Being friendly to your neighbors doesn’t mean welcoming uninvited guests like fleas into your yard. A flea problem is no joke, but there are several natural ways to get rid of those pesky visitors.
What are fleas?
Fleas are parasites that live off of the blood of warm-blooded hosts like dogs, cats, and humans. They’re usually less than ⅛ of an inch, but they can cause a lot of damage. They’re wingless and their heads are surrounded by sharp spikes.
Although there are different types of fleas, cat fleas are almost always what homeowners are dealing with. In spite of their name, cat fleas go after all kinds of mammals.
What attracts fleas to your yard in the first place?
- Moisture: watch for places where water pools.
- Shade: under trees, brush, and beneath furniture are prime breeding grounds for fleas.
- Hidden areas: fleas will go where they won’t be disturbed, like within tall grass.
- Wild animals: rodents, raccoons, and other stray animals are often flea carriers.
- Warm weather: fleas are a risk year-round, but they’re most active during warmer months, starting as early as March depending on your climate.
How do you know you have a flea infestation?
Aside from itchy bites, what should you look for to know if you have a flea problem? Brown or reddish “flea dirt” is a telltale sign. So are patches of hair loss on your pet’s coat. To check your yard, walk through your grass wearing tall white socks. If you have fleas, you’ll be able to see them against the white fabric.
Why you need to get rid of fleas
It might seem like a few bites isn’t anything to worry about, but fleas tend to have big families. Just one female flea is able to produce 800 eggs in her lifetime.
Itching isn’t just an annoyance either. Fleas can harm your beloved pets in a few ways:
- Constant scratching can cause skin irritation and hair loss
- Fleas are known to carry tapeworms
- Fleas can make your pet susceptible to allergies and bacterial disease
For humans, they can worsen respiratory illnesses and itching can lead to infection. Convinced yet? Getting rid of fleas can feel like a neverending nightmare, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Natural treatments for fleas
If you hear “flea treatment” and get a whiff of harsh chemicals, don’t worry. There are natural alternatives that can — with a little work and close monitoring — be just as effective as pesticides.
Chemical treatments can cause further irritation to pets and little ones and can be dangerous in the hands of the average homeowner. Not to mention, spraying your lawn with chemicals causes runoff that can get into our water and harm plants and animals.
We’ll explore three different alternatives:
- Proper lawn care
- Diatomaceous earth
The most straightforward way to get rid of fleas naturally is to add a predator. While adding more parasites to a parasite problem might sound counterintuitive, beneficial nematodes are totally safe and only have eyes for fleas. The “beneficial” name refers to nematodes that won’t hurt the vegetation in your landscape.
What are nematodes?
Nematodes are microscopic worms that attack flea larvae, pupae, and even adult fleas. They don’t attach to mammals, so pets and humans are completely safe. They die off after they run through their host population (fleas), which means no cleanup for you.
How to use nematodes:
A single package of nematodes contains about 10 million of them (wow!) which covers an area between 2,000 and 3,000 square feet. Remember, they’re living creatures so it’s best to use them as soon as possible. You can buy nematodes at garden centers, online, or in big box stores. They cost $30-$50.
- Put your nematodes in the fridge unless you plan to use them immediately.
- They arrive in a powdery solution you’ll need to mix with water.
- Water your lawn lightly beforehand, but don’t soak it. If the soil is too saturated, the nematodes will wash away.
- Apply them using a watering can or a sprayer that connects with your hose, focusing application around shady areas of your yard.
- Water the area every three days or so for up to two weeks to make sure the nematodes don’t die.
Nematodes will go to work right away, and you should see a reduction in the flea population within 24 hours.
Pro Tip: The “Steinernema Carpocapsae” nematode is the best offense against fleas. If you have better things to do than memorize Latin names, check the package to see what kinds of insects those nematodes target.
Proper lawn care
A healthy lawn means fewer pests in general. Not only will you get a lush yard, you’ll also eliminate the environmental conditions that invite fleas.
Although lawn care can’t eliminate fleas on its own, it makes treatment more effective by ensuring the application isn’t blocked by debris and discouraging fleas from returning after you kill the adult ones.
Why? As we mentioned, tall grass is just the type of hiding spot fleas love. Short grass, on the other hand, discourages helpful predators like spiders from taking up residence. You may not like the eight-legged friends, but they’re great at eating fleas.
To determine the best mowing routine, first, you need to know what kind of grass you have. Common cool-season grasses include Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and tall and fine fescue. Common warm-season grasses include St. Augustinegrass, Zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, and bermudagrass.
