Fleas, like most other insects, live everywhere around us and it’s how we manage our surroundings that helps to control their populations. Like managing mosquitoes, for instance, by eliminating still pools of water where they can breed, you can also manage the flea population around your yard without the use of toxic chemicals so that fleas can’t set up a happy colony where they are ready and waiting when your pet comes outside—or even when you come outside and carry them back in.

It’s just not cheap to treat your pet for fleas whether you take them to a groomer or purchase a product to use on them yourself. If it grows to an infestation before you realize it, there is even more time and expense in treating your home as well as your pet. The more you can manage and even prevent with passive means the better.

Where do fleas come from?

Fleas begin in the great outdoors, even in the nicest yard, and don’t think that simply because you don’t let your pet outside, or it’s only outside for a short while, that fleas won’t find them. Fleas are tiny and can hop amazing distances to get to a warm body for their blood meal. They will be attracted to your body because you are warm and though they don’t generally feed on humans they will bite you just to see how it works. They can ride into your home on your own body and clothing and jump off as you greet your pet at the door. Encountering another animal that has fleas either on a walk outdoors or even at the veterinarian’s office can infest your pet without it ever setting a paw in the back yard.

Flea life cycle

Adult fleas are very particular about moisture and temperature, but flea eggs can live through a lot of punishment and still hatch and carry on the next generation so they need to be managed from year to year, not just for the summer.

Fleas are slow to wake up in the spring and are a snack for a number of predator insects. These two facts of their life cycle help you to get ahead of them. Fleas hatch only when temperatures rise above 60 degrees at night or 70 degrees during the day. Lots of things are happening in the yard before that time in most areas.

Spring in your back yard

That makes spring the prime time to get ahead of fleas, so take spring cleaning in your yard as seriously as in your home and begin early. By initiating or modifying a few of the ways you care for your landscape you can eliminate nesting and breeding spaces and welcome their predators, an effect that can last all through the warm months of summer and fall, and even become a permanent solution to keeping fleas at a minimum in your yard.

Why not to use a general insecticide

Aside from the dangers of insecticide toxicity to your pet, an insecticide generally kills off all the insects in an area and has even been implicated in the reduction of bee populations worldwide and the deaths of songbirds and endangered mammals. Also, an insecticide just kills the adult fleas which are only about 10% of the total flea population and not the eggs or larvae. Pest insects have adapted to reproduce more quickly than their prey so repeated applications are necessary, natural predators are killed and chemicals build up toxic levels in your soil which run off into local waterways, affecting more wildlife than you ever intended.

Integrated Pest Management for beginners

  1. Find out where the pest lives and destroy that habitat to any extent possible.
  2. Find the pest’s natural predators and encourage them to inhabit.

This works for most pests as well as fleas, like the above-mentioned mosquitoes. Those two statements are the basic guidance for what you’ll do.

Where fleas live

Fleas live in moist, shady areas in the yard, in the thatch in your lawn, debris piles, leaf litter, cord wood stacks and even under your deck or porch unless it’s completely dry. They’ve often overwintered in these areas and with the moisture of spring eggs start hatching as soon as it’s warm enough and shady after trees and shrubs have leafed out.

Spring Cleaning – Clear off all the debris in the yard and toss it in the compost pile, burn it, send it off to your municipal composting center or as a last resort put it in trash bags and put it out with the trash.

Manage Areas Fleas Prefer – Apply beneficial nematodes annually, minimize or eliminate damp and densely shaded areas in your yard, sprinkle food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) weekly under shrubs, decks and woodpiles and other shady areas.

Modify Your Lawn – Incorporate native plants and herbs and cut your lawn taller to reduce flea habitat and encourage the flea’s natural predators: spiders and ground beetles, amphibians such as toads and salamanders, reptiles such as garter snakes, and birds such as robins, starlings and grackles. Continue feeding birds through the summer.

Manage Wildlife – Trapping and relocating animals is not recommended. It is easier and more humane to discourage unwanted wildlife from living close to your home.  FYI, opossums are misunderstood and will actually eat ticks, cockroaches, and mice in your yard.

Some Resources for Chemical-Free Outdoor Flea Control

Yardener.com, “Preventing Fleas Next Year” 

McGill University, “DIATOMACEOUS EARTH: A Non Toxic Pesticide”

CDC, Report on Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids

National Wildlife Federation, “Opossums: Unsung Heroes in the Fight Against Ticks and Lyme Disease”

Scrap the Trap “Smart Solutions for Coexistence”