The Scourge Of Tennessee

Help me, dear people. I need your advice for dealing with chiggers. And if you tell me nail polish to suffocate the critters, I will mock you mercilessly for peddling in old wives’ tales.

I never knew what a chigger was until I moved to Nashville. They are a nasty piece of work which thrive in leafy green environments — like my garden, for instance. If you brush up against a branch or leaf about 2 hours later you will have a tortuous itching welt on your skin, usually near something constricted and inconvenient to scratch like your panty line or bra straps. They itch like a sonofabitch, too — to the point where you may be tempted to grab a knife from the kitchen and cut the motherfucker out. And they last for weeks. Trust me, waterboarding is nothing compared to the brutality inflicted by a chigger.

Contrary to popular belief, chiggers do not burrow under the skin, happily devouring your body from within. They are really tiny and cannot be seen with the naked eye, which is how that old wives’ tale got started. My research tells me they eat fluids in the skin cells, which is why they are attracted to moist places like the pantyline and bra line. One researcher explained that they inject a digestive enzyme that hardens the surrounding skin tissue, forming a “straw” to suck out cell fluids. That’s what creates the incredibly itchy red bump which persists for days and even weeks.

I currently have about five such welts, and it’s still the beginning of summer. They will be with me all summer, even after the itching subsides. They leave semi-permanent marks. By September my body will look like someone took a lit cigarette to it.

Folks, I’m just sick of this shit. Every damn summer! Just walking around my garden watering the herbs and setting up the sprinkler will result in weeks of agony. I’m so fucking over it. We don’t have pestilence like this out west. This is one reason I say Tennessee is cursed. I’ll take earthquakes over chiggers and mosquitoes any day.

So I need to know a) what do people do to stop the itching and more importantly b) what do you do to keep from getting bitten in the first place? Keep in mind we have pets and a koi pond and an herb garden. I prefer not to spray toxic chemicals in my garden. One year I sprayed a cedar oil treatment and that seemed to work but not all of the plants appreciated it. I’ve also sprayed garlic oil which is wonderful, although it makes your yard smell like an Italian restaurant for a few hours. But it seems to work better on mosquitoes than chiggers.

I’ve never found citronella to work, but maybe I’m doing it wrong.



Filed under gardening, Nashville

16 responses to “The Scourge Of Tennessee

  1. To my knowledge there is no repellent for chiggers. You have to kill the little blood suckers! Any product containing DEET like deep woods off, is helpful but a real pain to apply every time you want to walk in your garden. I have had fairly good luck spraying my garden plants weekly with a hose end sprayer loaded with either dog shampoo {flea killer kind} or even using plan Blue Dawn, dish soap. Good luck

    Happy chigger free gardening

  2. Thanks for the tips. I hadn’t thought of using Dawn, but I bet it acts like insecticidal soap.

    Yeah I’m outside a lot with the dogs and I really don’t want to use a DEET product I’d be basically soaking in it for 4 months. That can’t possibly be good for you.

  3. Chiggers are indeed troublesome. Ticks, not so much, for me anyway. The little suckers bite in, and with all the alcohol in my bloodstream, they fill up so fast they basically explode. I avoid places where chiggers hide. Speak to the concierge, they usually will notify management.

  4. the best remedy i’ve ever heard is to just take a hot shower and wash off well after being in areas where the buggers live. but i do have a story to share – when i was in 5th grade here in TN, myself and a few friends got in trouble for something at school – i cannot recall our transgression, but the punishment was a paddling from our teacher (this was back when it was OK for a teacher to whack on a kid with a chunk of wood for most any reason). anyway, i was last in line for the paddling, and my very country friend ahead of me got a powerful whack from the teacher and he very calmly said after the first whack with his very country twanged voice – “well, at least you kilt that chigger on my ass”.
    the teacher collapsed into laughter, as we all did. fortunately, she thought was so funny, all pending punishment ended.

  5. Min

    Three words…blood pressure medication. I haven’t had a mosquito bite or a chigger bite in 10 years, which coincides with me starting to take a big, honkin’ dose of BP meds. I also went hiking this weekend, and nary a tick came near me. I think the meds must have changed my blood chemistry.

  6. “well, at least you kilt that chigger on my ass”.


    Three words…blood pressure medication.

    My blood pressure is really low, 90/65. Call it good genes and a lifetime of distance running. But I’m afraid if I took blood pressure medication I’d become a corpse.

    I wonder if there’s something else you’re doing?

  7. Jim V:

    Seasick Steve has a nice groove going but his chigger biology is flawed. I did learn a lot from the second link, including: “They prefer the tender skin of women and children.”


    Thanks for that link though, it seems to be the definitive information source.

  8. Arno

    a) To relieve the itching, run hot water over it, as hot as you can stand it for as long as you can stand it. Feels surprisingly good, and get rid of the itch for a few hours. Repeat as necessary.
    b) Repellants like DEET are pretty toxic. Citronella is okay, you can get it in high concentration from plants like lemon balm, or lemon grass. Unfortunately for me, no repellant works real well, I get the buggers anyway, so I go back hot water relief. I feel your pain.

  9. Chawed baccer juice was the preferred method when I was coming up in Harlan County in the 50’s. I honestly can’t say if it worked or not but I never had another chigger. Course Daddy moved us to Algeria about that time.

  10. Course Daddy moved us to Algeria about that time.

    Hmm. Now there’s a radical chigger solution.

  11. Char

    My daughter was covered with chigger bites last summer and a pharmacist told me
    to put her in a bath with Epsom salt. After the bath put witch hazel on them, it really helped dry them out and stop itching. I put the witch hazel on her 2 or 3 times a day,
    I also would not be surprised if tea tree oil helped. Good luck!!

  12. T.A. James

    We get ’em in NC too, so this info is very helpful. Thanks for the thread!

  13. Hey thanks Char. Epsom Salts are a great remedy for pretty much everything, I’d forgotten about that …

  14. One word of genuine warning. Tea tree oil is quite strong medicine, be sure to use it sparingly.

    Southern Beale:

    Is your reaction the common one, with the welts? A doctor friend looked at an insect bite that I had once and told me that I was allergic to something in the bug’s biology. Just a thought.

  15. ken brown

    there’s a product called “chigger-rid” available at most pharmacies which doesn’t repel them, it sure takes away the itch and helps heal the bite.