Getting rid of snakes

Q.    How do you get rid of snakes, garden and poisonous types? I had used Snake-A-Way before with success, but they don’t make it anymore. I am deathly afraid of snakes. One house I know of is for sale because of snakes. Common garden snakes found in your part of the country (New England) are harmless and beneficial.

Garden Snake
Common garden snakes found in New England are harmless and beneficial.

A.    Snakes are a valuable ally in the control of mice and other rodents, and are part of our natural world. Poisonous snakes are not welcomed, of course, and you could ask your local authorities for the name of a control expert or call a family-owned pest control operator and ask if they deal with snake problems.

Snakes find stone walls and wood piles attractive, so eliminating those should help. As long as snakes don’t get inside your house, they should be harmless and welcomed. In your area (New England) very few snakes are dangerous to people.

One way to keep them out of your house is to spread wood ashes around the foundation; the only drawback is that you need to do it after each rain. But if you prefer to use Snake-A-Way, it is still available. You’ll find it at

Bugs keep returning to basement

Q.  For the past 3 years, we have been inundated with rolly-polly bugs in our basement during the summer. We have a standard poured concrete basement and the house is 11 years old.

Rolly-polly bugs
Rolly-polly bugs

I have not been able to determine exactly how they enter, other than it seems like they either come in where the wall meets the floor, or, they just come through the walls! There are no obvious cracks for them to enter. I have tried over-the-counter bug sprays around the interior wall/floor seams, but all this does is kill them after they enter.

I have also put down a band of bug spray all around the exterior where the earth touches the foundation, but this has had no effect. Now the weather is warning up, they are coming in again. Do you have any suggestions?

A.  My guess is that the rolly-polly bugs are sowbugs or pillbugs, depending upon where you live, as they are not common in cold regions. To be sure, collect a few in a plastic container and take them to the extension service of your local university or to a pest management professional for identification.

Both sowbugs and pillbugs like moisture and feed on decomposing vegetable matter. Do you store firewood close to the house or have heavy organic mulch against the foundation? They can enter the basement from there, and they will be happy in it if it is damp.

Wasps invade crawl space

Q.    We have a house with a cement tile roof and a vinyl type stucco siding. Wasps seem to be attracted to the siding and yellow jackets recently entered our crawl space through a small hole behind a copper sheathing.   Recently  we’ve had several enter our living space and we were stung while we slept.

We taped all possible entrances such as light fixtures and fans and have now noticed several in our basement. Initially we sprayed with RAID but could not reach the hive from any direction and it left stains on the bottom of the plywood-stucco eaves. We then placed a strong vacuum in front of the hole and have now siphoned off thousands but there is still activity. Will those remaining bees continue to hunt for a means of escape if I plug the hole? Will steel wool work best as a plug? What else can we do?

Wasp Trap
Raid brand wasp trap

A.    In the fall, the yellow jacket queen comes out of the nest to mate before hiding for the winter, and the workers die. This is the time to set a RAID pheromone trap that attracts the males, thus interrupting the mating cycle. You should be able to find these traps in garden-supply stores and some supermarkets.

Once cold weather has set in, and after you have either vacuumed the rest of the nest or had a pest-management professional deal with the hidden nest, seal the hole they use to get in and out with an appropriate material. If the hole is small, caulking may be the best way to do so. Use a polyurethane caulk of a color closest to the synthetic stucco or copper flashing.

Considering the severity of the problem, I would advise you to hire an independent, locally-owned professional pest-management firm.

Waterproofing of basement attracts centipedes

Q.  I live in central New Jersey and had a water problem in my basement. I had a waterproofing company install the type of system where they jackhammer out the concrete along the walls, pierce the foundation block to let the water out, create a pitched trench, use blue stone as a base, and perforated pipe on top of that to catch the water, add a plastic sheet on the wall which goes into the trench and fill the trench with concrete.


The pitched trench leads to a sump pump in the corner and the water is pumped to the outside. The system works fine and we have not had any water problems since. However, we do have something else, which I am not so sure is worth the trade-off of the water.

Since the system was put in, we see centipedes in the basement and some of them make their way to my first-floor kitchen and occasionally to my second floor. These centipedes are extremely unnerving to me. They are about 2 inches, sometimes 3 inches in length, with a thick body, lots of legs and move quite rapidly.

I feel very certain that they are coming from the area of the sump pump, which has a cover, or perhaps up the wall of the trench behind the hard plastic piece. We have pets, so I am hesitant about using an exterminator, although I’m not sure even that will help.

Please let me know your suggestions. These creatures have made living in my home much more unpleasant than the water in the basement.

A.  Centipedes are fond of damp areas. It follows that when the plastic was applied to the walls, it created a damp environment between the plastic and the foundation. I have always questioned the use of lining foundation walls with plastic sheets for that very reason. It is fine to dig a trench in the concrete along the walls and install a drain leading to a sump pump, but why bother with the plastic?

Although I always warn against waterproofing block walls, it is OK if there is a way for the blocks to drain, as they would with the system you had installed. Waterproofing the block walls would not have created the damp environment the plastic lining provides.

To control the centipedes, you have the choice of using residual sprays better applied by a pest management professional who will know where it will be most effective, or drying the basement by removing the plastic, something you may be reluctant to do, understandably, considering what you paid for it. Keep in mind that the best control for many predator insects is the removal of their food supply found in damp environments.

Eliminating skunk odors

Q.  A skunk let go in our backyard and the odor is horrendous. We have tried a variety of deodorizers without success. Do you know of a treatment we can use that will be completely effective?

A. The most effective treatment I know of is Nok-Out, which, as regular readers know, I have found effective in treating a wide range of odors.

