They may not cause much damage to your house or garden but boxelder bugs can quickly become a nuisance.
These distinctive black and red patterned bugs not only form huge swarms around acer trees (maples) but frequently invade indoor spaces as well.
So how do you keep them away or prevent an infestation without using potentially dangerous chemicals?
Here’s how to get rid of boxelder bugs naturally.
1. Soap Spray
These bugs are gregarious insects and often clump together in alarmingly large groups. Spraying with pure water may disperse them but using a soapy water solution instead is more effective.
Mix up a solution of organic liquid soap and water — 4 tablespoons per gallon of water.
A hand spray can be used around the house but a pump is more efficient in tackling garden swarms. This will drown some bugs and deter others.
Some leftover solution can also be wiped around window sills and door frames to repel future invaders.
2. Horticultural Oils
These oils are often produced from petroleum and chemicals but there are vegetable-based ones available.
The chief benefit of the oils is that they act during the colder months when bugs are overwintering.
Applied to the trees, the oils seal in the breathing spaces, thus suffocating any insects, destroying their eggs, and breaking the life cycle.
3. Vacuum Them
If you get up one morning to find the house swarming with these pests, the quickest action is to just vacuum them up, remove and destroy the bag.
Avoid squashing the bugs as they are very stinky when crushed and leave brown stains on your walls or carpets.
A simple way to deal with the problem is to hang sticky traps.
These easily purchased colored strips will attract the bugs and trap them in the gluey substance, making it impossible for them to feed and survive.
Hang the traps in the trees or in/near the house, especially in corners where they may be hidden.
Remove and replace frequently. This is an unsightly method but effective.
This is a natural way of eliminating large numbers of pests.
Any type of vinegar can be used but to avoid staining, white vinegar is best for home purposes.
Combine with water in a 50/50 ratio. Spray in the same way as with soapy water and repeat as necessary.
6. Garden Hose
Boxelder bugs give off a powerful smell that is unpleasant to humans but attracts other friends to join the party.
Hosing them down with a strong jet of water will disperse them and reduce the numbers around the trees or house.
7. Seal Doors and Windows
Approaching the winter months, you may find more and more bugs congregating around and inside your home.
As they cluster together they will push into any cracks in masonry or gaps in the house. To tackle this, the bugs can be brushed or vacuumed away and the gaps sealed with caulk.
The critters will also seek out any warm areas and may also need clearing from any hot air vents or electrical fittings.
8. Trim Boxelder Trees
The critters feed on the seeds, leaves, and flowers of female Boxelder shrubs and trees.
Trimming the branches regularly will reduce the number of seed pods while the fallen ones can be taken away from the tree bases.
Cutting down the female trees entirely is another, but a rather drastic, solution.
9. Rake Fallen Boxelder Leaves
Raking up leaves around trees and shrubs removes many of the pods which are the prime source of food for the pests.
The pods contain sap from the female Box elder trees which is a primary source of food for the nymphs and adult bugs.
Clearing away the pods, leaves, and mulch that harbor the insects will effectively disrupt the life cycle of boxelders.
10. Boiling Water
This method will kill off most pests but may cause damage to foliage or masonry.
Spraying hot water from a hose that was heated up in the sun may be less harmful.
11. Neem Oil
This is another vegetable oil derived from the Neem tree. It has been recognized as a useful natural pesticide for centuries.
This non-toxic repellent is safe to use and causes no damage whatsoever to the plants unless the solution is mixed too strongly.
Combine two tablespoons of neem oil in a gallon of water. Add to a sprayer and coat all areas where they love to hang out.
12. Diatomaceous Earth (DE)
This fine-grained white substance can be used around the base of the trees and directly onto leaves to kill off the bugs.
DE is made from the pulverized fossils of micro-algae which causes a process of dehydration in the adult box elder bugs on contact.
The nymphs, which feed off the seeds of the plants, can also be destroyed by the sharpness of the diatomaceous earth.
Encircle the trees with the powder from the spring onwards to kill off the bugs during their life cycle.
Dust around window sills and doors later in the year to deter the bugs from entering your home.
Repeat the application after a rain shower or hosing down.
13. Monterey Fruit Tree Spray
A ready-prepared organic total pest control product.
Monterey contains organic pyrethrin, a natural insecticide derived from chrysanthemum, and neem oil. Both ingredients are active against many types of infestations and plant diseases.
Spray directly onto and under the Box elder leaves to eliminate the existing bugs and repel new visitors.
14. Attract Predators
Birds can be your most useful weapon against bug infestations.
Setting up bird tables and birdbaths near the Box elder trees will attract this natural predator of bugs.
Leaving spiders alone to spin their deadly webs will be beneficial too.
15. Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt)
This is a bacterium that occurs naturally in the soil that infects and destroys bugs.
Used as a biological low-toxic pesticide for large-scale infestations, this method is often employed by farmers to eliminate swarms.
Bt also works great for mosquito control. Follow the instructions on the package.
At first sight, boxelder bugs are attractive and may cause little to no damage to your home or garden so it may be tempting to leave them alone.
By the end of the summer, when large armies of them start to appear, an organic method of eliminating them may then become a necessity.