route 66. One of his many concerns is finding a plant that will survive grazing by the abundant local deer population.

Bad news, Doc – while this is the perfect time of year to plant trees, and some full-grown plants are unattractive to deer, they are all eaten at the sapling stage before they can get tough or thorny.

So I would first look for large amounts of cheap or free fences that you can cut to make protective cages for any small tree. Then only plant as many as you can protect in one season.

Here is a great list from Rutgers of the plants most and least preferred by deer. They just want to look at their “A-list” plants.

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