Now is the time to put out the un-welcome mat

Some accidental invaders you may bring in this fall From top left. Box Elder Bug, Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Pill Bugs (aka roly poly, sow bug) and Millipedes
Some accidental invaders you may bring in this fall From top left. Box Elder Bug, Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Pill Bugs (aka roly poly, sow bug) and Millipedes

Do you feel it? The start of those crisp, cool mornings every once in a while. For those of us fall-is-our-favorite-season folks, we are counting the days until summer is behind us.

But there are other “people” looking at the changing seasons, too — bugs and their kin and some mammals — making plans for their winter home. And I don’t mean an air bnb in Florida.

Stink bugs, lady bugs and box elder bugs migrate inside through cracks and crevices. They are just doing what nature told them: seek a warm place to overwinter. It is better to vacuum or scoop than squish. They not only can leave an unattractive permanent stain, those stink bugs smell. But really, if someone squished us, we probably wouldn’t smell that great, either.

Many animals that end up inside our homes do so completely unintentionally. They have set up housekeeping in what they thought was a comfortable summer cottage. But you and I call it a plant pot, a container that we take out in the spring and then bring back in when the weather starts to cool. Your containers are their Trojan Horse.

Other animals march toward our homes as a tsunami of machines (harvesting equipment) start to take down their camp sight in what they thought was a nice forest (of corn or other crops). I can count on every year when the small farm plot in my neighborhood begins the harvest. I will usually get Mickey and Minnie mouse sneaking in.

Then there are the others, those that we really don’t need to do something about: bald faced hornet nests, for example. Many homeowners are horrified when, as the leaves start to fall, they see a football-sized nest in their shade tree.

Typically, their nests are high in trees and their queen will abandon their nest in fall, leaving the remaining hornets to die, not usually due to frost. But rather they starve to death. Because when you are a cold-blooded organism, you do not have the ability to, shall we say, stoke their own fireplace. We mammals and the other warm-blooded creatures, generate our own body temperature.

Cold-blooded organisms, speed up and slow down (to a stop), based on the thermometer. So, when temps cool in the fall, they eventually become immobile. And they can’t order a Door Dash grasshopper or caterpillar; so, they starve.

So, what to do about all these creatures coming in? The first strategy is to stop them before they cross your threshold. Be a diligent prison guard for any container you are bringing in. This is more than a casual look at the overall plant.

Really take a close look at the leaves, stems, soil line and the pot. I thought I did a pretty good job at the pre-return to home inspection until one February. I woke up on one of the snowiest, coldest days of the year to find a magnificent male cecropia moth on my bedroom curtains.

Tragically, my Swedish Ivy houseplant, in a large pot with a big rim, was an ideal location for his large cocoon. And the furnace warmed, bright winter sunlight window, must have made it seem like a mid-summer day, so he came out.

On the container note, I would also suggest lifting the plants out of the container, soil and all, to see if you have any other summer residents. Large pots have large drainage holes, and many a homeowner learns a little too late that a few mice came in with that plant.

You may also find some of our best undertakers in the bottom of the pots: the animals of decomposition. These creatures — roly polys (also known as pill bugs and sow bugs) and millipedes — are superheroes often seen as villains. When people tell me these two animals (Note I did not say, insects or bugs; they are more closely related to lobsters and crayfish than bugs) have killed their plants, I have to explain.

These creatures are not killing their plants; they are attracted to dead and dying plant material, so they are the undertakers, coming to take care of the dead body, which is in this case, dead, or dying roots, stems and leaves.

You will usually start seeing them inside as they come out of the now-drier pots, because although our cozy, warm dry homes are great for us, animals need moisture to survive. The good news is after a few days, you will just see them curled up and dead. None of the millipedes, pill bugs, ladybugs, stink bugs, and box elder bugs reproduce in the home. Mice, however, are a different story.

They are happy to set up a nursery once inside. And it is said that a mouse can get into a hole ¼ inch. No matter how great of a caulker you are, you can’t find every spot. But it is a good practice to inspect and caulk the outside of your house regularly.

The best answer for mice is a good ol’ snap trap. Glue traps are cruel; baits only get you a dead mouse in the wall that you will smell later somewhere thanks to central heat and air. Where you smell them may not be where they are.

Also, baits can be a danger to pets, not only if they eat them directly, but if they eat whoever ate that bait.

So, start your un-welcoming now, you will be glad you did.


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