A good rule of thumb is to mow slightly lower during late fall for cool-season turfgrasses and late spring for warm-season grasses. Find your turfgrass below and adjust your mowing accordingly.
|Grass Type||Mowing Height||Mowing Frequency|
|Perennial ryegrass||2”-2.5”||7 to 10 days|
|Kentucky bluegrass||2.5”-3.5”||10 to 14 days|
|Tall fescue||2.5”-3.5”||10 to 14 days|
|Fine fescue||1.5”-2.5”||14 to 21 days|
|St. Augustine||2.5”-4”||7 days|
|Centipede||1”-2.5”||10 to 14 days|
|Zoysiagrass||1”-2.5”||14 to 21 days|
Pro Tip: Never remove more than one-third of the leaf blade in one mow. This is called “scalping” and can injure grass. If you need to take the height down significantly, spread it out over multiple mowing sessions.
It’s easy to overwater, especially if you have an automated irrigation system. For turfgrass, 1 inch of water per week is recommended.
Get to know your particular soil. Take a handful of it a few hours after watering when it’s still damp and squeeze it. If it feels gritty, there’s a lot of sand in it. Slimy means there’s clay. If it forms a ball that breaks easily when squeezed, it’s a little of both and called “loam soil.” Water passes through sandier soils quickly, so we recommend short but frequent watering sessions. Because claylike soils have trouble absorbing water, watering for longer periods of time but at a lower rate is the way to go.
If the last time you looked at your sprinkler system was when it was installed, it’s a good idea to give it a thorough audit. Sprinkler heads and filters should be cleaned twice a year. Clogs, broken heads, and poor sprinkler patterns can create runoff and puddles, which are heaven for fleas.
Rake them away
Fleas are shy. They like to hide under debris, so it’s important to stay on top of raking and dethatching.
Raking up leaves, branches, and trash disrupts a flea’s habitat, and also ensures whatever treatment you apply will make contact with the ground.
If you still see a layer of dead material, you need to dethatch. How frequently you should dethatch depends on your grass type (Kentucky bluegrass and bermudagrass, for example, tend to produce a lot of thatch).
Dethatching is removing the layer of dead leaf blades and stems tangled together. Thatch of a half-inch or less is healthy, but when you have a flea infestation, remove as much thatch as you can. To dethatch, you can use a:
- Regular rake (use more force)
- Convex or dethatching rake
- Power rake
Diatomaceous earth (DE)
What is diatomaceous earth?
DE is a powder made from the fossilized remains of diatoms. It disrupts the lipid barrier around insects. The lipid barrier is what keeps water in, so when it’s broken, the insect dies by being dried out.
Is diatomaceous earth safe to use?
All DE contains levels of crystalline silica, which is toxic in concentrations above 1%. DE is nontoxic to animals and humans as long as it’s food-grade. Filter-grade (also called swimming pool) DE, on the other hand, can cause serious lung damage, so double-check the label.
When you should not use diatomaceous earth:
While DE can work effectively for fleas, the conditions have to be just right. It only works in a dry environment — if you live somewhere humid like Florida, or it’s rained recently, it won’t do the job. So before you go out and spend your money on DE, consider the climate you live in. It’s also better to use something that acts faster if your pet has developed a flea allergy.
Conditions needed for DE:
✓ Humidity outside of less than 55%
✓ No recent rain
✓ No sprinkler use
How to apply diatomaceous earth:
- Put on a mask before handling DE.
- Use a flour sifter to sprinkle the powder across small areas like carpets and around the perimeter of your home.
- Use a turkey baster or a salt and pepper shaker to apply to specific areas like under furniture.
Preventing fleas in the future
All that hard work doesn’t mean fleas are gone forever. There’s always the chance that they’ll find their way back to your home in the future. Take steps to make sure they don’t wear out their welcome.
- Keep your grass trim
- Maintain your irrigation system
- Clear debris regularly
- Keep outdoor furniture clean
- Pest-proof your house by sealing holes and keeping trash in a tightly closed container
- Wash your pets and any fabrics they come in contact with once a week. Vacuuming is one of the best things you can do for fleas inside the home.
Remember that they like privacy, moisture, and shade. Minimize these (while still maintaining a healthy lawn) and you’ll be well on your way to stopping them at the source.
Do you like the idea of natural treatments but wish someone else would do the task? Call a pest control professional in your area to lend a helping hand. And if you’re looking for yard care and maintenance to keep these pests from coming back, call a local lawn care professional near you.
Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock