Gardening with Deb Babcock: Moths in the house

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— I like to relax by reading in the evenings before going to bed, but some nights, I spend more time chasing down and swatting moths attracted to my reading lights. Is this happening at your home, too?

Deb Babcock

Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.

Find more gardening columns here.

The moth that seems to be the greatest nuisance in Colorado homes is what most of us call the Miller moth, which is actually an army cutworm moth. This moth is about 1 inch long and usually gray or brown in color with a couple of light-colored spots on each wing.

Miller moths don't breed indoors and usually die within a few days. Generally, the caterpillar overwinters in the soil, primarily alfalfa and wheat fields in eastern Colorado. They emerge in May or June, then migrate to higher elevations in the mountains to feed on flowering plants until early fall when they return to the plains. Pretty much the only control for Miller moths is a fly swatter or vacuum cleaner, or you simply can wait for them to die in a few days.

Indian meal moths are another nuisance in Steamboat homes. They are small with about a one-half inch wingspan and have a gray colored band on bronze-toned wings. While the adult moths do not feed on anything in the home, the immature meal moths can develop on most any dried food product in the house, including grains, dried fruits, seeds, nuts, graham crackers, dog food or bird seed. There usually is some webbing on the infested product.

To control this moth, check all of your dried food, including dog food and bird seed, thoroughly. Discard the infested food, then keep all other food stored in air-tight containers, outdoors or in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks. After adult moths are no longer observed, food can be returned to storage areas because the source of the infestation should be eliminated.

Clothes moths, mainly carpet beetles, are rarely a problem any more. Any problems here probably can be traced to imported woolen goods that came into your home already infested. This moth is generally light in color and only about one-half inch from wing tip to wing tip. Dry cleaning will kill this moth and its eggs. Then place your woolens in airtight containers to prevent infestation. Cedar chests and moth balls help somewhat to repel these moths but are not consistently good at killing them.

Just because you have moths in your home doesn't necessarily mean your house is infested. Many of these moths tend to appear indoors when they inadvertently come inside with you from the outdoors. But if the problem persists for more than three weeks, start checking your dried foods to ensure you're not providing an incubator for new generations of this nuisance.

Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.

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