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Managing cockroaches without pesticides

By Ralph E. Mitchell

I often ask people who want to control pests this question: “Do you prefer to mop up the floor or shut off the faucet?”  This relates to the logic of whether you want to stop the reason certain pests are present, or just continue to kill them as they come.  If the reason a mouse has entered your house is a hole – plug up the hole!  There is often an identifiable reason why pests are present and spontaneous creation is not a reason!  This is particularly evident with cockroaches.  These insects need food, moisture and shelter, which we often provide unknowingly.  Through the prevention methods of exclusion and sanitation, cockroach populations can be significantly reduced and/or prevented.

Exclusion is the actual prevention of cockroaches from entering.  Carefully sealing gaps around plumbing, wall outlets and switch plates will keep roaches from migrating from infested areas to non-infested units in multi-unit housing.  Make sure that doors and windows are properly screened.  Caulking cracks and gaps will also help keep roaches from coming indoors.  Cockroaches have even been known to enter a house through dry drain traps.  Make sure to run water in unused sinks, utility tubs and toilets from time to time to keep those drain traps filled.  Window screen attached over vent pipes on the roof can also block cockroaches from climbing up out of the sewer and into attics.

Inspect your groceries and produce for cockroaches before putting it away.  Food products may have been stored in infested areas before you bought it.  Also inspect children’s book bags and lunch pails that may have transported these critters home.  Regular inspection is always a good practice to catch small infestations while they are still small.

Sanitation refers to the elimination of cockroach resources.  Keep in mind that German cockroaches can live without food or water for two weeks, and up to forty-two days on just water.  Crumbs, grease or any food residue may be sufficient to support cockroaches.  To implement a sanitation program, empty indoor trash frequently and seal plastic bags with twist ties.  Move these trash bags outdoors and place in garbage cans with tight fitting lids.  Keep the area around these garbage cans clean.

Wash dishes right after a meal so that cockroaches will not consume food residue.  Follow this activity with emptying and cleaning sink strainers and with garbage disposal usage.  Keep toasters, ovens, microwaves and refrigerators free of food debris.  Areas under and behind these appliances should also be kept sanitary.  Store pet food in resealable containers and be careful about leaving food and water out.  Try to feed your pet at set times and clean up residues after the meal.  A good regular sweeping or vacuuming will help eliminate any other cockroach food.

Elimination of water sources and hiding places are also important.  Fix leaky pipes and check for dripping faucets.  Eliminate water from condensation, pet dishes, and glasses.  Get rid of places were water can collect outdoors.  Clean up clutter where cockroaches can hide.  Some adult cockroaches only need one sixteenth of an inch to fit through!  Seal these openings with caulking.  Get rid of empty boxes and trash in and around the home.  Remove dead palm branches and all palm debris.

By depriving a cockroach’s room and board, you will make it uncomfortable for these pests to thrive in your environment. For severe infestations, consult professional pest control companies with certified pesticide applicators.   For more information on cockroaches or any other creepy crawlers, or to ask a question, please visit https://www.facebook.com/CharlotteMGLifeline/.   Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov.

Resources:
Miller, D. M. & Koehler, P. G. (2003) Least Toxic Methods of Cockroach Control.  The University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS.
G. Koehler, B. E. Bayer, and D. Branscome (2017) Cockroaches and Their Management. The University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS.