Itchy Outbreak of Chiggers (Red Bugs)

If you go hiking or camping a lot, you probably know that DEET-based insect repellents will keep chiggers off you.

However, this article is focused on controlling them around the house and landscape.

Why? Because when the weather is hot and humid for weeks, then followed by torrential rains, grass grows at a rapid pace and tends to get taller than normal because mowing gets delayed. Throw in a summer lawn fertilization, and the chigger population explodes.

By the way, some say or misspell it jiggers, or jiggars, or chiggars. Others refer to them as red bugs. But, for this piece we’ll stick to the form used by entomologists: chiggers.

I’ve detected them recently on my own property because mowing got behind schedule. I’ve also noticed an uptick in emails on the subject.

In advance of this weekend’s radio shows, I am posting some control tips here and inviting anyone with other ideas to call in on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

As always, I will give you options on the chemical control side and possible natural controls. For those with a bad problem and lots of land, these solutions can be costly. But unless I hear some good alternatives from listeners this weekend, these are methods I know will work. As a side benefit, these measures will also be effective on fleas, ticks and chinch bugs that may come along later this summer.

If you don’t know what a chigger is, you’ve probably never been bitten. Those of us who know them from camping and hiking can’t stand them. For the record, chiggers are not insects - they are actually mites in the spider family. And when they are in the larval or baby stage, they are parasitic. Humans moving through tall grass or weeds are typically accidental hosts. Chiggers prefer rodents, birds, toads or livestock. But if a human happens along, they’ll hop on a leg for the ride.

First, let’s start with the primary do-it-yourself control. It’s quite similar to our chinch bug methodology, because of the importance of breaking the egg cycle.

I assure you that liquid controls like bifenthrin and permethrin, if applied three times over two weeks, will do the job. There are also organic or all-natural controls that supposedly work, such as Eco Smart liquid, with natural oils as active ingredients. Be aware, though, that it can get costly to apply them over acreage using many ready-to-spray bottles. Still, they could be an “organic” or “all-natural” alternative to synthetic pyrethroids.

There’s been a recent trend, especially online, to adapt products actually specified for bed bug control. They’ve got fancy chemical names like piperonyl butoxide, but they are really designed for use indoors - because that’s where bed bugs reside. And they are quite pricey when compared to bifenthrin- and permethrin-based products, which are intended for outdoor use.

I’ve also heard of homemade controls with active ingredients like molasses and orange oil, but be careful with orange oil - too much of it can burn grass. GardenVille used to have a product called Anti Fuego that was known to work on ants, chinch bugs and chiggers. But I’m not sure if it’s made anymore. I haven’t seen it marketed in Houston for quite some time. (Out of sight, out of mind!) And it would also be costly to put it in a pump-up sprayer for acreage. I have heard that our friends at Medina are working on a similar product, but I don’t know if it’s available to the public yet.

In recent years, a number of natural oil combinations have been shown to do an admirable job of keeping many insects at bay. You’ll often find 3-6 different oils in one blend – cedar, sesame, garlic, peppermint, clove, etc. But these are repellant formulas and not meant for killing their targets.

GardenLine with Randy Lemmon

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