Don't be scared, but be aware there are many backyard dangers for you, the kids, pets, wildlife and plants -- even here in Georgia. Here's a guide and safety tips from the University of Georgia Extension Service and Sid Mullis, the Extension Service director for Richmond County.
CICADA KILLERS, MUD DAUBERS AND SCORPIONS are solitary stingers that generally don't sting unless provoked. If stung, use a salt paste on the site for 30 minutes.
BEES, WASPS, HORNETS AND ANTS work in groups and present a more dangerous stinging threat.
Avoid standing on or stepping on fire ant mounds. Treat fire ant mounds with insecticide.
Wasps like to build underneath something. You'll find them over a doorway (underneath an overhang) and underneath a deck rail or similar location.
Hornets like to build a football-size nest in trees but they are usually high enough that they won't bother you.
YELLOW JACKETS: Nests are usually in areas not frequented by people, such as the far end of the yard, at the edge of the woods or underneath a shrubbery bed. To avoid the nests, take a few minutes to survey the lawn or the beds you are about to work in. If a nest is there, you should see them coming in and going out of a hole in the ground.
Here's how to eliminate a nest:
- Get a can of wasp and hornet spray, which squirts 20 to 25 feet, so you can keep a safe distance when you begin spraying. Wait until almost dark, when the yellow jackets are less active and mostly in for the night. Then start spraying at a safe distance as you walk up to the nest. Empty the can on the nest, saturating the ground.
- For extra killing power, prepare a 2-gallon insecticide solution in a bucket, then drench the nest area when you finish with the can. Any common insecticide will do -- malathion, carbaryl (Sevin), acephate, bifenthrin (Ortho Max) or cyfluthrin (Bayer Advanced).
- Take a shovelful of moist soil and put it over the nest hole to keep anything from escaping later.
- There is also an organic way to kill the nest. Go out at night with a transparent bowl and firmly place it over the entrance. The next day the adults will be confused by their inability to escape and get food during the day. They will not dig a new escape hole and will soon starve to death.
- If the nest is in a place that's out of the way, just leave it alone. The yellow jackets will be dead after the first hard frost, anyway.
CATERPILLARS WITH POISONOUS SPINES (PUSS, SADDLEBACK AND HAG MOTH); Contact is rare, but if you see more than one in the landscape and have children at home, treat with insecticide.
TICKS commonly found in the area are the American dog tick and Lone Star tick. Both can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Ticks are rarely found in manicured, mowed lawns. Use insect repellents, particularly when going in the woods. A tick simply crawls up any plant and waits for a warm-blooded animal (dog, cat, fox, raccoon, you) to walk by so they can hitch a ride. Always check yourself for ticks after being in woods or an area with high or uncut foliage. Remove ticks with tweezers by grasping as close to the skin as possible and gently pulling.
Two dangerous SPIDERS in Georgia are the black widow and brown recluse. Black widows are found in dark, moist places. Brown recluses are not indigenous to our area, but are found in northwest Georgia.
Look before placing your hand into an area where a spider would likely lurk. Spiders tend to live where people do not (under rocks, or in piles of debris), so eliminate those areas from the landscape. Seek medical attention to treat bites.
MOSQUITOES carry disease and can make life miserable. They are especially bothersome in the evening. Use an insect repellent whenever you're in an infested area, and eliminate any area of standing water that they will lay eggs in.
STINGING, BITING PESTS
Poison ivy and poison oak cause skin irritations.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Each compound leaf of poison ivy has three bright, shiny leaflets. The shape and size of the leaves and presence of hairs on the undersides vary greatly, but the old saying, "leaflets three, let it be," is a good rule to go by.
EXPOSURE: Plants exude a toxic, oily compound (urushiol) when its tissues are broken. People are exposed as they brush against the plant or touch equipment, clothes or pets that have touched it. It can even be carried in the smoke from burning the vines.
IF YOU'RE EXPOSED: Symptoms usually appear in 12 to 48 hours but might not show up for days. Wash your skin with cold water within 5 minutes to keep the urushiol from contacting your skin. Within the first 30 minutes, use soap and water. Consult a physician or pharmacy for the best treatment.
CONTROL: Clip poison ivy at or near the ground, but you may have to cut it several times during the year for several years. Dig it out by the root from small beds (wear gloves). You can also use herbicides as a control.
POISONOUS PLANTS THAT CAN SICKEN OR KILL IF INGESTED:
- Angel's trumpet
- Castor bean
- Cherry (leaves, bark and seeds)
- Elephant ear
- English ivy
- False indigo
- Morning glory
- Sago Palm
- Virginia creeper
WHAT TO DO: Label your plants. If a poisonous plant is ingested, call 911 if the person is having trouble breathing, experiencing seizures or will not wake up. Be prepared to give medical workers the name of the plant (that's where the label will help. If you are unsure of what the plant is, bring in a sample of the plant when you seek medical treatment for the individual. You also need to be able to tell medical personnel how long ago the plant was ingested, how much was ingested, the patient's age and any symptoms.
GET HELP: Georgia Poison Center is available round-the-clock at (800) 282-5846 or Teletype for the deaf and hearing impaired at (404) 616-2987.
PESTICIDES, HERBICIDES AND FERTILIZERS
Follow guidelines found on or with the container for proper use and application. Always keep chemicals in original containers under the recommended conditions, and always follow directions for the proper disposal of leftover or unwanted product. Never discard these products into storm drains, which will contaminate ground water. If an accident occurs, consult the label and poison control center.
These insects won't hurt you, but they are bad news for the landscape.
JAPANESE BEETLES are pests to about 200 species of plants, including roses and grapes.
WHITEFLIES not only feed on plants but they leave behind waste that covers leaves in a sooty mold.
ARMYWORMS in mass can kill a lawn.
CHINCH BUGS can leave a lawn with spreading patches of dead grass.
MOLE CRICKETS damage the lawn not only by feeding on grass but by burrowing through the soil and roots.
WHAT TO DO: Treat affected areas with pesticides as directed.
You can come across poisonous snakes and wildlife in the backyard. Here's what to do:
SNAKES: Nonvenomous snakes are harmless, but it can be hard to tell a venomous snake from a harmless one.
Pit vipers have large, triangular shaped heads, but so do nonvenomous water snakes. Pit vipers have elliptical pupils, whereas all harmless snakes have round pupils -- but so do highly venomous coral snakes.
At the first sign of danger, or human contact, snakes will usually flee. Most snakes only strike in defense as a last resort.
WHAT TO DO: Identify, and if they are nonpoisonous, leave them alone. Snakes eat insects, fish, amphibians, birds, rodents, lizards, eggs and other reptiles, and many nuisance animals. One rat snake can eat three rats every two weeks.
WHAT NOT TO DO: Many people put out sulfur or commercial products (which contain moth balls and sulfur) to try and keep snakes out of their yard. But the smell from the amount of sulfur required to be effective would be so repulsive that you would not want to live there either.
ANIMALS: It's best, if possible, to not leave pet food in bowls where wild animals have access to them because it is like a magnet. Avoid any wild animals that come to close or act strange, because they might have rabies.