I remember last summer as the summer of the mosquito. I wasn't prepared. Those buzzing, itching, carbon dioxide-seeking missiles chased my family out of the backyard. The long anticipated lazy days laying in the backyard turned into short backdoor jaunts of necessity. No one wanted to take the chance. Mosquitoes were everywhere. So were warnings about West Nile Virus.
I didn't know what to do. Should we spray the yard, or ourselves? Buy a mosquito trap, or redirect our drains? Would it best to accept that these disease-ridden pests are one of summer's least desirable side effects?
While hesitating, the mosquitos stung my kids. Still, I stalled. Our cats came inside with bumpy ears. Again, I waited. Pamphlets about West Nile showed up in our mailbox. But, indecision prevented my call to arms. Why? Loathe to sending a cloud of chemicals into the air, ground, or our own epidermises, I was searching for an alternative solution – one natural, effective and affordable.
After calling in a "green" pest management company, hunting for water pockets, talking with neighbors and friends, and scouring the web for advice, I put my newfound knowledge to work. And for the first time since spring, my family finally enjoyed a peaceful hour on our back porch. Yes, there was the faint smell of garlic in the air, but you won't hear me complaining about it.
Now we're ready for this year. Temperatures here in the South are heating up, and I've already spotted a few mosquitos. Here are some suggestions for reclaiming your outdoor spaces...if you're into that sort of thing.
- Get rid of stagnant H2O: Female mosquitoes love water. It's their nursery. Think puddles, pots, wheelbarrows, or drains. Mosquito-moms lay about 200 eggs at a time and as frequently as every three to four days. When conditions are right, these babies can reproduce in as little as 7 days, making one mosquito capable of spawning thousands of offspring in one season. Eliminating these wet nurseries is the first step in mosquito control.
- Cut the grass: It's not rocket science, but keeping the grass short all summer and removing dead leaves and other green waste will help keep mosquito breeding grounds at a minimum since these tend to hold water.
- Spraying doesn't have to be scary: After much research about a variety of natural insecticidal sprays, like those derived from chrysanthemum flowers or cedar oil, I found one I liked with the forgettable name of Essential-1 PHE Organic Pesticide Concentrate. The active ingredients are garlic, castor and cedar oil. This product has made our backyard enjoyable again. It's just one of the many effective products out there, so look around. If you're a DIYer, you can always make your own no-mosquito tea.
- Not all skin repellants are created equal: If it's unwanted chemicals you fear, look for natural mosquito repellents. The types of ingredients that work well include cinnamon, citronella, castor and lemon eucalyptus oil. In fact, the CDC recommends using lemon eucalyptus. Just remember to apply them frequently since they don't have the staying power of DEET.
- A little help from citronella : Placing citronella-scented candles around the porch, or any outdoor gathering area, can help repel mosquitoes, though the effect is limited.
- Adopt a fish: For water that cannot be emptied or tossed, such as in a pond, try introducing "mosquitofish," which eat mosquito larvae, explains the Dirt Doctor's website. He advocates for safe, non-toxic mosquito control. Another option is to buy products that release Bti, a bacteria that kills mosquito larvae. This bacteria will also kill gnats and black flies.
- Make your garden it place for beneficial organisms: Bats, dragonflies and birds all munch on mosquitoes, so garden with them in mind. Try adding a birdfeeder, create a dragonfly-friendly habitat, or build bat house. According to those at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Science, bats do consume mosquitos, but since they don't comprise the largest portion of their diet, these should not be your main source of mosquito control.
Image: the Culex quinquefasciatus mosquito on a person's finger. Credit: James Gathany, CDC