How To: Get Rid of Chiggers in Your Yard and Garden
Though it isn’t true that chiggers burrow beneath human skin and feed on blood, their bites can itch for days. Learn how to rid your property of these bugs, and keep your skin protected when you’re outside.
Chiggers: Good News, Bad News
When it comes to the creepy-crawly buggers known as chiggers, there is good news and bad news. Let’s start with the good news: These nuisances do not burrow into human skin, as many people believe, nor do they feed on human blood. These are among the most prevalent misconceptions about the microscopic mites.
Lots of people think that chiggers are insects, but they are actually arachnids, like spiders and ticks. Also known as trombiculid mites, harvest mites, berry bugs, and red bugs, adult chiggers do not bother humans—it’s only the larvae that bite. Chiggers do not carry disease, so their bites aren’t really harmful (unless you scratch your bites so hard that they become infected). Nevertheless, you’ll want to avoid the bites of these pesky mites if at all possible.
The bad news is that chigger bites itch a lot, which is why you’ll want to prevent bites at all costs. The seemingly unstoppable itching sensation that chigger bites cause might continue for two or even three weeks.
Chiggers attach themselves to their host’s skin (on the outside, thank goodness!) in order to feed. While chiggers don’t have a taste for blood, they do savor human skin cells. An enzyme in their saliva transmitted by the bite breaks those cells down quickly. It also results in a raised, red, hardened spot on the victim’s skin that acts like a feeding tube, so chiggers can siphon off more liquified cells.
Chiggers continue to ride the Epidermis Express and remain attached to the bite victim’s body for up to four days. Unfortunately, the inexorable itching continues until your body has eliminated all traces of that itch-inducing digestive enzyme.
Avoid heavy vegetation, and maintain your property properly.
Chiggers tend to live close to the ground, in and around areas with heavy vegetation. When you’re strolling through public gardens or hiking in the woods, this is why it’s a good idea to steer clear of areas with overgrown grass, weeds, shrubs, bushes, brush, berry thickets, and pond perimeters or riverbanks.
On your own property, you may want to eliminate enticing, overgrown areas altogether. Put your rake to use to remove leaves, branches, and other plant matter from the property. Trim hedges and shrubs, take care of weeds, and keep your grass cut short. Short grass is not ideal for the lawn’s health, but it may save you some discomfort down the road.
Remove all trash from your cans and around the lawn.
Like many garden pests, chiggers choose damp, dark areas in which to await their prey. To them, trash is prime real estate. Moisture can collect under food wrappers, newspapers, plastic bags, and other trash that might have been left behind by inconsiderate guests or blown into your yard.
Luckily, harvest mites can’t jump, fly, or otherwise travel very far—or very fast. They are much more likely to latch onto you if you’re close to their habitat. Once you clear your property of tempting, trashy habitats, chiggers will migrate elsewhere for their next meal.
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Spray an insect repellent and dress to reject.
Don’t let a fear of chiggers diminish your enthusiasm for the great outdoors. There are some preventative measures you can take to keep the pests from chomping on you. Insect repellent is a simple, if stinky, option. You can also make your own chigger repellent spray with witch hazel, water, and essential oils.
The clothing you wear outdoors can be an effective repellent, too. Chiggers generally zero in on areas where there are folds, wrinkles, or thin skin, so pay special attention to your ankles, shins, wrists, groin, armpits, bra line, and the backs of your knees. Long-sleeved T-shirts and thick socks under sturdy boots are good lines of defense, as are pants that reach past your ankles (tuck the pants into your socks for extra protection). Pro tip: Don a pair of pantyhose or tights underneath your jeans or cargo pants because chiggers can’t bite through this kind of fabric.
Take a shower as soon as you come back from the woods.
A nice, hot shower always feels good after physical activity, and taking one after a hike in wooded areas can stave off ill effects from several pests, including chiggers and deer ticks. Before stepping under the spray, pop your clothes into the washing machine to keep any stowaways contained, even if you won’t run a load right away.
If you’re roughing it in a forest cabin or can’t shower immediately for some reason, at least change your clothes after a hike. While you’re undressed, brush off your body with a towel or washcloth, paying particular attention to the aforementioned danger zones.
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Can’t beat ’em? Treat ’em.
Try as you might, there’s no surefire way to eliminate the risk of being bitten by chiggers or other critters. If you start to itch several hours after being outdoors, wash the affected area right away and apply an antiseptic. To soothe the itch, try ice packs, calamine lotion, hydrocortisone ointment, or an over-the-counter antihistamine such as Benadryl. If none of these even touch the itch, call your physician to ask about a prescription-strength solution.
Do your level best not to scratch your itches, as difficult as that might be. When you scratch, you run the risk of breaking the skin and developing an infection.
Although these tiny arachnids are annoying, chiggers aren’t cause for serious concern. It is relatively easy to give them a wide berth and thereby avoid being bitten. If you own property, make it inhospitable to chiggers by cutting your grass frequently, trimming back excessive plant growth, and keeping leaf litter and other debris in check.
Exercise caution when you spend time outdoors, especially where there are weeds, tall grasses, shrubbery, thickets, or any abundance of vegetation. Cover all exposed skin, use insect repellent, and try to avoid close contact with plants. Be sure to shower as soon as possible after coming back indoors to wash away any hitchhiking chiggers.