Some years ago, a skunk decided to set house under the porch of a house shared by several friends, including a relative. She called me in great distress, as the odor permeated her bedroom, which was next to the porch. I sent her a gallon of Nok-Out. She sprayed the entire area under the porch and the odor instantly vanished for good.

You can buy Nok-Out on the Web site At the time of this writing, you can save by ordering with the coupon on the right side of this page and using the coupon code HDM. Nok-Out is a complete deodorizer, used in many industrial and residential applications. I haven’t heard or experienced a single case of failure with it.

Remedies for “flour beetles”

Q.  I enjoy your column and just recently found your book online and have purchased it for the very useful information you provide.

I know that you have mentioned it before, but I can’t recall the name of the product you recommended for the tiny dark flour beetles that appear in the kitchen. I would appreciate it if you would mention the product again in your blog, and also where it can be purchased.

A.  Thanks for your confidence; it is nice to hear back when the information is helpful.

I am not sure what you call flour beetles. If they are about ¼-inch long, they are probably larder beetles that show up in houses in May and June, seeking food stuff on which to deposit their eggs. They may also be brought in the house in bags of dry pet foods that contain mixtures of cereal and animal products.

The best form of control, if they are not too abundant, is to put a piece of cheese on a dish. They love cheese and will congregate on it in large numbers where you can catch them by dropping a large piece of plastic wrap over the dish. Put them in the freezer for a short time to kill them.

Sod gets overturned near fence

Q.  First, some background: A fence around our backyard was replaced in April due to decay. The previous owners of our house had left a bit of land outside the original fence because they wanted less lawn to maintain. We decided to take the fence to the property line to expand the yard for our toddler.

The fence is made of plastic boarding on three sides, and chain link on the side that’s been pushed back. A wooded area is on the other side of the fence. We had some sod lain in mid-April of this year to cover the expanded yard. It seemed to take well and in a month or so, really looked as though it was part of the original yard. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve noticed pieces of sod overturned, particularly near the chain link fence and in pockets near the adjoining sides of the plastic fence. Overall, the sod closer to the chain link fence appears to be dying. It looks thinned out and beat up as well as dry.

At first we thought our lawn guys had mowed too soon after the rain and were creating the furrows and gouges, and flipping sod over accidentally. But then we noticed the sod continuing to be flipped over long after they’d left. Now our theory is that perhaps animals (there seem to be some aggressive chipmunks this year) are attempting to dig under the sod and inadvertently flipping it up. What do you think? And what if anything can we do to help the sod ?

A.    You may have a mole problem, and possibly a skunk problem as well. Both of them are looking for grubs under the sod. You can get a product to control grubs from a hardware or garden supply store, and apply it according to directions on the package as to timing and coverage. Or have your lawn guys do it.

Use a product that will get rid of the grubs now, but also consider the application of milky spores for long-term control. Milky spores will take a while to cover the entire lawn, but it is a permanent fix. Be sure to follow directions carefully in applying milky spores. The best time to do so is August as explained in the directions, so you should wait until next year.

Cats mark territory, leave odor

Q.    I enjoy reading your column every week.

We have a problem with cats marking their territory around our home. We’ve not had this problem until recently. The neighborhood has acquired several mature cats who wander in our yard on a daily basis. We have two altered male cats (indoor only). The influx of “challengers” has created quite a problem.

Our door is an unpainted, but stained, wooden door. It’s the outside cats’ favorite marking spot and the inside cats’ point of retaliation. We have a product (Stink Free*) that works well on the painted surfaces. But, we surmise, the wood is penetrated with odor.

Do you know of product that will clean the wood deeper than the surface? Would sealing the door now–just seal in a smell that will haunt us in humid weather? Could it be as bad as replacing the door! Any suggestions?

*We’ve tried every odor remover available that promises to eliminate urine odor. So far Stink Free is the only one that does the job (at least to our noses!).

P.S. The cats are not feral. Various neighbors have brought in a number of new dogs and cats. We have no idea where these cats live.

A.    If the stain on your door is not too old and still has some sealing properties, you should be able to remove the odor as you would with a painted door. But stains are not as effective at preventing liquid penetration as paint in good condition would be.

Try a different product: Nok-Out. We have used it many times and I have recommended it to a number of people to solve some horrendous odor problems. The worst of which, in our own experience, is when a daughter, who lived in Boston at the time, came home from work to a very smelly bedroom. Skunks had nested under a porch and let loose. Her bedroom window opened onto that porch. She called me and I had Nok-Out express-ship her a gallon of their product. She sprayed it under the porch and saturated the entire bare earth with it, as instructed. It did the job, and she could reintegrate her bedroom.

Nok-Out, to be effective in a case like this, must contact the entire odor-producing source. Therefore, to eliminate the cat odors, instead of spraying it, soak a rag with it (wear rubber gloves) and rub the affected area for quite a while to make sure that Nok-Out penetrates deep into the wood fibers to get to all the urine that may have soaked in. You’ll have to do the same both inside and outside the door since your own cats have retaliated.

Once the odor is completely gone, you should apply more stain on the door to prevent future penetration if the cats continue to desecrate it. And you should restain every two to three years to keep it effective.

You can order Nok-Out directly from the distributor: Osburn Distributors, PO Box 3799, Pflugerville, TX 78691-3799. E-mail: Phone: toll free – 866.551.1927 or local – 512. 607. 6621, Fax: 512. 607. 6324.

Or better yet, you can order it easily from my Web site, On the right of my blog’s Q&As, there is a yellow coupon with a 10 percent discount code. If you click on it to place your order and mention the code (HDM), the product will be shipped to you and you will receive the discount.

Meanwhile, I suggest you talk to a vet or other cat expert to find out if there are ways to discourage the cats from continuing their assault on your door.