As an extension wildlife specialist I get more than my fair share of calls about using home or natural remedies to control various critters that become a nuisance around the home or garden. Do a quick internet search for natural or home pest remedies and thousands of articles point to using vinegar as a herbicide, moth balls to deter snakes, bats and all sorts of other wild creatures, bleach or ammonia to mask ant trails, ultrasonic devices to repel deer, mice, roaches, etc. and the list goes on and on. While some of these home remedies are completely off-base, others may have a tiny grain of truth such as using castor oil to repel moles. Since organic gardening is all the rage these days and commercial herbicides and pesticides can be expensive, what is an appropriate use of home remedies in the garden? There is no simple answer but I hope to point you in the right direction about using some of these home remedies.
Let’s begin with vinegar used as an herbicide. Yes concentrated vinegar (which is acetic acid normally about 6% in the stuff you purchase at the grocery store) at a solution of 20 to 25% will kill a good many plants. However, if you use concentrated vinegar at that level if you get any on your skin it will cause a serious chemical burn because it is a concentrated acid, just like sulfuric, hydrochloric, etc. In addition and here is the more serious issue, you are breaking the law if you use vinegar that has not been labeled for use as an herbicide. Yes you can purchase vinegar that has a label for use as an herbicide and that is legal but just using vinegar violates federal pesticide laws. You say how absurd, this is just big brother government telling us what we can and cannot do. The reality is that this is protecting you as a consumer and the environment and wild creatures that live there. Any chemical that is to be used as a pesticide (herbicide, insecticide, rodenticide, etc.) must undergo scientific studies to determine any potential human, wildlife, or environmental impact. This is an expensive proposition and it costs millions of dollars to get chemicals labeled for these uses. So vinegar can cause serious burns, so what? Well what if your child or dog or cat got into that bottle? How would you feel?
Okay so here is another example, moth balls. Yes moth balls deter moths and that is what they are labeled for. There is no evidence that moth balls deter any type of wildlife, none what so ever. Now if you could use it for that purpose (which is illegal) then you would need to use concentrations of 1 lb per 100 cubic feet of air space and at that level, this chemical would be harmful to your health and the health of any man, woman, child or pet living in that residence. For you see, moth balls can be carcinogenic.
There are so many cases where home remedies are used to deter or kill animal pests that it would be impossible to discuss each one. The important point that needs to be made is that there are federal laws that dictate the use of any chemical as a pesticide and breaking the law carries stiff federal fines. For example, a gentleman in one state used anti-freeze to kill unwanted wildlife at his suburban residence and the neighbor’s cat suddenly died. It was taken to a lab and diagnosed it died of anti-freeze poisoning. It was traced back to the house next door and the individual got fined for not only violating federal pesticide law, but also for violating animal cruelty statues at both the state and federal level because animals that die from this type of poisoning die a particularly brutal death. Just how steep can these fines be? Ask the Todd county man who was fined $50,000, six months home incarceration, and six years probation for illegally killing wildlife with an insecticide. Wildlife law enforcement officials are becoming more attuned to this type of activity and are stepping up enforcement efforts to ensure compliance with federal and state pesticide laws.
Where does this leave the homeowner who wants to deal with nuisance wildlife and insect pests? It leaves us with the idea that maybe home remedies aren’t such a good “deal” and that the use of a registered and labeled product is the better option. Perhaps an even better solution is try to do the smart thing and fence out deer, rabbits, raccoons, and other critters from gardens and prevent problems from occurring in the first place. Of course as a last resort, you can always contact your local extension agent and they will give you all the latest and best information on preventing and controlling problems around the home and garden. Heck, even extension wildlife specialist might even help out once in a while.
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Home Remedies - Critter Control
by Thomas Barnes - November 2009
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