CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As I sat in the dentist's chair, the lovely ladies treating me discussed how horrible the fleas were last summer. Once they had their hands out of my mouth, I agreed.
We discussed ways to keep the fleas at bay in the yard, and, as pet owners, we talked about safe ways to control the teeny pests.
One preventative measure that keeps coming up from several sources is the use of diatomaceous earth. Made from the finely ground fossils of prehistoric freshwater diatoms, it kills common household and garden pests like roaches, ants, fleas, beetles, silverfish, slugs and other crawling insects within 48 hours of contact. A long-lasting control, it's sprinkled into cracks and crevices where bugs hide. Insects cannot develop resistance, as there is no buildup of chemical immunity.
According to Yahoo.com, the fine powder absorbs lipids from the waxy outer layer of insects' exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate.
Diatomaceous earth can be found at Green's Feed and Seed, Lowe's, Home Depot and other garden stores. It runs $10 to $12 for a couple of pounds. For dry application, use a duster and cover the entire plant, and apply to both top and bottom of leaf. For young plants, as little as 2 pounds per acre may be adequate. For larger plants, 5 pounds per acre is probably sufficient. DE will need reapplication after a rain. It applies best when there is dew or after a light rain.
There are several plants that help keep fleas at bay. Lavender was touted as a cure for the plague in the Middle Ages, but that's merely because it was a flea repellant. People who used lavender scent on their clothes didn't get bitten and didn't catch the plague from fleas.
Eucalyptus, according to www.fleascontrol.com, keeps fleas out, but is generally listed as poisonous to both cats and dogs, so it's not recommended for pet owners.
Mint, on the other hand, is safe for pets. It's been used for years to keep fleas away. Other suggested flea-repellent plants include basil, chamomile, costmary, cowslip, daisies, fennel, garlic, germander, hops, marjoram, meadowsweet, pennyroyal, pine, rose, rosemary, rue, sage, southernwood, sweet flag, sweet woodruff, tansy, thyme, sweet violet, winter savory and wormwood.
Pennyroyal deters fleas, but be careful. Pennyroyal, rue and wormwood and some undiluted essential oils may be too risky to use directly on pets.